56 pages • 1 hour readClaude Brown
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Claude Brown, also known as Sonny or Sonny Boy, is the novel’s protagonist. Based on Claude Brown the author, he narrates the story from a first-person point of view. His personal development is the focal point of the narrative, and the novel follows him from age six to about age 21. Claude is the son of former sharecroppers who moved to Harlem before he was born. He gets along well with his sisters, Carole and Margie, and is very close to his younger brother, Pimp. While he and his mother have a troubled relationship during his childhood, he works very hard to improve their dynamic as an adult. He does not get along with his father, who is physically abusive and emotionally distant throughout the novel.
Claude is an adventurous boy who loves being out in the streets of Harlem. He fights, commits petty thefts, and becomes a drug dealer—all of which make him fit in with his peers. That he has a scar from a bullet wound only enhances his reputation. As he grows older, he becomes increasingly thoughtful and self-reflective, often wondering if his life is on the right track and expressing a strong desire to achieve different (and better) things than he once envisioned for himself.