Symbolism in Piano Lesson

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First Draft - The Piano Lesson

The Piano Lesson, by August Wilson, is a play which focuses on the struggle between the opposing views of a brother and sister over the future of a family heirloom, a piano decorated with pictures of the family's history, carved by the siblings' grandfather while he was a slave. The siblings disagree over the fate of the piano, for Berniece, the leading female character, wants to keep it as a reminder of the family's history and sacrifices, while her brother, Boy Willy, wants to sell it to buy the land his family once worked as slaves. Wilson uses the both the 137-year-old piano, and the conflict in which it creates, to symbolize the connection to the past. The significance of the piano's symbolism originated when it was exchanged as an anniversary present for Miss Ophelia, a white slave owner's wife, purchased in exchange for Doaker's grandmother and his father. At first, Miss Ophelia loved the piano, however she eventually came to miss her slaves. Sutter asked Doaker's grandfather, Willie Boy, to carve his wife and child into the piano. Willie Boy did carve the two slaves as requested, but also but included other images of the family history. As Doaker notes, "Now she had her piano and her niggers too." Miss Ophelia looked at the carvings as if they were alive, giving the piano lifelike characteristics introducing the symbolizim between the piano and the family. Boy Charles, also recognized the symbolic connection between the family history and the piano. He believed that as long as the Sutters possessed it, they in effect still owned the family. As Doaker recalls: "… it was the story of our whole family and as long as Sutter had it…he had us. Say we was still in slavery." After Boy Charles dies trying to reclaim the family heirloom, the piano becomes an altar that Mama Ola tends until the end of her days and a means by which she converses with her dead husband. The piano becomes both a symbolic and tangible record...
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