Symbolism in August Wilson's Piano Lesson Essay

Symbolism in August Wilson's Piano Lesson Essay

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In The Piano Lesson each central character learns a lesson. August Wilson uses plenty of symbolism throughout his play, the strongest symbol being the piano itself, representing the family's history, their long struggle, and their burden of their race. Throughout the play, the conflict revolves around the piano, and Berniece and Boy Willie's contrasting views about its significance and about what should be done with it. Berniece is ashamed and cannot let go of the past, or the piano, and Boy Willie wants to move his life forward, and use the piano to do so. Wilson portrays the 'lesson' of the piano as accepting and respecting one's past and moving on with one's life gracefully, through Berniece and Boy Willies contrasting actions and the play's climactic resolution.
Berniece believes the piano represents the spirits of the past and should be left alone and never bothered, and is afraid to accept or embrace her family?s history. The piano represents a particularly bloody and disturbing past for her. She sees Sutter?s ghost and senses his presence, and is constantly haunted by the thought of the dead spirits coming into her life. She believes the piano stands for the bloodshed in her family?s history, and is ashamed of the violence associated with obtaining it. When encouraged to play the piano, she refuses steadfastly, saying ?that piano?s got blood on it.? She thinks that the spirits in the piano are bad, and is ashamed of the bloodshed they have caused. ?All this killing and thieving,? she exclaims. Berniece also believes the piano has strong sentimental value, and won?t agree to let go of it any way. She remembers how her mother cared so much about it. Berniece says, ?For seventeen years she rubbed on it till her hands bled....


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..., and Boy Willie finally realizes the true power and significance of the piano, the conflict is resolved.
Wilson demonstrates how one should accept and respect the past, move on with their life or slow down to pay respects to their family?s history, by describing the struggle over a symbolic object representing the past like the piano. Often people will sulk in the past and struggle with themselves and the people around them when they cannot come to terms with their personal history or a loss. Others will blatantly ignore their personal history and sell valuable lessons and pieces of it for a quick buck to advance their own lives. Berniece and Boy Willie in The Piano Lesson are great examples of these people. Through these contrasting characters and supernatural occurrences, Wilson tells the tale of overcoming and embracing a rough and unsettling family history.

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