Lessons From The Piano Lesson By August Wilson

949 words - 4 pages

What should one do with their legacy, and how should it be put to use? In the play “The Piano Lesson”, the Charles' family faces this question, and struggles to find the answer. The family’s legacy is in the form of a piano. On the piano are carvings of their ancestors. The two main characters that are having a conflict over the piano are Berniece and Boy Willie. Boy Willie wants to sell the piano so he can add the proceeds of the sale to the proceeds of selling watermelon’s and buy some land from “Sutter”. Berniece doesn’t want to sell the piano because it holds the memories and blood that stains its wood (Gale, 2000, p255). She refuses to play the piano and keeps its history from her daughter in fear of calling up the spirits that might lie within the piano.

The main symbol of the play is the 137-year-old piano, an object that holds a key to the family history. It takes on a number of meanings through the course of its life. It was carved to make Miss Ophelia happy, the piano's wooden figures indicate the interchangeable nature of slavery. As Doaker notes, who is Berniece and Boy willie’s uncle, "Now she had her piano and her niggers too." (ACT I, p741) The slave is the master's gift and accessory. The piano “visibly records the lost lives of Berniece and Boy Willie’s ancestors, and it is the only tangible link remaining between past and present” (Galens 2000). The piano also becomes a symbolic attempt to keep the family together. It is also then the physical record of the family's history. Boy Charles especially understands the carvings as narrative. As Doaker recalls: "…say it was the story of our whole family and as long as Sutter had it he had us. Say we was still in slavery." (Act I, p741)

It might appear as if Berniece wants to carry the burden of her painful past with her, yet she doesn't want to pass the history and the history of the family piano down to her daughter. Boy Willie, however, wants to release the past and sell the family piano so he can have a new start in life and forget the painful past. "The Piano Lesson" is both unique to the plight of African-Americans and universal in its depiction of the human condition (Gale, 2000, p249). The sibling rivalry, past history versus present time and future, storytelling and gender relationships all cross both unique and universal boundaries. To illustrate, even in today's society there are sibling rivalry that pit brother against sister, brother against brother or sister against sister together to the point of bitter battle. In addition, there are still people in today's society that have difficulties in resolving painful past experiences with the present and future. In regards to gender relationships, there are still a lot of mysteries in the realm of love between two people. Bernice is the African-American way, staying true to her roots and not...

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