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Summary

The Piano Lesson Act 1, Scene 2 Summary Page 1

  • Three days later.
  • Lights rise on Doaker and his brother, Wining Boy, in the kitchen.
  • Wining Boy is drinking whiskey, while Doaker washes dishes.
  • The stage directions say that Wining Boy is 56 years old.
  • He tries to act like a successful musician and gambler, but in reality he's kind of played out.
  • Doaker has been catching Wining Boy up on everything that's gone down – the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog getting Sutter, Sutter's ghost showing up, and the Boy Willie/Berniece/piano conflict.
  • Wining Boy asks why Sutter's sons aren't farming his land.
  • Doaker says one of them is going to school and that the other one is just totally stupid.
  • "Other than seeing Sutter's ghost how's Berniece doing?" asks Wining Boy (1.2.8).
  • Doaker tells him that she's holding on too much to Crawley's death. He thinks she ought to take up with a new man.
  • Doaker mentions Avery and the fact the he's now a preacher.
  • Wining Boy tells a story about a guy who went around telling everybody that he was Jesus Christ. The dude even dragged a cross up a hill. When it came time for the crucifixion, though, the guy chickened out. The guy then had the nerve to tell everybody to come back on Easter Sunday and celebrate his resurrection.
  • Doaker talks about how Avery is trying to start his own church.
  • Wining Boy says there's nothing wrong with being a preacher, but that there's not much difference between preachers and gamblers.
  • "You know Cleotha died," says Wining Boy (1.216).
  • Doaker says he heard.
  • Wining Boy reads a letter that one of Cleotha's friends sent him, which informed him of her death.
  • He says they were nailing the coffin shut by the time he got down there.
  • Wining Boy reminisces that he and Cleotha used to fight all the time when they were married.
  • Even though Wining Boy loved her, she wasn't cool with all his drinking and gambling.
  • Eventually, Cleotha asked him to leave, but said he always had a home with her.
  • Wining Boy says he always loved Cleotha and that the thought of her always kept him safe.
  • "If ever I go anywhere in this life I done known a good woman," says Wining Boy (1.2.22).
  • Wining Boy asks Doaker for some whiskey.
  • Doaker complains, but eventually brings his brother half a glass from the bedroom.
  • Wining Boy asks Doaker about a woman named Coreen.
  • His brother tells him that he's "let her go from [his] mind" and that she's in New York now (1.2.26).
  • Boy Willie bursts into the room followed by Lymon.
  • Boy Willie greets Wining Boy and teases him about only coming around when he's broke.
  • Wining Boy says he's got lots of money.
  • They start talking about the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog again.
  • Wining Boy tells them that he knows the ghosts are real because he went down to the tracks and talked to them.
  • Doaker says that Berniece doesn't believe in the Ghosts because Avery has her all wrapped up church.
  • Boy Willie says Berniece only thinks she believes in Christianity, but really she doesn't believe in anything.
  • Wining Boy asks about Boy Willie selling the piano.
  • Boy Willie says he got the number of the white guy who wanted to buy it. He talks again about how he needs the money to by Sutter's land.
  • How do you know the land you want hasn't already been sold, Wining Boy asks him.
  • His nephew replies that Sutter's brother told he would hold it for him.
  • Boy Willie tells Doaker to bring out more whiskey.
  • Doaker brings out the whole bottle.
  • Boy Willie starts talking about how he and Lymon were down on Parchman Farm, which is a penitentiary. (It's basically like prison, but you have to work all day.)
  • He tells the story of how they ended up on Parchman Farm.
  • Boy Willie and Lymon were hauling wood for a guy named Joe Miller.
  • Everyday they'd throw a little off to the side.
  • They were planning to come pick it up later, when they had enough for a load.
  • Some white guys saw what they were doing and came to get the wood for themselves.
  • Crawley started shooting at the guys, but ended up getting shot himself.
  • Boy Willie took a bullet in the stomach.
  • He and Lymon got away, but eventually the sheriff caught them and put them on Parchman Farm.
  • Lymon talks about how he's wanted down there now.
  • The sheriff put him in jail again for not working.
  • A dude named Mr. Stovall paid a hundred dollars to get him out of jail, and said that in return Lymon had to work the money off.
  • Lymon told the judge he's rather stay in jail for the thirty days, but the judge said he had to work for Mr. Stovall. Lymon has been dodging the Mr. Stovall and the sheriff ever since. All this is why he's staying in Pittsburgh.
  • Wining Boy talks about how the main difference between white and black people is that, "The colored man can't fix nothing with the law" (1.2.86).
  • They all start singing a song that prisoners sing on Parchman Farm.
  • They get really into it, and it goes on for a while.
  • Boy Willie asks Wining Boy to play something on the piano.
  • Wining says he doesn't want to and talks about how he's spent too many years drinking and playing piano.
  • Boy Willie starts talking again how he's going to sell the piano and get Sutter's land.
  • Doaker says again that Berniece won't sell it.
  • Then he decides to tell Lymon the whole story of the piano. (At last we get to know what the big deal is with this thing.)
  • Doaker's family was once owned by a man named Robert Sutter, Sutter's grandfather.
  • The piano was owned by a guy called Mr. Nolander.
  • Robert Sutter was looking for an anniversary present for his wife, Miss Ophelia.
  • He thought the piano would make a good present and asked Mr. Nolander if he could trade him some slaves for it.
  • Mr. Nolander picked Doaker's grandmother Berniece, who our Berniece is named after, and Doaker's daddy, who was nine years old at the time.
  • At first, Miss Ophelia was really happy with the piano; she'd play it all day long.
