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The Piano Lesson

The Piano Lesson

by August Wilson

Women and Femininity Theme

There are only two female characters in The Piano Lesson, Berniece and her eleven-year-old daughter Maretha (OK, Grace too, but she has a really small roll). All the same, womankind has a strong voice in the form of Berniece. Berniece is often encouraged to take another husband, since hers has been dead for three years. She refuses, however, insisting that she doesn't need a man to be a woman, and she keeps Avery, the man she's dating, at arm's length. Of course, the play does cast doubt on Berniece's motivations for staying single. Is she just being a strong woman, or is she using this as a mask to hide her grief?

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Do the male characters in the play make statements that might seem sexist? If so, what are they?
  2. Besides Berniece, Maretha is the only significant female character in the play. What might it mean that this child, who represents the future of the family, is a female?
  3. The men in the play all seem to think that Berniece needs a husband, while she argues that not all women need a man. Is Berniece a feminist heroine, or is she letting her grief keep her from moving on with her life?

Chew on This

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

When Berniece summons the spirits of her ancestors at the end of the play, she mainly draws strength from the maternal line.

Berniece is the voice of femininity in the play.

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