The Piano Lesson

by August Wilson

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What are three quotations that support the idea that Berniece deserves the piano in The Piano Lesson?

Three quotations in The Piano Lesson that support the idea that Berniece deserves the piano include "[Berniece's] daddy died over it," "Money can’t buy what that piano cost," and "BERNIECE realizes what she must do. She crosses to the piano. She begins to play." The first two quotes demonstrate the piano's significance to Berniece and the symbolic importance she attributes to it. The third quote, stage directions for Berniece's character, shows that she merits the piano because of her bravery.

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All the siblings in The Piano Lesson are ambivalent toward the piano, which is strongly connected with their enslaved ancestors’ painful experiences. Berniece, however, stresses the importance of keeping the piano, in part because those ancestors’ faces and life events are carved in the piano and she can feel their...

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spirits in it. More generally, she understands its role in helping them remember the past. Selling the piano, she reasons, will not remove those painful memories, because whatever money they would gain from the sale would still remind them of the past.

Doaker explains the piano’s history to Lymon, beginning with the time when Robert Sutter traded enslaved people for the piano. Bringing the story up to the recent past, he recounts how he and two other men, including Berniece’s father, Boy Charles, took the piano from the Sutters’ house. Several white men who searched for the piano found Boy Charles in a railroad car, which they burned, killing him in the fire. Doaker’s reasons that she will not give it up also supports her stake in having it: “Berniece ain’t gonna sell that piano. Cause her daddy died over it.”

Boy Willie, Berniece’s brother, reasons that with the money from the piano, he can buy the Sutters’ land. Berniece tells him that such a transaction will not improve his situation. She understands the true value of the piano.

“Money can’t buy what that piano cost. You can’t sell your soul for money. It won’t go with the buyer. It’ll shrivel and shrink to know that you ain’t taken on to it. But it won’t go with the buyer.”

Berniece's right to the piano is finally established through her bravery in confronting the past. Avery brings a Bible to the house to help Berniece by getting rid of Sutter’s ghost. Despite his best efforts, he concludes that the task is beyond him. Berniece, who has avoided playing the piano because of the strong feelings it evokes, realizes that she must play to get rid of Sutter’s ghost. The stage directions read:

BERNIECE realizes what she must do. She crosses to the piano. She begins to play. The song is found piece by piece. It is an old urge to song that is both a commandment and a plea. With each repetition it gains in strength. It is intended as an exorcism and a dressing for battle.

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What are three quotations that support the idea that Berniece deserves the piano in The Piano Lesson?  

Two siblings. One piano. Two very different ideas of what to do with that piano. Boy Willie is determined to sell it and use his half of the money to buy some land. Berniece is just as determined to keep the piano in the family. Such is the main conflict in August Wilson's play The Piano Lesson.

Both siblings hold strong reasons for their plans for the piano, but in the end Berniece wins out, so let's take a close look at her motivations for keeping the piano exactly where it is and why she deserves to keep it. In act 1, scene 2, Berniece's uncle Doaker explains the history of the piano, which dates all the way back to the days when the family was held in slavery by Robert Sutter. Sutter traded Berniece's great-grandmother and grandfather (who was nine years old at the time) for the piano as a gift for his wife, Ophelia.

Berniece's great-grandfather, now separated from his family, carved their images and the images of other family members onto the piano. “He made them up out of his memory,” Doaker explains. “Only then...he didn't stop there.” He also carved pictures into the sides of the piano, commemorating family weddings, funerals, and other events, even the sale of his wife and son. The piano, then, is not only a musical instrument; it is record of family history, a piece of art that preserves the people and events of the past. No wonder Berniece wants to keep it. It's a piece of her heritage!

But the piano is also a reminder of another part of the family's history, a tragic event. Berniece and Boy Willie's father, Boy Charles, was long fixated on the piano, which remained in the Sutter family's possession. “He be talking about taking it out of Sutter's house,” Doaker says.

Say it was the story of our whole family and as long as Sutter had it...he had us. Say we was still in slavery (act 1, scene 2).

So one night, Boy Charles and his brothers took the piano. Boy Charles tried to flee on the railroad but was burned to death in a boxcar set afire by his pursuers. Doaker concludes, “that why we say Berniece ain't gonna sell that piano. Cause her daddy died over it.”

