The Conflict Over the future of a Legacy in The Piano Lesson

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Act I of the story “The Piano Lesson” by August Wilson tells of an African American brother and sister that are struggling with each other over what to do with a piano that they have inherited. The brother, Boy Willie, wants to sell the piano and use the money to buy land so that he can farm it. However the sister, Berniece, does not want to sell the piano, and wants to keep it so her daughter Maretha can take lessons. The central conflict of “The Piano Lesson” is the conflict over what to do with the sibling’s inheritance, and it is the choice between making a living or keeping a memory of past troubles. The play begins with Boy Willie arriving at the house of his uncle Doaker and his sister Bernice. Boy Willie has come from the south to sell watermelons in Pittsburgh and hopefully persuade Berniece to sell the piano that they have inherited. He wants to sell it so that he can get enough money to buy himself land and have a farm. Boy Willie says: “I want to get Sutter’s land with that piano. I get Sutter’s land and I can go down and cash in the crop and get my seed” (Wilson 1468). He sees the piano as hope, a chance to rise above what he is now and move forward in the world. Boy Willie wants to use his inheritance to make money, and he believes this is what his father would have wanted, rather than having it sit and rot. Berniece sees Boy Willie’s insistence on economic advancement as denial of the suffering that their family went through. Doaker tells Wining Boy, Lymon, and Boy Willie that: “Berniece ain’t gonna sell that piano. Cause her daddy died over it” (Wilson 1465). Berniece holds onto the piano for sentimental values. She believes her father died getting it back, and therefore it should be kept in the family. She also thinks it is selfish of Willie to want to sell the piano when their mother went through so much after the father died.

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