The Piano Lesson
by August Wilson
The Piano Lesson Race 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.
Boy Willie: "I got the power of death too. […] I can call him up. The white man don't like to see that. He don't like for you to stand up and look him square in the eye and say, 'I got it too.' Then he got to deal with you square up." (2.5.29)
Boy Willie says that he realized he had "the power of death" after he killed a cat. Since then, he says, he hasn't been afraid of the "the white man." Boy Willie feels it's necessary to pay back any violence done to him back in kind.
Boy Willie: "If you teach that girl that she living at the bottom of life, she's gonna grow up and hate you."
Berniece: "I'm gonna teach her the truth. That's just where she living. Only she ain't got to stay there." […]
Boy Willie: "This might be your bottom but it ain't mine. I'm living at the top of life." (2.5.50-2.5.52)
Boy Willie thinks that Berniece too easily accepts the way that black people are pushed down by the white majority. When he says he lives at the "top of life," it means that he feels like he's equal with everyone he meets. Berniece, on the other hand, just calls it like she sees it. Blacks aren't equal in the eyes of society, and she doesn't see any point in pretending that's not true. Notice, though, that she says that Maretha "ain't got to stay there." Boy Willie accuses her of accepting her place too easily, but it seems like Berniece definitely has hope for the future.
Boy Willie: "I was born to a time of fire. The world ain't want no part of me. I could see that since I was about seven. The world say it's better off without me." (2.5.58)
What do you think Boy Willie means by "a time of fire?" Is he referring to the racially motivated violence that many black people have to deal with, perhaps? The word fire does remind us of the way the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog all met their end in a flaming box car. Of course, the word "fire" could also be meant to invoke the war that Boy Willie sees himself fighting against racism.