The Piano Lesson
How we cite our quotes:
Boy Willie: (Sings) "O Lord Berta Berta O Lord gal oh-ah/O Lord Berta Berta O Lord gal well" (1.2.95)
As we note in our entry on the theme of "Art and Culture: Music," this is a song that Boy Willie and several of the other characters sang on Parchman Farm, an infamous prison farm. This type of prison song is descended from work songs of the slaves. The fact that the two types of songs are so similar seems to highlight the fact that Parchman Farm was very much like a slave plantation reborn. It's mostly black inmates were forced to do grueling work under very poor conditions.
Doaker: "So [Robert Sutter] asked Mr. Nolander to see if maybe he could trade off some of is niggers for that piano." (1.2.111)
Doaker's grandmother and father were traded for the piano. The fact that human beings could be exchanged for an object highlights the degradation of slavery. When Doaker tells this story from the Charles family history, the piano becomes a symbol of the family's history of enslavement.
Doaker: "Miss Ophelia got to missing my grandmother…the way she would cook and clean the house and talk to her and what not. And she missed having my daddy around the house to fetch things for her. […] Miss Ophelia took sick to the bed." (1.2.113)
It's interesting that Miss Ophelia got so upset over the absence of her slaves. We have to assume that she thought of them as a little more than servants, if she took to her bed over it. If she cared about them so much why did she let them be traded? Did she realize after they were gone that she actually valued them as human beings? This story shows the often-complex relationships that existed between masters and slaves.