While he obviously only has Sonny’s best interests in mind, he is blind to the particular problems Sonny is facing. This is what Sonny refers to when he tells his brother, “I hear you. But you never hear anything I say.” The narrator, in reliving this memory, begins to realize his own complicity in what has happened to his brother.This inability to know another is also seen in “Barn Burning” in that Sartoris can do little more than follow his father as he attempts to understand the many moves the family has made and the reasons for his father’s habit of burning the barns of those people who have irritated him. Here, hints about the father’s character are also given by the narrator, but they take on a detached, third person quality, as in the insights gained through the discussion of what Sartoris might have learned about his father based on the small fire that they camped next to the night they left the first town: “older still, he might have divined the true reason [for the small fire]: that the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being, as the element of steel or of powder spoke to other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity, else breath were not worth the breathing, and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion” (1623). As in “Sonny’s Blues” where the story provides us with a sense of who Sonny is now, Sartoris provides us with an impression of his father as he exists within the time period of the story; however, the narration in each story provides us with the background and motivations of these characters that would otherwise render the story meaningless.Despite the difference in narration styles, the insights gained through such revelations can be seen to influence the actions that each protagonist takes. The narrator in “Sonny’s Blues” finally comes to the realization that he must hear his brother before he can hope to help him. “I sensed, I don’t know how, that I couldn’t possibly say no.” Although he’s never understood Sonny’s music before, the narrator agrees to try and Sonny tells him, “There’s no way of getting it out – that storm inside. You can’t talk to it and you can’t make love with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening. So you’ve got to listen. You got to find a way to listen.” That
Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. R.V. Cassil & Richard Bausch (Eds.). 6th Ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000.
Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4td Ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989, pp. 1621-1633.
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