Analysis: The Piano Lesson By August Wilson

2242 words - 9 pages

August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, tells a story of a family haunted by the pain of their past and their struggle to find peace to move forward. The story begins with character Boy Willie coming up from the south visiting his sister Bernice. Boy Willie introduces the idea of selling the family’s heirloom, a piano, to raise enough money to buy the land on which his ancestors were enslaved. However, both Boy Willie and his sister Berniece own half a half of the piano and she refuses to let Boy Willie sell it. Through the use of symbolism, Wilson uses his characters, the piano and the family’s situation to provide his intended audience with the lesson of exorcising our past in order to move forward in our lives. Our past will always be a part of our lives, but it does not limit or determine where we can go, what we can do, or who we can become.
The piano held symbolic significance in the story of the family and their struggle to move forward. The piano represents the importance and value of slaves during slavery. Slaves were traded for objects during slavery. Slaves were of no importance to their slave owners. As Doaker says in the story “now she had her piano and her niggas too”, meaning slaves were nothing more than an accessory to their slave owners (Wilson 395). Doaker sarcastically speaks of how slaves were not considered humans but property. As Sandy Alexandre states in her work, “Property and Inheritance in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson”, “Doaker sees greed where there should be something like repulsion or at least a semblance of hesitation to accept such an ill-begotten gift”(77). Alexandre argues slaves are not given the proper respect and are not considered equal. This specific event from the story shows how little to no remorse was shown to slaves from their owner. As Doaker states, “… to understand about that piano…you got to go back to slavery time” (393). Slaves were owned they were subhuman, and were worth less than the value of a piano, in the case of this family’s history.
The piano’s physical features also held symbolic meaning. As mentioned in the story, the piano leg’s carving depicted several moments in the family’s history. Doaker gives details in the story of the meaning to some of the pictures, retelling family memories, to Lymon. The history behind the piano itself and the carved memories on the legs of the piano are what remind Berniece of the past. Berniece has an emotional attachment to the piano. She refuses to play it but also refuses for it to be anywhere else but with her. The piano reminds Berniece of the sacrifices made for the possession of the piano. This attachment shows that Berniece has a hard time accepting and moving forward from the past. Wilson’s description of Berniece’s character includes that “she is still in mourning for her husband after three years” (365). Berniece brings up her husband claiming that Boy Willie is the cause of it. This description of her character and specific event in the...

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