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The Piano Lesson is a play that was written by August Wilson in 1936. The play begins at dawn when Boy Willie and his associate Lymon return from Mississippi to sell watermelons. Willie asks for a drink from his uncle before the ghost of the Yellow Dog that drowned Sutter in his well turns up. Willie is planning how to sell off the historical family piano in a bid to find money which he plans to spend in purchasing the Sutter’s land that Willie believes his ancestor worked in as slaves. However, Doaker is sure that Berniece will not concede to the sale of the piano. Despite the fact that Avery Brown, a church minister who was pursuing courtship with Berniece, especially after the death of Crawley, her husband, but has failed to convince her to put the piano on sale, Willie plans to get a buyer by himself (Wilson 1208).
The scene ends by appearance of a drunken man, Winning Boy, who comically breaks tension and sits down to play a song he had composed in memory of his wife. As every attempt is made to bless the piano, Boy Willie begs, teasing Sutter as Avery attempts to conduct exorcism (Wilson 1262).Willie attempts to climb stairs as unseen forces drive him back. He engages in a life and death struggle with Sutter as Berniece begins to play the piano and invokes the names of the ancestors. A status of calm is achieved as Willie says good bye and Berniece gives thanks.
The Theme of Legacy
The concept of the historical and cultural legacy is the dominant theme in the play. The play asserts that the past should be incarnated into the present. This is symbolically represented through the piano which is an incarnation of Charles legacy. The piano is significant in keeping the artifact and the record of the family history during their time as slaves. In addition to these, historical legacy can also be preserved for vengeance, dept or reparation across the cultural generations (Elkins 21).
The Role of the Past Legacy
Two characters play a great role in representing two different points of views in handling the past legacy. Boy Willie represents the utilitarian view, as he strongly believes that the past should be converted into a useful resource for the present and the future. For him, the piano should be sold to secure a piece of land for his use in the present and the future. He also intends to do this as an act of vengeance on the acts of slavery that his forefathers were exposed to. He is convinced that this is achievable through attainment of ownership of the farms in which their fathers worked as slaves (Wilson 1232).
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The utilitarian view has both advantages as well as disadvantages. For instance, utilitarian approach makes the past an economic tool for future prosperity and associates it to material gain. However, it has a challenge associated with loss of cultural and religious values. This also leads to punishment from the departed spirits who are the custodians of the past historical legacy among the living.
The play also represents another perception which believes that the past should be upheld, preserved, honored, commemorated and kept to special memory. This perception is represented by Berniece who clings to heirloom in the memory of the blood that stains its wood. She believes that the piano should not be tampered with at all cost. She thus shuns from playing it and does not tell its story to her daughter for fear of attack from the spirits (Wilson 1254).This approach to the past has a number of disadvantages. For instance, the past legacy remains a spiritual and cultural bondage that can not translate to any usefulness in the present. The best that can be done to the legacy is to keep it in fear of the ancestral spirits. The only advantage associated to this perspective is its ability to maintain a close tie with the departed and to preserve the originality and peculiarity of the past.
The two convergent perceptions are reconciled at the end of the play though a creation of a merger between Boy Willie and Berniece. This indicates that a balanced point of view of the past should adopt both the utilitarian and conservative views. In the last scene, the struggle between Willie Boy and Suttler’s ghost represents the battle that allegorizes families and races across time. Playing the piano represents the new approach that is necessary in handling the past legacy. In this new approach, the past should be utilized to preserve the link between the ancestors and existing households. Such usefulness must remain relevant in liberating the current generation from current real challenges. As a result of this, the utilitarian views should consider the importance of the past beyond mere material gains and the conservatives should adopt the usefulness of the past in relation to the present (Wilson 1230).
The Role of Religion and Cultural Forces in Honoring The Past
The play has several analogies that portray the role of religion and cultural forces in preserving and honoring the past legacy. The play is thus dominated by several acts of superstition and the traditional African supernatural beings. These spirits create existence in both the seen and the unseen. They also portray the role played by the ancestral spirits in enhancing preservation of the past and its transmission to the future. However, the spirits also play a negative role by gripping the members of the society with fear (Wilson 1210).
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To justify the significance of spirits, the play is dominated by various interactions with the ghosts. For instance, the ghost of Sutter haunts Boy Willie who is alleged to have drowned him into the water. The ghost of the Yellow Dog and the ghosts of the ancestors, the ghost of Crawley and Cleotha are also revealed in the play. In these incidences, the ghosts play a significant role of blending Christianity and the folk African traditional mystical traditions (Wilson 1218).