In The Piano Lesson, in what ways does Berniece's presence enhance the play's portrayal of African- Americans?

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

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Berniece enhances the discussion  in Wilson's play because it raises the issue of gender in being as important as that of race.  In the subject matter of the drama, the "scars" caused by slavery, the traditional discussion emerging from this is that of race and ethnicity.  Yet, I think that over the course of the drama, a fairly intense level of discussion that comes out of the gender angle is also seen.  The drama makes it clear that what it means to be of color is the same level of relevance as what it means to be a woman.  Berniece's discussion of this issue relates to her own understanding of her choice and social expectation upon it.  Most notably, this comes in the form of the discussion of marriage.  Consider her declaration:

Everybody telling me I can’t be a woman unless I got a man.

The premise here that is raised is that the challenges faced by women of color exist both in issues of race and gender.  A woman must find a way to deal with both and in this, Wilson is able to bring out a new dimension of what it means to be of color in America.  Wilson's argument seems to be that for women of color, there are multiple levels of discourse needed in that to be a woman of color and a man of color involves different experiences in the former.  Like the carvings on the piano that tell a story of what it means to be a person of enslavement and the narrative that envelops, the same is present in that which is the narrative of a woman of color.  In this, Berniece's presence enhances the discourse that Wilson puts forth.

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