Essay Topic: How does “Sonny’s Blues” complement the themes in Man’s Search for Meaning?
1. The narrator, the older brother, and Sonny, the younger brother, both escape into nihilism. Sonny uses drugs; the narrator uses fear, apathy (“What can I do?”), hopelessness, and withdrawal, hiding behind decorum, manners, rules. The narrator is afraid to face the darkness within himself. He needs to confront his emotion or else his emotion will overtake him. Both characters want to die either through drugs or self-pitying despair.
2. The brothers lost their father when Sonny was 15. The father was a drunk. Perhaps he was grieving over the death of his own brother. So he was haunted by past demons. And now so are the two brothers, the narrator and Sonny. Logotherapy is about finding meaning in the future, not about fixating on the past.
3. We don’t choose meaning. Meaning chooses us. The older brother’s mom says to him tearfully, that he must never let go of Sonny. He must guide him into the light and in doing so the narrator will find light for himself. Initially, the narrator tries to escape his calling. He marries and disappears. One gets the sense that he is running away from his duties, using marriage as a disguise for his fear.
4. He doesn’t listen to his brother or understand Sonny’s musical passion.
5. The brother is jealous that Sonny treats others like family but not him, as if he deserves it. Also he feels guilty because their lack of connection is not what his mother wanted.
6. Both brothers must grapple with the world’s inevitable suffering reminding us of Frankl’s principle:”We must be worthy of our suffering. We hear Sonny say, “I don’t want to see you die—trying not to suffer.”
7. The narrator learns to listen to Sonny, to go into Sonny’s world and connect with him, thereby keeping his promise to his mother.