Describe the racial ownership tension in the play. Where do other characters fit into the opposition and what is Doaker's relationship to the past?
The most significant undercurrent of this play is slavery’s continuing influence on the family. The story of the piano in The Piano Lesson essentially encapsulates and symbolizes the family’s struggles, triumphs and tragedies under slavery and in the post-slavery period that followed.
During slavery, the family was broken up because of the piano then found a way to use the piano to claim some ownership over themselves and their own history (through the carving of the piano).
This act of carving the piano is indicative of Boy Willie’s relationship to the past. He wants to defeat and/or redeem his own history like his grandfather did in carving the figures on the piano and as his father did in stealing the piano from Sutter.
Berniece and Doaker share a very similar relationship to the piano and view it as a symbol of loss, not of redemption. The past for each of them has been a story of loss and estrangement. It is fitting that the two of them end up sharing a house in Pittsburgh, where they have little or nothing to do with the people and stories of their history.
It was race and slavery that began the story of the piano and so we can say also that it is race and slavery that lead Berniece and Doaker to attempt to sever themselves from any connection to the piano, because of its role in the destruction of their family.