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Comparative Analysis Of Berniece And Boy Willie

1377 words - 6 pages

The Piano Lesson written by August Wilson is a work that struggles to suggest how best African Americans can handle their heritage and how they can best put their history to use. This problem is important to the development of theme throughout the work and is fueled by the two key players of the drama: Berniece and Boy Willie. These siblings, who begin with opposing views on what to do with a precious family heirloom, although both protagonists in the drama, serve akin to foils of one another. Their similarities and differences help the audience to understand each individual more fully and to comprehend the theme that one must find balance between deserting and preserving the past in order ...view middle of the document...

This desire shows that he does not wish to simultaneously, and contradictingly, ignore and cling to the past as his sister does by not speaking of the piano’s history while insisting on preserving it, but that he want to make use of it for personal gain. He feels that by selling the piano to buy the land, he would build a new legacy upon the existing, that he would make his ancestors proud by setting forth in the world and gaining a special revenge by doing so with that particular plot of land. These contrasting views show that Berniece is a more sentimental person, that she holds value in this item and feels a responsibility to keep and to cherish the memories it symbolizes. To Berniece, selling the piano is a betrayal, stating “Money can't buy what that piano cost. You can't sell your soul for money. It won't go with the buyer. It'll shrivel and shrink.” Where Berniece feels an impassioned responsibility to the past, Boy Willie feels a fervent need for the future.
Boy Willie’s need for the future is as extreme as Berniece’s refusal to sell the piano that symbolizes their souls. In pursuit of new horizons, Boy Willie plans to sell his family, if only symbolically. This is why Berniece cannot meet him on his steadfast proposal to sell. She desires to cling to history while he desires to use it to his advantage by creating something new from it. A compassionate audience is likely to initially side with Berniece, as her sentiment is strong, however, through the development of the drama, the audience discovers that these both uses of the past are less than ideal. Each sibling views the other as one who is dishonoring their ancestors because both are––one because they fail to cherish it and the other because they fail to recognize it. Boy Willie seeks to give the past away and Berniece shuts the past out by leaving the piano untouched, thus unplayed and unused. Boy Willie views Berniece's inability to awaken the spirits of their ancestors by playing the piano as a waste of the legacy that was left to them, likely what prompts his desire to sell the item, as if unplayed he finds it useless. In conclusion of the play, the two meet in the middle and share common ground on that the piano must be played to properly honor their heritage. The family legacy must make music to fend off the ghosts of the past––literally in that the music from the piano scares off Sutter’s ghost, and figuratively in that it creates a future for the piano that keeps the joyous memories of family alive while allowing for a future made with Berniece playing, creating, and teaching lessons. The characters agreement on this use of the piano shows that two very different individuals are actually very similar in that they have grown from the experience and that they both recognize the importance of the piano...

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