Doaker doesn't entirely understand Berniece's feelings about the piano, however. A little later in act 1, scene 2, Berniece tells Doaker and Boy Willie about the effect the piano had on her mother.

Mama Ola polished this piano with her tears for seventeen years. For seventeen years she rubbed on it till her hands bled. Then she rubbed the blood in...mixed it up with the rest of the blood on it.

To Berniece, the piano symbolizes the grief her mother experienced continually after the death of Boy Charles, the cost of the “thieving and killing” their family and neighbors had been involved in for generations. It has personal meaning, and it is arguable that she deserves to keep it for that reason.

Berniece further explains her attitude toward the piano in a conversation with Avery in act 2, scene 2:

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,

Berniece says. Her mother used to make her play it so “she could hear my daddy talking to her.” Mama Ola would even talk to the pictures on the piano as though they were alive. Berniece has made a vow that the same thing would not happen to her. She would not spent her entire life chained to the past. The piano is also a symbol of that vow.

In the play's final scene, the piano assumes a new symbolic meaning. Berniece plays it to get rid of Sutter's Ghost, calling on all of her ancestors, all the ones associated with the piano, to help their family exorcise the spirit. It works, and Berniece breaks into a song of thanksgiving as the living members of the family gather around the piano, which has now come to symbolize a new future, a future not tied to places and people of slavery and oppression but one of hope and opportunity.

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What are three quotations which support the idea that Berniece deserves the piano in The Piano Lesson by August WIlson?

The piano which is the featured object in The Piano Lesson by August Wilson is full of family history and represents a lot of family suffering for both the original owners and for Berniece's family.

The Sutters were a white slave-owning family who owned the Charles family, black slaves who worked on the Sutter farm. Sutter did not have enough cash to purchase the piano as a gift for his wife, so he sold two members of the Charles family to pay for the instrument. One of those was Mama Berniece Charles, and her husband memorialized the two members of his family who had been sold by carving their likenesses (with permission) into the wood of the piano.

The Sutters kept the piano after his slaves were emancipated, but a member of the Charles family stole the piano in 1911, claiming that stealing it was symbolic of his family's freedom. This act, he believed, would free the Charleses forever. The piano has remained in the Charles family ever since, and Berniece took it with her when she moved, in 1933, to Pittsburgh.

Though he has never before expressed much interest in the piano, now her brother, Boy Willie Charles, has come to demand that Berniece sell the piano and claim his half in order to finance his business venture. Berniece is against the idea, and her arguments do seem to outweigh Boy Willie’s simple but burning desire for money.

Even though Berniece is an antagonistic character for most of the play, she does understand something about the piano that he either does not see or does not appreciate. She tells him:

Money can't buy what that piano cost. You can't sell your soul for money. It won't go with the buyer. It'll shrivel and shrink.

She understands that selling the piano is tantamount to selling something which is sacred to her family; in contrast, the only legacy Boy Willie sees in the piano is the money he will get from selling it. He claims to believe this sale is honoring his father’s legacy because Boy Willie is going to use the money to buy the land on which the Charleses were once enslaved, but it is a shallow honoring, at best.

Unlike her brother, Berniece clearly recognizes the significance of this piano to her family’s history, and she knows it is something tangible they will be losing if the sell it. She says:

Mama Ola polished this piano with her tears for seventeen years. For seventeen years she rubbed on till her hands bled. Then she rubbed the blood in…mixed it with the rest of the blood on it.

Bernice appreciates the sacrifice of blood represented by the piano.

Unlike Boy Willie, Berniece has a spiritual connection to this piano; despite that, she is unwilling to play the piano herself, believing that doing so would unleash the power of her ancestors. Eventually, though, Berniece releases her fears and reclaims her heritage by playing the piano and exorcising Sutter’s ghost which has come to reclaim the piano and torment the family. Berniece plays and sings:

I want you to help me/I want you to help me/Mama Berniece/I want you to help me/Mama Esther/I want you to help me/Papa Boy Charles/I want you to help me/Mama Ola/I want you to help me.

She calls on not only her own ancestors but all of her race of people to help her, and they do.

It is clear that Berniece’s connection to the piano is stronger and more spiritual than her brother’s, and that is why she deserves it more than Boy Willie.

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