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The Piano Lesson

The Piano Lesson


by August Wilson

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Boy Willie arrives.

Boy Willie and Lymon arrive from Mississippi with a truckload of watermelons. Boy Willie's sister, Berniece, is less than pleased that he's there.


Boy Willie and Berniece argue over the piano.

Boy Willie lays out his plan to sell the piano so that he can buy Sutter's land. Berniece absolutely refuses.


The piano won't budge.

Boy Willie and Lymon try to move the piano, but it's way too heavy. Chances are Sutter's ghost is holding is there. Also, Doaker, Wining Boy, and Berniece all intervene over the course of various scenes.


Boy Willie wrestles Sutter's ghost; Berniece calls to her ancestors.

Sutter's ghost attacks. Boy Willie wrestles with it, but seems to be fighting a losing battle. No one but Berniece can save the day. She plays the piano, drawing on the spirits of her ancestors to give Sutter the boot.


Berniece sings her song.

We're on the edge of our seats as we wait to see if Berniece's song will save the day.


Sutter's ghost is banished.

Hurrah! Berniece's song summons her ancestors and the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog – Sutter's ghost is exorcised from the house.


Boy Willie goes home.

Boy Willie heads back to Mississippi, but tells his sister she better keep playing the piano, or he and Sutter's ghost might both be back.

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