ThePiano Lessonis a play which focuses on the lives of the Charles family who areAfrican-American and their heirloom a family piano that has thefamily’s history under slavery. It concentrates on the dispute ofbrother and sister Boy Willie and Berniece, on what they should dowith the piano. Boy Willie wants to sell the Piano to be able to buya land where his ancestors were slaves, but Berniece insists onkeeping the piano in memory of their great grandmother and son whosefaces carved on the piano. The piano lesson shows a battle betweenSutter’s ghost and African-American ancestors which in a waysymbolizes racial discrimination that black people endured during thetime of slavery in the past. For the ghosts, their main reason forcoming back was to have vengeance. This paper will use differentpoints in the play which the writer uses to create a theme of AfricanAmerican history and slavery to better understand the outcome of thebook why the piano lesson was necessary.
Theplay depicts a shameful American history of slavery filled with pain,misery, and discrimination of the blacks. It shows struggle desirethat the blacks had of being free, treated equally and not beingowned. It highlights how the laws were biased in the past towards thewhite and the injustice it committed. ThePiano Lessonoffers a glimpse into the history of a blood-stained past with hateand pain from the ancestors of Charles family and the ghost of Sutterwho owned them as slaves.Doaker: "See, now […] to understand about that piano…you gotto go back to slavery time."1 Doaker in the play tries to give the importance of keeping thekeyboard as an heirloom in the memory of what the past held and whattheir ancestors fought for and to be able to maintain Wilson’sfamily legacy. On the other hand, Wilson’s character in The PianoLesson shows a dilemma between a brother and sister who emphasizesthe point that the African-American are usually denied the symbols oftheir past as well as having an opportunity in the present. It ismade clear from when Boy Willie insisted on selling the piano to beable to buy the land where his ancestors worked as slaves to be ableto secure his future which would help him avenge his ancestors. Hedoes not accept his past and feels the need to prove himself equal tothe white man. As for Berniece she wanted to keep it in memory oftheir ancestors and does not feel the need to sell it, she embracedher ancestors past and accepted it.
Inthe end, they have an agreement not to sell the piano, but this isafter Boy Willie tries to sell it forcefully but Sutter’s ghostappears, and Berniece plays the piano which awakens their ancestorswho assist the family against Sutter’s ghost. Through this Boy,Willie finally understands his sister and the importance of the pianoas an heirloom that holds their past. Berniece learns to embrace herpast that she has been avoiding. BoyWillie plays a song that inmates sing on Parchman Farm. Boy Willie:(Sings) "O Lord Berta Berta O Lord gal oh-ah/O Lord Berta BertaO Lord gal well."2He documents it as a work song that the slaves sang which helped themendure the pain of slavery. Both of them playing the piano show theiracceptance of the past and the need to preserve their heritage andculture.
Thewriter uses naturalism which portrays people and things as they arewhich attracts the audience and entertains. He mixes genres torepresent two different cultures, traditions and as well as addingthe supernatural aspect which explains the African-American culture.One can feel as if they are part of his play by how he portrays thecharacters making it easier to understand and follow the game. It’snot only a musical work of art, but it is also a work of visual art.The play is filled with buried secrets, stirring revelations, familydisputes, and careful variations. From the languages of the speakersin The Piano Lesson, you get to understand and have a view of how thelack of equality had taken root in the past. It brings out the lackof education in the characters from the grammatical errors in thesentences. Most Africans and African-Americans never had the right toeducation and were not entitled to it. The languages that thespeakers use bring out a difference in culture through their beliefsand practices.
Doaker:"Now…am I telling it right, Wining Boy?
WiningBoy: "You telling it." 3
Doakerand Wining Boy seen to the storytellers in the book and the languagethey used in telling their stories made the play more enjoyable toread and the incomplete sentence that makes it unique and great yetyou get to experience the African-American culture.
Itis an enjoyable book to read as it entails interesting and excitingperspectives particularly in the beginning and the end of the play.Finding out the family’s history and what the piano stood for intheir lives absorbs the reader`s mind. It is full and rich withhistory and culture which attracts attention, and the imagination ofthe past cultural disparities come to life as one continues to read.In the end, the author captures the importance of preservation andcontinuation of culture and history no matter how painful the pastwas. The play talks about issues of race that are still in Americatill today. Through the drama and poetry of the game, lessons arelearned and gained. The audience in this book is the African-Americanwho the writer insists must embrace where they come from and theirhistory no matter how negative and painful it was. The piano lessonoffers a message of cultural heritage to the audience and theimportance of preserving it. For the African-Americans to be able tomove forward, they must be aware of the past that filled withstruggle. Through this awareness, they will be able to draw strengthand unity.
Wilson,August. Thepiano lesson.New York, NY, U.S.A.: Plume, 1990.
1 Wilson, August. The Piano lesson. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Plume, 1990, 111
2 Wilson, August. The piano lesson. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Plume, 1990, 95
3 Wilson, August. The piano lesson. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Plume, 1990, 116