The Piano Lesson's big finish happens when Berniece banishes the ghost of Sutter. Avery, a preacher, tries to exorcise the ghost by calling on the Christian God, but ultimately fails. It takes Berniece and her trusty piano to save the day. Here's how August Wilson describes the climactic moment in his stage directions:
It is in this moment, from somewhere old, that Berniece realizes what she must do. She crosses to the piano. She begins to play. The song is found piece by piece. It is an old urge to so song that is both a commandment and a plea. With each repetition it gains in strength. It is intended as an exorcism and a dressing for battle. A rustle of wind blowing across two continents. (2.5.202)
We find it very interesting that Berniece succeeds where Avery, a Christian preacher, fails. It's important to note, though, that when Africans were first brought to America as slaves they weren't Christian at all. They had a diverse background of beliefs that were completely separate from the European Christian tradition of their white slave masters. Over time, many of these tribal rituals and beliefs were lost as the slaves were indoctrinated into European American culture.
As we talk about in "What's up with the Title?" and in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," when Berniece plays on the piano she summons spirits of not only her direct ancestors, but also the spirit of the entire African-American community. When the stage directions say that the song is "A rustle of wind blowing across two continents," we're pretty sure those continents are North America and Africa (2.5.202). The "rustle of wind" could be the spiritual connection that Berniece has found with Africa. Berniece reaches deep down into her self and finds the essential African-ness buried in her. She finds the song that has been covered by centuries of white oppression.
This isn't the only August Wilson play which has this kind of ending. Check out our discussion of "What's Up with the Ending?" for his other Pulitzer Prize winning play, Fences, and you'll see what we're talking about. Really, check it out – you could write a great paper comparing the two endings.
Free College Essays - The Piano Lesson
- Length: 538 words (1.5 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
The Piano Lesson
Do you ever have one of those days when you remember your parents taking away all of your baseball cards or all of your comic books because you got a bad grade in one of your classes? You feel a little depressed and your priced possession has been stolen. This event is the same as August Wilson’s, The Piano Lesson. The story is about a sibling rivalry, Boy Willie Charles against Berniece Charles, regarding an antique, family inherited piano. Boy Willie wants to sell the piano in order to buy the same Mississippi land that his family had worked as slaves. However, Berniece, who has the piano, declines Boy Willie’s request to sell the piano because it is a reminder of the history that is their family heritage. She believes that the piano is more consequential than “hard cash” Boy Willie wants. Based on this idea, one might consider that Berniece is more ethical than Boy Willie.
Berniece’s action is more ethical because a family’s history can never replace a land. In one of their arguments, Berniece tells Boy Willie, “ ‘Money can’t buy what that piano cost. You can’t sell your soul for money’ ” (50). Berniece is trying to open up Boy Willie’s mind by telling him that their family’s legacy can seize their imaginations after years, decades, and centuries of blissfulness and sorrow. Each of their ancestor’s stories is a great novel that really happened, even if it is a good or a bad chapter.
Berniece tries to show Boy Willie that the piano experienced more than pleasant events during those days. She interprets their Mama Ola’s pain by saying, “ ‘Mama Ola polished this piano with her tears for seventeen years. For seventeen years she rubbed on it till her hands bled...she rubbed and cleaned and polished and prayed over it...seventeen years’ worth of cold nights and an empty bed. For what? For a piano? For a piece of wood?’ ” (52). The tragedy of their Mama Ola is an almost mythic quality in their unified imagination, but the time has robbed it in Boy Willie’s face. He forces himself to think of his Mama Ola’s suffering as a metaphor than an actual event.
Fortunately, Boy Willie sees everything that Berniece has been trying to tell him. He finds out about this when Sutter’s ghost came to the Charles’ house who tried to stop him from taking the piano away and started a big chaos.
How to Cite this Page
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Piano Lesson Family Heritage Comic Books Sibling Rivalry Willie August Wilson Decades Mama
While the whole thing was happening, Berniece goes up to the piano and started playing gallantly. She asked for their help. Mama Berniece, Mama Ola, Mama Esther, and Papa Boy Charles. The play ends when Boy Willie tells Berniece, “ ‘Hey Berniece...if you and Maretha don’t keep playing on that piano...ain’t no telling...me and Sutter both liable to be back’ ” (108). Saying these words, Boy Willie probably understands the real “piano lesson.” It is a reminder that blacks or minorities are often deprived both of the symbols for their past and of opportunity in the present.
In conclusion, one might say that Berniece is the only character in the play that has a sensible, defensive, nostalgic personality. Above all, she knows that life is uncertain, the future unknowable, the unthinkable possible.