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The play The Piano Lesson takes a firm feminist stance, as Berneice argues with her brother Boy Willie, who believes that selling the piano will get them to the land of Sutter, where his ancestors were slaves. They clash largely because they have opposing viewpoints on the piano. Boy Willie thinks that selling the piano would gain him the ownership of land which includes both pleasing his ancestors and also achieving a good life materialistically whereas Berneice is of the opinion that the piano has carvings that represented her ancestors and, at the same time, it has the brooding memories of the slavery that her ancestors had gone through. She, of course, does not want it away from her.
In my opinion, Berniece has better argument as the piano is the last piece of memory of her grandparents and great grandparents. She does not only see it as an instrument made of wood but as something that carries souls within. On the other hand, her brother wants to acquire the land for financial gains. According to me, Berniece’s emotions must be kept above Boy Willie’s aspiration of a good life as good life could be achieved with hard work but the piano, once sold, would not come back.
Life for the blacks in the post-Civil War South was confusing, to say the least. It was a time when the African were on paper free to do and live as they saw fit. However, due to the role they had played since arriving into the United States that freedom was hard to come by. Most people did not feel that blacks would ever be anything more than what they were and had no desire to allow them to ascend to any form of social status. Even though the law stated all men were free and had rights, most people in the South had no interest in permitting anything that remotely resembled equality for black men and women. In The Piano Lesson, August Wilson intricately weaves a story around two siblings who for very different reasons wish to control possession of a family heirloom: a handcrafted piano (Singleton 49). This paper will illustrate how the two siblings viewed life and the implication of theme towards the blacks in the South in the early 1900s.
The Piano Lesson fights with the problem of what African American can do with the cultural heritage. Brother and sister Boy Willie and Bernice are two sides of the same coin. In his article Aspects of Africanness in August Wilson’s Drama: Reading the Piano Lesson through Wole Soyinka’s Drama, Amadou Bissiri states that August Wilson has dedicated himself to writing a cycle of plays dramatizing black experience during crucial historical periods order to play out his individual sense of commitment to the cause of black men and women to tell American history (Bissiri 99). True to the history of the time, Wilson has displayed the differences between the brother and sister based on their experiences.
Boy Willie and Bernice are both trying to hold on to the piano. However, their reasons could not be more different. For Boy Willie, the piano represents his ticket to a better life. Growing up in the South so soon after Emancipation, he has a clear view of what is necessary for him to raise his social status. He can recognize the connection between the property and social status. Sadly, this was made clear because he can equate the value of slaves to the level of prosperity, and he desires to rise above the level of a slave. Bernice, on the other hand, wants to hold on to the memory of her family, and the piano represents this perfectly.
The story of the heirloom is a story of the family. It was given as a wedding present, but was eventually hand-crafted by their grandfather, and included the likenesses of both their grandmother and uncle (Sandy 82). Both siblings value the piano, but for very different reasons. It implies that despite the various views in life, the cultural heritage and family are always worth living for. Therefore, the history of the life of blacks’ cannot be forgotten.
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