The Idea of Legacy in The Piano Lesson
August Wilsons The Piano Lesson is a mature play, which reveals a great number of serious questions for the characters and transfers them to the reader's minds by the means of competent presentation. In his play, the author sheds light on many themes, and each one is undoubtedly important. However, carefully reading the literary work, one can conclude that legacy is its major theme since the author enhances its shadow everywhere, starting with the argument between two relatives and finishing with the sacramental meaning of the musical instrument.
The Piano Lesson contains many conflicts, both internal and external. However, the conflict that lies on the surface of the play and is not veiled is the external conflict between the sister and the brother, Berniece and Boy Willie. Each of them struggles for what they believe is necessary and more important in their lives. Thus, both of the positions can be explained in a rather logical way. The utilitarian view of Boy Willie, where the past has an economic use, is the man's chance to change his life for better. He does not have either strength or desire to be a slave any more. The piano brought his family through tortures and pain; for him, now the instrument is the symbol of their hard and unbearable past. Apparently, this thing will always remind Boy Willie about those times of oppression and suppression. Indeed, it seems to be a very logical approach because no one would like to possess the object, which will become a memorandum of pain. To Boy Willies mind, the only useful act that could be taken towards this musical instrument is its sale. Unfortunately, this logical approach has an evident and huge disadvantage, namely the loss of heirloom and its value, which is extremely important, and August Wilson shows it in the last scene of The Piano Lesson. Keeping family reliquaries is incredibly important since they represent and reflect one's history, without which a family does not have the past. Such approach, which Berniece chooses, does not represent only sentimental attitude to the issue but also shows the value of family heirloom and traditions and the respect to one's ancestors. For Boy Willies sister, keeping the piano is the way to show all her love and respect to her family since the instrument reminds her about all the sufferings and deaths that her family had to face throughout their difficult lives. Berniece's approach is right, good and just. However, it also has disadvantages since keeping the piano also means sticking in the past. It is well-known that the cost of hanging on to the past is sticking in that very past, which does not let one develop in the future. Undoubtedly, it is very important to remember and honor one's past. In fact, the past is a good lesson for life since it always shows people how they should act and which walls and faults they created throughout their lives. If Berniece does not allow her brother to sell it, she will possibly never change her life to better and will forever stay the part of the enslaved family.
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Therefore, even though the points of view of two relatives are so different, there is no way to state that they are univocal. Despite the vivid and strong desire to keep the legacy as a memorandum of her family experience and love, it is obvious that Berniece also wants to live a better life. However, she has to choose some way, and this is her choice. Talking about her brother, one can also say that getting some particular improvements of his life, he also honors the memory of his family. Perhaps, he blames the deaths of his family members on this instrument and has no desire to feel the pain, which he felt when he lost his relatives, every time he looks at the piano.
As one can see, the play presents an unusual intermingles of spirituality. The existence of Christianity is felt in the play beyond any doubt. The brightest representative of it is Avery, a black preacher. However, the characters of The Piano Lesson mix other beliefs with their perceptions of Christianity. In August Wilson's literary work, one can perceive ghosts as the Gods and the Devil's hands (Bloom 13). Moreover, Wilson's play reveals the models of spiritual traditions of Africa such as antecedent reverence. The climax of the play draws together ghosts, the Christian God, and the ancestor's spirits in order to help dispose of a predominantly wearisome ghost.
The Piano Lesson deals with matters of race. One of the aims of this play is to depict the African American experience in the 20th century (Elam 106). One must confess that the mature author reached his goals by the means of The Piano Lesson play. Indeed, The Piano Lesson is the reflection of the time of the Great Depression and the entire black people experience in America in 1930s. In addition, the play highlights the consequences of the Great Migration that brought a great number of black people to America in order to search for jobs. The analyzed literary work shows the distinctions in race affairs in the South and the North of America at the time (Nadel 58). In spite of the fact that the play does not emphasize the racially prejudiced Jim Crow's commandments in a straight line, it shows that African American people were more fairly treated in the North than in the South. The Piano Lesson is a manuscript of these meaningful events that took place in African American history.
Talking about the female part characters of the play, there are only 2 female characters in Wilson's play, Berniece and her daughter Maretha who is eleven years old, excluding Grace since she has a very small role. In spite of the then situation, womankind has a very strong reflection and voice that are represented by Berniece. The woman is frequently persuaded to marry another man since her husband has been dead for 3 years. However, she declines all the propositions. Berniece explains her decision by saying that she does not need to have a man by her side in order to remain a woman. Though Berniece dates with Avery, she keeps him at the length of arm. Certainly, the author casts the shadow of doubt on Bernieces's enthusiasms for being single. Wilson gives readers the opportunity to analyze the play and make their own conclusion concerning the question if the character of his play is really a strong woman or she only uses a mask in order to hide her pain.
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The last scene of this literary work plays a significant role. It starts when Berniece sends away the Sutters ghost. Indeed, this is the moment when it is up to Berniece and her lovely piano to save the situation. The climax of the story is depicted in Bernieces's realization of something that she must do; to be more precise, the woman must play the piano in order to rescue the situation. The author mentions that the song, which Berniece plays, is represented like the act of exorcism (Wilson 202). Here, it is easy to see the power of the musical instrument when Berniece manages to stop the ghost, while the Christian priest does not pass. One more important fact that can be revealed with the help of the last scene of the play is that when African slaves first settled America, they were not Christians; their beliefs were completely different from the beliefs of those who enslaved them and from the Christian tradition of Europe as well. However, the time passed, and the apparent verges of their religion became blurred.
Playing the piano, Berniece convenes spirits of the whole African American community but not only of her ancestors. The reader knows that the song, which the woman plays, is called A Rustle of Wind Blowing across Two Continents. The title makes the readers think that the continents that are sung about are Africa and North America (Wilson 202). It is the song, which has been swathed by hundreds of years of oppression of Africans by white people.
Perhaps, the last scene of The Piano Lesson by August Wilson is the key one to the whole play. Throughout the play, the author leaves space for readers in order to decide whose position and approach they support, namely Boy Willies or Bernieces. As a mature playwright, Wilson does not claim that one approach is good, while the other is bad, and only in the final scene, he makes a hidden but at the same time rather bright comment on which position is better. However, even in spite of this fact, the African American writer does not state that Boy Willy's approach is totally wrong. By the means of such narration, the author of the analyzed play gives readers an opportunity to choose the position, which they are eager to support, by their own, while his comment on the legacy covertly states that in many cases, legacy is the only way to communicate with ancestors. Without legacy a person has nothing behind their back; they have no past, no traditions, no visible connection to their ancestors, no reliquaries, nothing.