The Piano Lesson

ThePiano Lesson

AugustWilson wrote ThePiano Lessonin 1990 to depict the era after abolishing slavery in America. Theplay is set in 1934 and narrates the story of an African-Americanfamily that struggles with the identity and experiences of the past.Wilson illustrates how the plantation farms formed the institutionthat promoted new forms of legal slavery. Even after abolishingslavery, the black Americans still suffered in poverty and struggledto gain a separate identity from their masters. They could not easilyforget the legacy of slavery. It left a painful past whose knowledgeexplains the identity, dignity, and strength of a race. Consequently,the effects of slavery have influenced the attitudes and behaviors ofthe characters.

Thelegacy of slavery is characterized by poverty and painful memories ofthe past as depicted by the characters in the play. Doaker narratesto his family the story of their grandparents describing how theywere traded for a piano. It was a painful memory for the Charlesfamily history because it showed how slavery degraded them as a race.Hence, the piano became a symbol of the family’s past in slavery(Wilson 119). Even after abolishing slavery, the blacks had to fightto achieve total freedom. For example, Boy Charles had to steal thepiano from the Sutter family because it would mean liberation.Although it would cost him his life, Boy Charles is willing to dowhatever it takes to free his family from Sutter’s oppression. Hisfight represents a symbol of the African American’s struggle toovercome the historical impacts of slavery.

Onthe other hand, the characters acknowledge the influence of slaveryand even try to break free from it through different ways. BoyCharles tries to break away from slavery by refusing to let the pianoremain in the Sutter family. The thought of having the piano in theSutter’s home was a big reminder of the slavery years. Thus, bytaking the piano home, Boy Charles was cutting the ties that boundhis family had with slavery (Wilson 201). Avery acknowledges that theblacks no longer have a sense of self-identity. Avery explains toBernice that he can get rid of Sutter’s ghost. However, he hadabandoned the spiritual beliefs and practices that defined theblacks, which made it impossible to accomplish the task (Wilson 202).The slaves had to adopt Christianity because their masters saw theirreligious practices as wrong. The white people religion did not servethe blacks characters in their time of need but instead it took awaytheir identity. Bernice breaks off from slavery by banishing theghost of Sutter. She summons the spirits of her ancestors who helpsher to get rid of Sutter’s ghosts, which finally liberates herfamily from slavery (Wilson 203).

Thecharacter Boy Willie acknowledges that slavery affects almost everypart of their lives, which influences his attitudes and behavior. Hedesires to escape from painful memories of slavery by buying theSutter’s farm. Thus, he decides to sell the piano, but Bernicedisapproves because she believes that it is similar to selling theirsouls. On the contrary, Boy Willie thinks that it is the best way tobuild on their inheritance (Wilson 94). He trusts that using thepiano to buy the land where their ancestors were once enslaved willindeed bring them justice. Bernice attempts to free from slavery byignoring her family legacy. She stops playing the piano after hermother dies. Besides, she does not teach her daughter the values andteaching of the black culture but instead teaches her to embrace thevalues of the white people by being quiet and modest. Therefore, shesees her past as a source of suffering and shame. Doaker fullyacknowledges the influence of slavery when he watches two siblingsfight over a piano. He tries to free from slavery by agreeing thatthe piano should be sold (Wilson 97). He believes that it remindsthem of their painful past. Besides, he sees the piano as the reasonSutter’s ghost still stays in the house.

Inconclusion, ThePiano Lessonportrays the issues surrounding the black American families after theslavery years. Slavery left a heritage of poverty and lack ofself-identity among the blacks. It affected the behavior of thecharacters because they used different tactics to forget and breakaway from slavery. Bernice viewed slavery a something shameful and arepresentation of pain while the other characters saw it as a way toassociate with their black heritage.


Wilson,August. ThePiano Lesson.New York: Plume, 1990. Print.