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The Piano Lesson

The Piano Lesson play is a work that was derived from the inspiration of the painting “Piano Lesson” by Romare Bearden. It is a play that its settings traces up to 1936 in Pittsburgh, and gives a highlight on the existing relationship between two siblings of Charles, Berniece and Boy Willie. There is a big clash between the two siblings on deciding whether the family’s piano is supposed to be sold and by whom between the two siblings. The play starts with a highlight about the history of Charles family, who are displayed as slaves. Two family members had been sold as slaves by Sutters for a mere piano, and this took place in the mid-nineteenth century. Sutters ordered a master-carpenter from the Charles family to carve the resultant faces of all the sold slaves into the selected piano. This was done and surprisingly a full history of the family was curved into the piano. Later, Berniece and Boy Willie’s father stole the piano, but still he did not survive long as he was killed by the Sutters as an act of vengeance. Therefore, concerning the issue of selling the piano, Boy Willie stands a high chance of being the one to sell the instrument.

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Boy Willie is Berniece's impulsive, brash brother who is talkative. At thirty-years, Boy Willie clearly brings out the main point of the conflict within the play. He lives in Mississippi, and one day he decides to sell the piano that was in the possession of the family. He was to use the money received from selling the piano for buying land from Sutter, which the family had worked on it as slaves for many years. “If Berniece don't want to sell that piano... I'm gonna cut it in half and go on and sell my half” (p. 28). This is taken to be a tough statement that Boy Willie had to put across at the end of the first act in the play. This elevates the chances of having conflict between Berniece and her brother, Boy Willie. It also brings to mind about the biblical approach to issues by Solomon, and this predicts that Boy Willie is deemed to be undeserving in inheriting the piano and its significant legacy. Therefore, by threatening his sister Bernice to cut the piano into two pieces, Boy Willie brings out the aspect of him not being interested in inheriting the piano and its symbolic value. His desire is to use the family's legacy practically—that is, convert it into capital. In this sense, Willie will appear guilty of a denial or turn away from his family's traumatic past.

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Boy Willie is brought out in the play as a strong and at times crude bravado; he approaches most of the issues within the family with a boyish character. In the play, he is seen to be violent on matters to do with race, as he often pronounces himself to be equal to the white man. In many cases, he is seen to refuse accepting the existing racial situation and its implication that he visualizes the accommodation of such situation being allowed by others. “That's the difference between the colored man and the white man. The colored man can't fix nothing with the law” (p. 38).

The idea of Boy Willie to have Sutter's land as a way of making himself equal with the white man. Furthermore, the whole play moves around the idea of inheritance, Boy Willie tries to bring the notion of moving on with the paternal legacy, and this he believes to be achieved through the purchase of Sutters land. He believes that by selling the piano and buying the Sutters land he will be avenging his father Boy Charles, who was equally brash and impetuous, and he does this without any fear. “A nigger that ain't afraid to die is the worse kind of nigger for the white man. He can't hold that power over you. That's what I learned when I killed that cat. I got the power of death too” (p. 88).

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Boy Willie’s grandfather is his namesake and, therefore, in line with paternal legacy, Willie is entailed to inherit the paternal belongings. The play brings out the aspect of Willie being strong willing to do anything for the sake of reinstating the values of the family through vengeance.

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