  • Eventually, though, she started missing Doaker's grandmother and father.
  • Robert Sutter tried to get Mr. Nolander to trade the slaves back in exchange for the piano.
  • Mr. Nolander wouldn't do it, though.
  • Miss Ophelia started missing her slaves so badly that she took sick to her bed.
  • To solve the problem, Sutter called in Doaker's grandfather, Willie Boy, who our Boy Willie is named after.
  • Willie Boy just so happened to be an awesome carpenter.
  • When Mr. Nolander took Berniece and Doaker's father away he offered to by Willie Boy too, so that the family could stay together.
  • Sutter refused, though, because Willie Boy was too good a carpenter to lose.
  • Anyway, Sutter asked Willie Boy to carve pictures of Berniece and Doaker's grandfather.
  • Willie Boy did like his master asked, but went a lot farther.
  • He carved the history of his whole family into the piano.
  • Willie Boy carved pictures of his parents, Mama Esther and Boy Charles.
  • He showed their wedding and Mama Esther's funeral – everything he knew about the family.
  • Sutter was mad at him for carving all of that, but Miss Ophelia was happy when she saw it.
  • She got better and played on the piano until the day she died.
  • Time went by.
  • Doaker starts taking about him and Wining Boy's brother, Boy Charles, who was named after their great grandfather Boy Charles.
  • Boy Charles was our modern day Berniece and Boy Willie's father.
  • Doaker says that Boy Charles is dead now, but that he'd be 57 if he were still alive.
  • Boy Charles died in 1911.
  • Apparently, Boy Charles became obsessed with the piano.
  • He said that their whole family history was carved into it, and as long as it stayed in Sutter's house it was like their whole family was still in slavery.
  • Boy Charles kept talking about taking the piano out of Sutter's house.
  • Doaker and Wining Boy tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't listen.
  • So, on the 4th of July, 1911, they snuck into Sutter's house while Sutter was at the county picnic.
  • They took the piano, loaded it on a wagon, and hauled it over to the next county.
  • Doaker isn't sure exactly what happened after that.
  • All he knows is that Sutter came home and found the piano missing and things started getting burnt up.
  • Somebody went to Boy Charles's house and set it on fire that night.
  • Boy Charles wasn't there, though; he was riding in a boxcar on the 3:57 Yellow Dog.
  • He didn't escape though, because somebody had the train stopped.
  • Whoever it was set the boxcar that Boy Charles was in on fire.
  • Boy Charles died in the fire along with three hobos who were in the car too.
  • No one is sure who set the boxcar on fire.
  • People suspected that it was either Sutter, Sheriff Saunders, or some guys named Robert Smith and Ed Saunders.
  • About two months later Ed Saunders fell down his well.
  • Everybody said it was the ghosts of the men who burnt up in the boxcar that did it.
  • These ghosts started being called (you guessed it) "the Ghosts of Yellow Dog."
  • All this, says Doaker, is why Berniece isn't going to sell the piano.
  • There's no way she'll sell it, because her father died over it.
  • Boy Willie says that his father would have wanted him to sell it.
  • If he sells the piano, he'll be able to buy his own land instead of working on somebody else's. He thinks this is the best way to honor his father's memory.
  • Doaker says that nobody is right or wrong here; he's just trying to explain why Berniece won't sell it.
  • Lymon tells Boy Willie that he ought to just stay in Pittsburgh.
  • Boy Willie refuses, saying he's going to live his life the way he wants to. He likes farming.
  • Wining Boy tries to lighten the mood by playing a song on the piano. It's about being "a rambling gambling man" (1.2.126).
  • Berniece enters with Maretha.
  • She seems happy to see Wining Boy and offers to make him something to eat.
  • Unsurprisingly, she and Boy Willie bicker a little bit before she heads upstairs with Maretha.
  • Boy Willie starts lifting the piano to see how heavy it is.
  • Wining Boy tells his nephew that he won't let him sell it.
  • Boy Willie says that Wining Boy has no claim to it.
  • Winging Boy points out that he helped take it.
  • Yeah, says Boy Willie, but you weren't there to help my daddy when he died over it.
  • Boy Willie and Lymon try to lift the piano.
  • As they lift, the sound of Sutter's ghost is heard.
  • No one seems to hear it but Doaker.
  • Berniece comes down the stairs and sees Boy Willie trying to move the piano.
  • The two bicker about it again.
  • Boy Willie launches into a monologue, trying to get her to see his side.
  • He says that he's trying to build on what his family has left him.
  • It'd be different, he tells his sister, if she was using the piano for something.
  • If she was giving lessons or using it in someway he'd find some other way to get Sutter's land.
  • As it is, though, she's wasting what their father left them.
  • Boy Willie says that their father would understand why he wants to sell the piano.
  • Berniece tells Boy Willie, "You always talking about your daddy but you ain't never stopped to look at what his foolishness cost your mama" (1.2.162).
  • She talks about how their mother, Mama Ola, polished the piano everyday until her hands bled.
  • Then she'd ask Berniece to play her something on it.
  • Berniece is disgusted by all the thieving and killing that swirled around her family.
  • She accuses Boy Willie of causing her husband Crawley's death.
  • Boy Willie says it was Crawley's fault that he got killed.
  • Lymon backs Boy Willie up, saying that if Crawley hadn't brought a gun then nobody would've gotten shot.
  • Berniece won't hear it. She says, "All I know is Crawley would be alive if you hadn't come up there and got him" (2.1.174).
  • She gets really mad and starts hitting Boy Willie.
  • He turns his head, but doesn't move to defend himself.
  • Doaker grabs Berniece, telling her it wasn't Boy Willie's fault.
  • Suddenly, Maretha lets out a terrified scream from upstairs; she's seen Sutter's ghost.
  • Black out.

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