The Piano Lesson by August Wilson: The Wisdom of the Ivories
Can a treasured object of the past serve as a teacher for the future? Once people share the historical significance of it, an object can symbolize the overcoming of hardships of those lives in which it becomes a part. Therefore, it may indeed “instruct” future generations to glean wisdom from the past. August Wilson’s play The Piano Lesson centers on the trials and triumphs of a family affected by the enslaving of their ancestors and by current racial prejudice. An embellished piano, which bears the carved images of their enslaved ancestors accounts for the conflict that the Charles’ face. The Charles’ siblings inherit the piano from their mother, widowed upon the murder of her husband who stole it. Now, Boy Willie Charles wants to sell it to enable him to buy some land. His sister, Berniece, expresses adamant opposition to the sale since the endeared piano represents a great deal of family heritage. Because the slave-era piano embodies the Charles’ family history and bridges the past with the future, Berniece and Boy Willie should not sell it.
The piano in this play reminds the Charles’ of their past and symbolizes the abject immorality of slavery due to the exchange of it for human beings. During the American slave era, Africans were uprooted from their homeland, separated from their families, and stripped of their personal rights and dignity. According to Bloom, “All Wilson’s plays seem to share the preoccupation with uprootedness and feature characters who struggle to define themselves and their African American heritage within the context of racism and slavery” (Bloom). The piano exists in the present as a monument of the suffering that the Charles’ family endured in the past.
Berniece and Boy Willie each possess a distinctive perspective on the value of the piano based upon their perceptions of the piano’s benefit. Boy Willie states, “Papa Boy Charles brought that piano into the house. Now I’m supposed to build on what they left me. You can’t do nothing with that piano siting up here in the house” (Wilson 51). If he sells the piano, Boy Willie will be able to build a life for himself. Berniece says, “Money can’t buy what that piano cost. You can’t sell your soul for money” (Wilson 50). She believes if they sell the piano, she risks losing part of her identity. With tender sentiment, Berniece relishes the determination of her ancestors to appreciate life and the love they had for one another in the face of slavery. Boy Willie says, “See, you just looking at the sentimental value…You can sit up here and look at that piano for the next hundred years and it’s just gonna be a piano” (Wilson 51). Berniece’s pertinacious refusal to part with the piano emanates from her sentimental devotion to it and the memory of her ancestors. Therefore, Berniece characterizes herself through the piano as it brings the beauty of the past generations to their lives (Wilson 50, 52). Boy Willie...