Although set during the Great Depression, August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson depicts a variety of contemporary themes and conflicts in America, some very prevalent to this day! The central theme concerns the importance of history – understanding the historical context of the world in which we live.
As noted by The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, The Piano Lesson is a play “in two acts by August Wilson, produced in 1987 and published in 1990. The play, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1990, is part of Wilson’s cycle about African-American life in the 20th century. The action takes place in Pittsburgh in 1936 at the house of a family of African-Americans who have migrated from Mississippi. The conflict centers around a piano that was once traded by the family’s white master for two of the family’s ancestors. Boy Willie and Berniece, the siblings who inherit the piano (carved to show family history), argue about whether or not to sell it. Berniece’s climactic refusal to allow Boy Willie to move the piano exorcises both the literal and figurative ghost of the white slave owner who has been haunting the family.”
For your 1000 word written analysis, consider the characters Boy Willie and Berniece in light of today’s American society. In keeping with the jargon of popular culture, beam them up into today’s world! Transplant both characters into contemporary Pittsburgh (or Los Angeles for that matter), and carefully consider how each would think, feel, and act today. Which themes would be consistent? Which conflicts still prevalent? This is a “speculative” opinion essay – you will need to recreate these two characters in light of today’s world. In your analysis, include references to at least two literary theories AND add at least five (5) quotes from specific scenes, action and dialogue from the play.
Please include an introduction and conclusion. In your introduction, state your thesis on whether the play’s themes are consistent with attitudes in contemporary society. In your conclusion, I would like you to reflect on your own personal feelings/reactions to the play.
Most of your analysis should be “analysis,” so keep the quotes to a minimum!!! Your grade will be based on the thoroughness of your analysis, the strength of your quotes/examples, and your thoughtfulness and openmindedness! You may write more than the 1000 word minimum, but please keep your analysis under 2,000 words!
Good luck and enjoy!
Discussion Guide for The Piano Lesson
Doaker Charles, Boy Willie, Lymon, Berniece, Maretha
Avery Brown, Wining Boy, Grace
Person-against-self – an internal conflict of feelings.
Person-against-person – the typical protagonist vs. antagonist scenario.
Person-against-society – the protagonist battles against the larger organizations of society
(or a system of beliefs held by society).
Person-against-nature – the protagonist is threatened by a component of nature.
Setting, Time & Place: 1930s – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Memory & Historical Legacy
The Call to the Dead
Maternal & Paternal Lines