The Piano Lesson
by August Wilson
The Piano Lesson Memory and the Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Every time a character talks counts as one line, even if what they say turns into a long monologue.
Doaker: "And he took and carved this […] See that right there? That's my grandmother, Berniece. She looked just like that. And he put a picture of my daddy when he wasn't nothing but a little boy the way he remembered him. He made them up out of his memory." (1.2.119)
Doaker's grandfather, Willie Boy, carved his wife and child's pictures into the piano, when his master Robert Sutter ordered him to. We imagine it was also a way for him to be with his wife and child who had been traded for the piano. In a way, they became tangible again -- more than just a memory.
Doaker: "[Willie Boy] carved all this. […] He got a picture of his mama…Mama Esther…and his daddy, Boy Charles. […] He got all kinds of things what happened with our family. When Sutter seen the piano with all them carvings on it he got mad." (1.2.119)
We highly enjoy hearing about this little act of rebellion on Willie Boy's part. Instead of just carving what Sutter asked, he chiseled the whole piano with the history of his family. Willie Boy turned the piano into an altar of sorts. After he was done carving, the piano became a monument to his family's past.
Doaker: "[Boy Charles] Say [the piano] was the story of our whole family and as long as Sutter had it…he had us. Say we was still in slavery." (1.2.119)
Boy Charles, Berniece and Boy Willie's father, was consumed by the family's past. The piano had his family's history carved into it, so as long as Sutter still had it he felt like they were all still slaves. Unfortunately for Boy Charles, this obsession with the past eventually led to his death.