Examine how the symbol of the piano represents the family's freedom from oppression.

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

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The idea of the piano is significant in detailing the family's freedom from oppression.  The piano's "lesson" is one of valuing the past and understanding how the narrative of oppression and the silencing of voices is a part of Boy Willie's and Berniece's family. Modernity and so- called progress is never far from the past of oppression and pain.   Berniece articulates this when describing the value of the piano:

I told you I don’t play on that piano…When my mama died I shut the top on that piano and I ain’t never opened it since. I was only playing it for her. When my daddy died seem like all her life went into that piano. She used to have me play on it…say when I played it she could hear my daddy talking to her. I used to think them pictures come alive and walked through the house. Sometime late at night I could hear my mama talking to them. I said that wasn’t gonna happen to me I don’t play that piano ‘cause I don’t want to wake them spirits. They never be walking around in this house.

The "spirits" and the condition of something larger is essential to the piano's meaning.  Its symbolic function is evident.  The piano represents the story of the past, one of oppression.  In preserving the piano, Berniece is recognizing that the sad narratives included in the piano that cannot be forgotten.  

Wilson constructs this as a part of the family's flight from oppression.  Boy Willie's desire to sell the piano for profit does not fully seek to acknowledge and soothe the past condition of oppression.  It simply pushes it aside, without gaining a better and deeper meaning to it.  Yet, Berniece recognizes that the songs the piano plays involve the hurt, sorrow, and elation to the family's predicament.  In preserving the piano, Berniece comes to an understanding of her role as connection between the past and the future.  It is in this understanding where the piano symbolizes how people can make peace with the pain of the past and the uncertainty of the future. It is for this reason that Berniece does not sell the piano.  She goes back to playing it. In doing this, she demonstrates how the valuing of the piano embodies the family's flight from oppression.  Freedom from oppression is understanding it, and recognizing its importance in what it means to be human.

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