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‘Family is everything’ is a well-established archaic saying. This is exactly what The Piano Lesson attempts to convey to us. An intriguing yet heartfelt playwright set in the early 1930’s by August Wilson, The Piano Lesson highlights hard-hitting aspects of life such as family, slavery, racism, legacy, vengeance, dreams and a hint of feminism, the principal motif being family and the acceptance of one’s own heritage (58).
The Piano Lesson is actually about the lessons left to the estranged siblings by their ancestors. The piano in the play is a symbol of the past and the future of the Charles family. It stands for a family accepting and owning their past and leveraging their combined strength to beat the odds. The piano teaches Willie and Berniece the importance of a family looking out for one another.
For example, both Berniece and Boy Willie are shown to have conflicting ideas regarding family legacy which were not completely right (Costen, 4). Boy Willie was wrong when he wanted to sell the piano and hand over the family heirloom to a stranger and Berniece was wrong to keep the piano with her, refusing to play it, thereby disrespecting her ancestors. She was unable to wield its power as she refused to accept her family’s history. As both were at odds, Sutter’s ghost silently fed off of their despair and weakness, growing stronger. However, in the final act, when Boy Willie is being attacked by Sutter’s ghost, Berniece accepts her family’s past and plays the piano, yields its power, calling upon her ancestors for help and dispelling Sutter’s ghost.
Realizing and accepting the power of family and its endowments is a rare yet empowering gift, given to us by The Piano Lesson. The piano tells us that family is, without a doubt, everything.
Wilson, August. The Piano Lesson. New York: Plume, 1990.
Costen, James. The Piano Lesson, 2005.