A political reading of The Piano Lesson: Survival strategies of black people in white culture

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sertel y. g.

RumeliDE Dil ve Edebiyat Araştırmaları Dergisi, no.32, pp.1350-1358, 2023 (Peer-Reviewed Journal) identifier


The aim of this study is to make a political reading of the American playwright August Wilson’s play, The Piano Lesson. Since the play discusses the redefinition of black people’s identity and the significance of the collective black memory in a white society, besides the politics of race, a post- colonial apprach is used as well. The main theme of the play discusses the different attitudes of the Charles siblings towards the sale of a piano which stands for their family roots and history. The siblings’ divergence about the sale also defines their standpoints in American society. While Boy Willie perceives the piano solely as a source of money to gain power and authority, Berniece appreciates the spiritual values attributed to it. As a matter of fact, throughout the play the piano as an African-American heritage becomes a bridge between the two races, two cultures, two families and two periods of time in American history. It also stands for the long-lasting suffering of black people under the hegemony of the white master. Therefore, as symbolically signified in the title, for the liberation of black people, the lesson that the piano teaches to black characters is the inevitable necessity of embracing the African-American heritages that are the oral tradition and the ancestor worship. Besides the necessity of preserving the values of African-American heritage, for black characters ownership of land and having a religious identity are accepted as methods of gaining power, authority and status and thus, being accepted within the white culture.