White Man’s Happiness in a Black Man’s Misery
“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” This was a dream of a young man, who was a victim of racism, and that man was known as Martin Luther King Junior. Throughout history stereotyping and bigotry (intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself) has been rampant. During the Great Depression the racial segregation was evident within the African-American community because of their dark complexion. Racism towards African-American consists mostly of slavery. A text that illustrates such discrimination is August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. The Piano Lesson is a play that is set in the year 1963 in Pittsburgh. The play is about a brother and sister who have two different thoughts about a piano. Boy Willie (brother) wants to sell the piano for land and Berniece (sister) on the other hand wants to keep the piano since it hold their history of slavery. Throughout the text of The Piano Lesson Wilson portrays racist stereotypes through various symbols, characters and conflicts that were built in the play.
According to the dictionary, Symbol is “a thing that represents or stands for something else” (dictionary.reference.com) Likewise, Wilson portrayed racist stereotypes through symbols such as the piano, watermelons and ghosts. The old piano is so significant that it is the central symbol of the play. The piano is so significant because it is considered to hold history of slavery for the Charles family. According to Doaker (Boy Willie’s and Berniece’s uncle), the piano is the only account of family history and the slavery that the Charles family endured. He mentions about it a conversation he has with Boy Willie about why Berniece would not sell the piano. “But he had some niggers. So he asked Mr. Nolander to see if maybe he could trade some of his niggers for it.”(42). He explains about Sutter, the man who owned the Charles family and the trade he did with the piano man (Mr. Nolander). Sutter did not take into consideration that he is separating a mother and a child from the rest of the family for just a piece of wood that makes music. He did not think that they were humans just like him. Slavery is a very cruel act of racism and that act put an entire family in distress. Thus, making the piano a very significant symbol in the play. Another racist symbol in the play is the watermelon. Watermelons were always considered as a symbol of poverty and bigotry. Watermelon is known as a symbol because of the stereotype that African-Americans had an unusual craving for watermelons. Wilson turns this ugly symbol of racism into a symbol of success, through the characters of Boy Willie and Lymon in Act 2; scene 1, when Boy Willie explains about an old lady to Doaker and Wining Boy;
“One lady asked me say, “Is they sweet?” I told her say, “Lady where we grow these watermelons...