In The Piano Lesson, how important is the past ownership of the piano?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the piano represents the past and the question then becomes how important is past ownership of "the past."  In my mind, Wilson seems to be making a complex statement about a complex issue.  On one hand, it is evident that Wilson understands that the forces of modernity and progress will always seem to raise questions about how individuals view the past.  Boy Willie suggests that the past ownership of the piano is not as relevant as what one can gain from the past.  In his mind, this becomes an issue of money and the ability to barter off the past for present and future considerations.  For Berniece, her inability to let the piano go, but also to not be able to make it a part of her own reality in not playing it reflects how the past is a thorny issue that impacts present and future.  For Berniece, past ownership of the piano is highly relevant for she cannot overlook it because her past is inextricably linked to it.  Only when she starts playing it at the end is it clear to her that her past is something that she can own and can use to empower herself in the hopes of creating a present and future where some level of hope is evident.  In this, Wilson might be suggesting that past narratives that are filled with trauma and challenge must be "owned" to a great extent by individuals in the present.  There has to be a level of ownership where we, children of past pain, look in the face of what was there and own it ourselves in the hopes of being able to create songs that enliven the present and future.


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