The following quotation, which appears in an annotated bibliography and is in reference to an article by Susan Robbins entitled "Anguish and Anger" that appeared in the Virginia English Bulletin in 1986, demonstrates this fact.
Compares James Joyce's "Araby" and James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" in relation to the theme, "Anger and anguish are the fires that burn away innocence…" (59). Sonny gains his freedom from anger and anguish through his music, through playing the blues, and his older brother comes to understand Sonny by listening to Sonny play the blues (Albert, 91)
The reference to anguish in this quotation is important because it demonstrates the feelings of hopelessness and despair that Sonny is enduring, and that others in his neighborhood and in all impoverished neighborhoods are enduring and attempting to overcome. The anger in this quotation is indicative of the type of reaction that Sonny has at the sense of anguish that typifies his poor surroundings and the drug habit that he acquired largely as an effect of where he was and the type of people he hung around in this environment. But most important of all, in regards to this quotation, is the fact that Sonny is attempting to gain his "freedom" from these feelings of despair, anguish and anger. He chooses to do so by playing the blues, which is another theme in this book. However, as this quotation demonstrates, Sonny's habit of playing music is merely used by Baldwin to escape his impoverished surroundings, and the feelings of desolation and anguish that it creates.
An examination of James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" and of literary criticism related to this narrative reveals that the principle theme of this tale is the attempt to liberate oneself from the despondent, desperation that frequently accompanies impoverished inner city life. The other themes in this story, such as the narrator's relationship with his brother, and Sonny's musical aspirations, merely reinforce this theme. It is no coincidence that the type of music that Sonny is playing is called the Blues. America, and its poor socio-economic conditions that it provided for African-Americans (particularly in the midst of the 20th century) created the environment that largely gave birth to this music. To that end, the music Sonny plays certainly reinforces the primary theme of this short story.
Albert, Richard. An Annotated Bibliography of Jazz Fiction and Jazz Criticism. Westport: Greenwood. 1996. Print.