The Piano Lesson is a play by August Wilson, an African American playwright, who was popular for writing plays about the African-American experience in the twentieth century. The play has strong sentiments on the role of history in the shaping of future lives.
The play title was encouraged by a Romare Bearden’s painting which had the same title. It is centered on two family members, Berniece and Boy Willie, who belong to the Charles family. The two are conflicting on whether to sell their family’s most important heirloom, the piano. According to their history, their ancestors were slaves owned by the Sutter’s.
The Sutter’s’ then decided to sell two of the Charles’ family members in exchange for a piano as an anniversary present. As fate would have it, Mrs. Sutter missed the company of her slaves and, therefore, wanted them back. The carpenter, who was Boy Willie’s great grandfather, missed his family more than his master did. Therefore, he did more than he was asked and carved the family’s entire history onto the piano (Wilson 2007).
Boy Willie’s father was not content with the piano staying with the Sutter’s family. He, therefore, hatched a plan to steal the piano, as he felt that his family was still enslaved to the Sutter’s as long as they had the piano. With two of his brothers, he stole the piano. The two transferred the piano to another county while Boy Charles remained behind.
On discovering the theft, Mr. Sutter and his men murdered Boy Charles as he tried to escape via train. The play centers on a brother and sister. They are at conflict with what to do with the family heirloom, the piano. Berniece is tough and does not want to sell the piano contrary to his brother. Being the only female among men, she feels that she must protect her family legacy.
She is still in grief over her husband’s death, which she accuses her brother of having a hand in. Berniece is very critical over her brother’s behavior and is not easily swayed to follow his reasoning. Every person who considers himself Berniece’s boyfriend has constantly been trying to marry her. Berniece, on the other hand, does not like the pressure and, therefore, has been keeping him at bay.
This might have been influenced by the fact that she still thinks about her deceased husband, Crawley. Eventually, as the play comes to an end, she allows Lymon, Boy Willie’s friend, to kiss her. This act portrays her as a woman who needs to be loved but, as she fears to invoke memories, she has denied herself the love she needs.
It can be stated that Berniece’s actions clash. This is because, on the one hand, she vehemently refuses to sell the piano while, on the other hand, she is fighting to forget the past, the past that is much related to the piano. She does not even allow her daughter to play the piano, leave alone the fact that she does not tell her the history behind the piano.
Berniece believes the piano to harbor spirits, why then does she not dispose of it. While Boy Willie claims to have inherited their father’s heritage, it is certain that Berniece is the replica of her mother. When she was young, she was introduced to the piano by her mother. Now and again, it was the custom of her mother to ask her to play the piano. She claimed to hear her dead husband speaking when the piano was being played.
By doing this, Berniece acted as a link between the world of the living and the world of the spirits. She, therefore, elevated her mother’s spirits and, consequently, reduced her anguish, making life bearable for her. Eventually, as the play comes to an end, Berniece’s fears are proven correct. The piano is indeed haunted. This is proven when the ghost of Sutter appears.
She gathers the strength to overcome her fears and plays the piano. Through this act of bravery, she connects to her ancestors and is given the strength to overcome the ghost. The results are that she finally emerges out of the struggle stronger than she was. Through the character, Berniece the author passes across some major themes. Berniece is the mother of Martha.
She acts as the connection between the past and the present. She is the only member of the family who is determined to keep the piano. This is even after the persistent appearance of the ghost. She is also emotional over the fact that her husband’s death might have been the handy work of her brother. This does little to improve the relationship between them.
She, therefore, criticizes the stupid actions of her brother more than the others do. This shows how the past can act to check the mistakes done in the present. Berniece helps us to see the contrast between the character of Boy Willie and his father Boy Charles. This is shown clearly through the fact that Boy Willie is very ambitious and wants to own property, while his father was a simple man who wanted only what belonged to him.
This is shown by, despite having retrieved the piano from the Sutter’s he left it with the other two. This mistake costs him his life. Being the first to be introduced to the piano, Berniece feels like she must protect her family history. She was introduced to the piano by her mother so that she could play for her to calm her pain.
This is shown clearly, where her mother asks her to play the piano to connect to her dead husband. Berniece, therefore, feels a closer attachment to the piano than her brother does. However, this connection also repulses her because she cannot allow her daughter to play the piano. She does this so that her daughter does not undergo what she has already gone through.
Although she is adamant about playing the piano, she feels she cannot dispose of it. She feels doing this will rearrange her family history. This is more sentimental than factual, but it serves the purpose of keeping sanity in her brother (Bryer & Hartig 2006). The entire play raises some related questions. The play is a result of an in-depth review of daily life activities.
Nevertheless, it raises weighty issues concerning history’s illustrations and heritage as major sources of conflict. Therefore, the Africans in the Diaspora should know their ancestry and learn how its legacy should be perpetuated in their lives. This is to avoid what is termed as the “foreign” representation of African-American experience.
Bryer, Jackson and Mary Hartig. Conversations with August Wilson. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2006. Print.
Wilson, August. The Piano Lesson. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2007. Print.