Women’s Literature – The Piano Lesson Essay
In The Piano Lesson both Boy Willie and his sister Bernice have their own agendas for their father’s old piano, crafted by their grandfather. Boy Willie wants to put the piano to use. He wants to sell it so that he can
buy land to farm. Bernice, although she is afraid to play on it wants to keep it where it is in her living room because the carvings on the piano tell their family’s history and act as a reminder of her father’s foolishness in trying to steal it and her mother’s hard work and sadness she put polished into the piano. Both sibling’s side of the argument are reasonable and can be related to elements in Alex Haley’s Roots and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. It may not be possible to say either side of the argument is right or wrong, but to see which aspect is more justified is certainly viable.
Boy Willie’s goal in life is to have a piece of land of his own to farm, something that his father never had. His father farmed all of his life on someone else’s land and got nothing for it, and he didn’t want to go back to that. This notion can be seen in Beloved. When Sethe started to kill her babies in the barn after she saw School Teacher coming to take her back to Sweet Home she was demonstrating this idea. She was exhibiting the drive to do anything to prevent her terrible past in slavery from taking over her children’s lives. It is quite reasonable for Boy Willie to be afraid of always having to live off of other people, not being capable of growing his own food, never owning his own house, and raising his future family as someone else sees fit. Sethe, like Boy Willie didn’t want to be bothered by the white man anymore and absolutely feared oppression sweeping over her life once again and both characters were willing to do anything to protect what little freedom they had, even if that meant selling years of family history in carvings or killing children so they wouldn’t feel the pain of slavery.
Bernice’s decision to keep the piano though she never used it herself was so that the pain it took to get that piano where it was would never be forgotten. Their father died to save that piano and their mother polished it every day of the rest of her widowed life with her sweat, tears, blood. Bernice didn’t want this foolishness of thievery and murder to ever be forgotten, especially because her husband died over stolen hunks of wood as well. Bernice’s value in sentimental things in order to keep the memory of her family’s past sufferings and mistakes would live on is reminiscent of Roots. Kunta Kinte wished that his children and their children after that and so on would never forget the language of their people that were shipped over from Africa to be sold into slavery. On the eve of his daughter’s birth Kunta raised her to the heavens and exclaimed, “Behold! The only thing in the universe better than yourself!” just as his father did for him. Then when she grew up he taught her African words and told her to pass them on to her children and to always keep the African in them alive so that all will remember the pain and suffering and pride that their name holds and that no white man could take away. This is Bernice’s justification for keeping the piano. It is something that holds so much pain, so much history, and that no white man can take away from her. She doesn’t want her imprudent brother to sell it to Sutter, their father’s former owner’s son for some tired piece of land.
In my personal opinion, I think Bernice’s argument is more justified. I think family history and family heirlooms that hold so much sentimental value are worth treasuring more so than a piece of land that will most likely be of no use to Boy Willie when he realizes how exhausted the land is from being farmed for so long and that very well might be sold down his family line. Though there really isn’t a right or a wrong thing to do with the piano because both have their perks and weaknesses, I think that the lesson learned from the sibling’s father’s foolishness and mother’s hard work that the piano possesses is the most important thing.