The Piano Lesson
The Piano Lesson
by August Wilson
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The Piano Lesson Theme of Memory and the Past

August Wilson has been quoted as saying, "My generation of blacks knew very little about the past of our parents. They shielded us from the indignities they suffered" (source). The playwright felt that it was a mistake for African Americans to be unaware of their history. With his ten-play cycle, which includes The Piano Lesson, he documented each decade of the black experience in America during the 20th century. By creating this epic work, Wilson hoped to help teach his fellow African Americans about their past, so that they might be able move forward into a more positive future. The Piano Lesson, perhaps more than any other in the cycle, deals directly with this theme. The play seems to ask the question of how African Americans can best make use of their history.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. In what ways is the piano symbolic of the Charles family's history?
  2. What is the main difference between Berniece and Boy Willie's relationship with their family's past?
  3. In what ways does America's history of slavery affect the lives of the characters in the play?
  4. Avery describes Berniece's painful memories as a "sack of stones" (2.2.49). What does he mean by this? Why might he choose this particular metaphor?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

When Berniece finally plays the piano again at the end of the play, she draws on the power of the past.

The "lesson" of The Piano Lesson is that African Americans must be aware of their past in order to build a positive future.

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