Voice And Diction Critique: The Piano Lesson Essay, Research Paper
TH 113 Voice and Diction
Critique: The Piano Lesson
The Piano Lesson is a masterpiece in itself, earning a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. However, this particular play has elements not typical of modern plays. It has the quintessential plot that encompasses a conflict. On the surface, the conflict is between Boy Willie and his sister, Bernice. However, beneath that conflict, lies the symbolism of the characters. Boy Willie symbolizes the American way or the white man’s culture. Bernice is the African-American way, staying true to her roots and not parting with the heritage. Although she finds this painful, she will not part with her heritage. Her heritage is tangible in the presence of the piano itself. Within the presence of the piano, August Wilson firmly states his convictions about what it means for black people to assimilate into American society. It means they have to give up their black culture in the ways of music, speech, heritage and community. As expected, Wilson sympathizes with the character of Bernice because he is unwilling to part with his culture and folkways just as Bernice refuses to give up her piano. Boy Willie must fight Sutter’s ghost to rid the family of the dark and painful past they share. Bernice must play the piano to face her heritage, thereby accepting the slavery of her grandparents, not dismissing it. The main theme here is not to forget their past, but rather to confront it. Wilson sets his characters free from painful memories of slavery via the lessons learned from the piano’s existence. Wilson renders a tight thesis about how African-Americans struggle to assimilate into the mainstream yet retain their inherent sub-culture.
Wilson is an author of meaningful words. His portrayal of African-American lineage is very convincing. The characters’ language is authentic and unabridged. They use appropriate speech not tendered by standards of English. It is more colloquial and informal. By incorporating this dialect, Wilson creates a play that is purely representational of the era. Characters become more authentic as they are believable. The audience sympathizes with them. When an audience superimposes the characters, the theme is not only heard, but felt within each individual. As I sat in my seat, I felt the anguish between the siblings as they communicated their concerns about the piano. For example, Bernice describes the piano as polished by the blood, sweat and tears of her ancestors. The anguish of slavery and oppression swells through her words. When Boy Willie persists in taking the piano, he also communicates his determination to succeed on the same land that bound his ancestors. This is very powerful language because it renders more than just denotation. It communicates the way the characters relate themselves to the world around them (past, present and future.) The language itself is very moving and purposeful.
At the end of the play, Wilson leaves a few loose ends. Does Bernice marry Avery? Does she encourage Maretha to be more receptive of her heritage? Does Boy Willie find another avenue to pursue success? Does Lymon find his way in Pittsburgh, or return to Mississippi? Does Whining Boy ever learn to settle down? Is he really Lymon’s father? These questions are intentionally unanswered to allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about the situation. All that is known is that the siblings have come together for now because they must. They have no other alternative but to combine resources in order to move out of the divisiveness that slavery causes. They realize they are stronger and more enriched by pulling together to support each other. This microcosm is important as it is beautifully presented and given to the patron to ponder.
I struggle to categorize this play. Confinement seems inappropriate as I feel it is universal: comedic, dramatic, spiritual, realistic, transcendent. It does not have one flaw of redundancy or overstatedness. It is not too simple or complex. It is not depressing or uplifting, but merely matter-of-fact. For all I feel that it is not, I can not find an all encompassing term to describe what it is. It is truly multi-dimensional. Many aspects of the play are intertwined and tightly wrapped into itself. I find a range of moods, emotions, intentions, expectations, comparisons, contrasts, etc. How does one put a scale to this kind of fluency? This play easily runs the gamut!
When I left the auditorium, feelings of guilt, rage, empathy, confusion, conviction and resolve topped my mind. This play gets you to think about the society in which you live, whether you consciously do so or not. It is thought-provoking to say the very least! Not only do you find yourself replaying the scenes in your mind, but you must come to your own resolve about them. You will find yourself immersed in the plight of the slaves, their children and generations to come. This play stays with you for a long time after the curtain falls. The soulful cry of the music will haunt you, too, if you resist! I say that because the human spirit has no color or prejudice. It is the tie that binds us all. We all have the same spirit from the same maker, no matter how we chose to address or express it. And that spirit will not be deterred by anything because it is eternal. We are all cut from the same piece of cloth, whether we like it or not.