Boy Willie and Berniece are divided in their relationship to the recent past and their family history.
Boy Willie identifies himself as being very similar to his father, who was known as a stubborn and proud man. We can see Boy Willie’s pride in a number of his longer speeches where he defines himself in defiance to any inferiority cast upon him by virtue of color and explains his aims to become a land-owner.
Boy Willie is very much involved with his own history and seeks to conquer it in some ways. Berniece, however, attempts to sever herself from the past which is perhaps the reason for her stalled adult life.
Berniece refuses to play the piano, a symbolic denial of her past, and refuses to move forward in her relationship with Avery. She is described as being in mourning for her husband who has been dead for three years when the action of the play takes place.
In a way, we can say that these two characters encapsulate perfectly the larger themes of the play which are related to issues of coming to terms with the past. Boy Willie and Berniece each move to a new relationship with their histories, but begin at opposite ends of the spectrum with one being fully wrapped up in the past and the other attempting to deny the past entirely.