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Boy Willie is probably the most dynamic character in the play The Piano Lesson. He begins the play as an “all talk, no action” character who is dogged by the past to a very significant (if not debilitating degree). Boy Willie is fixated on the idea of buying the land of the family that once owned his own family during the time of slavery.
Over the course of the play, Boy Willie expresses his attitudes toward race, death, power, justice and crime, ultimately suggesting that he feels forced to “make his mark” on the world through whatever means are available. His feelings are uncompromising and his mind is made up.
However, despite his certainty as to the path he must follow, Boy Willie comes to realize that dwelling on the past is not going to help him move on in the future. Boy Willie’s wrestling match with the ghost of Sutter is symbolic of his struggle to conquer the past and its demons. He discovers that this is a battle that he cannot win, but more importantly, this is a battle that he does not have to continue to fight.
If he chooses to let go of the past, the past will let go of him.
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