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The Blues In The Piano Lesson Essay

Before America even bore its name and declared its independence, African Americans faced the dire task of resisting the urge to conform to the American standard of Eurocentric supremacy. If African Americans proceed to replicate the white standards their true identity will be lost due to the mixed cultures. Unfortunately, African Americans have been plagued with slavery, which ended only to take on new forms in their minds through white expectations and the fallacious stereotypes manifested by minstrelsy.

In The Piano Lesson, many characters, such as Berniece, are haunted by their past rauma in the form of a ghost. On the contrary, Boy Willie is tempted by the allures of fulfilling his dreams which have become tainted by the white culture he lives amongst. Music, such as work songs and blues, prevailed amongst the styles portrayed. The common thread for the characters of the play and the African American community as a whole is liberty by music. August Wilson’s play, The Piano Lesson, illustrates the significance of music in the development of African American history and culture.

Throughout history, music helped them endure an oppressive life and proved to be the most mpowering tool against the detrimental suffering including the negative repercussions that lingers with trauma. The inhumane practice of slavery is the most dehumanizing and restrictive burden that can be placed on a human. In The Piano Lesson, the Charles’s family history is depicted through carvings on a piano, therefore, it is a representation of their past. The Charles’s family was owned by the Sutter family during times when slavery was prevalent.

Since the piano represents the collective legacy of the family, Berneice’s father sought to steal the piano from the Sutter’s. He believed they remained enslaved as long as the piano was out of their possession (Wilson 45). Slavery is intertwined with the piano, ultimately symbolizing their historical trauma. One of the first instances music is introduced in the play is a work song sung by characters of the play during their times of incarceration. Prison represents modern day slavery for African Americans since they are forced to work without being remunerated.

The work song is significant because it helped ease their laborious times and filled them with the strength to endure their hardships. The tempo of the ork songs are in tune with the work, liberating the African Americans minds from their current suffering, giving rise to the hope for freedom. Besides music filling African Americans with the power to endure oppression, music flows from the soul and does not require one to be educated. Boy Willie states, “[one] don’t need to read no paper to play the guitar” (Wilson 21).

Since African Americans were deprived of education, music was the only means for their empowerment. Without music’s empowering affects, the song of their current sufferings would have instead repeated in their lives. While African Americans used field hollers and work songs to dull their senses to the surrounding oppression that encompassed their lives, at the turn of the twentieth century, the various styles transformed into the blues. The blues were consequentially “about heartbreak, loneliness, sadness, and the trials and troubles of daily life” (“History and Influence”).

The genre of blues was essential in helping African Americans cope with their disadvantaged lives. Wining Boy illustrates the significance of the blues coping mechanism with the loss of his most cherished woman, Cleotha. A major aspect of the play nvolves strife in all its forms. The constant strife between Berneice and Boy Willie, concerning the fate of their family piano, left most scenes wrought with tension. The overall tensions of the reiterated arguements reached a tipping point when Boy Willie physically tries to remove the piano.

Berneice begins threatening to shoot Boy Willie making for the most tensely filled scene of the play. The tempers are dissolved when Wining Boy interruptingly plays the blues instigated by the death of Cleotha. As a result, Wining Boy’s mood provoked playing of the blues helped ease his troubles concerning heartbreak while nadvertently defusing the tensions that could have easily led to certain heartbreak amongst the family. The random instance of Wining Boy’s music is a characteristic of the blues because it is usually inspired by current feelings.

Such as in Wining Boy’s case, music, especially blues, defused tense moments that littered the play. By Wilson alleviating stressful scenes with music, he is essentially illustrating how music played a role in the progression of African American history through preserving the bonds between them. The coping affect of blues helped keep the unity between African Americans whose stressful lives reated just the right environment for disunity. As Wining Boy plays his unique presentation of blues, brewing violence is laid to rest.

Blues created a common ground for African Americans to voice their hardships and most importantly kept order amongst disorder. Although the blues proved to have profound affects in calming tensions, it did not reach to the root of the problem, which is trauma. For Berneice, her family’s piano has a myriad of traumatically charged spirits attached to it. It serves as a constant reminder to Berneice of major stressors including her amily’s history of slavery treading to her father’s death.

The cumulative effect of the stressors has resulted in her being haunted by her family’s previous owner named Sutter. In history, African Americans faced similar problems. In 1843, the minstrel shows first appeared in New York, which contained white actors falsely portraying enslaved Africans of southern rural areas (Wald 17). Although the minstrel shows were overtly racist, “.. that did not keep them from being laughed at by plenty of black audiences, and minstrel material regularly resurfaced.. in African American music (Wald 18). By African Americans imitating the minstrel shows, that portrayed their traumatic history, they liberated themselves by directly facing their trauma. Through embracing the minstrel music by incorporating it into their songs they allowed themselves to move on with their lives which opened up an infinite amount of new beginnings. Comparatively, Berneice is liberated of her traumatic bondages through embracing her culture by playing music from her soul at the family piano.

The distinct African music that flowed from the depths of her heart cast out her trauma and ultimately led to her salvation. The pressure to fulfill the American standard of Eurocentric ideals within the African American community is detrimental to the beauty of the African culture. In the play, Boy Willie desperately tries to sell his family’s piano in order to buy some land. By Boy Willie desiring to sell the piano, which represents his family’s culture, he is basically selling off his heritage.

The ownership of land was a commodity mostly shared between the white community. In Langston Hughes article, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” young African Americans suffer from internalized racism making them willing to sell off their African ndividuality, much like Boy Willie, in order to gain whiteness. The only way to combat this society inflicted view for African Americans is through music. For African Americans to embrace one’s culture, it is the obligation for the African American to pave the way.

If the African American artist will accept any orders, let it be the death of the subconscious desires that %3D plague his people for Eurocentric traits due to the momentum of his artistic provisions (Hughes). African American music will remain pure and will be endowed with a powerful uniqueness belonging solely to them. Boy Willie remains adamant on selling out his family history through the duration of the play. Near the conclusion of the play, Boy Willies’s sister, Berneice, uses the liberating power of music to free their house of a traumatic presence.

Upon witnessing the importance of the pianos musical offspring, Boy Willie’s desires to sell the piano subsided. Boy Willie states, “… Berneice… if you… don’t keep playing on that piano… me and [the ghost] both liable to be back” (Wilson 108). The uniqueness of their pianos music manifested a realization for Boy Willie. He accepts his circumstances and ultimately his eritage which illuminated the true beauty of his culture. The unfortunate problems that the characters face throughout the play are representative of the African American community as a whole.

Throughout August Wilson’s play, The Piano Lesson, music served a direct role in shaping African American history and culture. As history progressed, music filled them with the strength to revolt against oppression and proved to be the major component for combating trauma. Initially, work songs lifted the moods of the laborers and subsided the weariness allowing African Americans to persevere. Other than music’s mpowering affects, it is a necessary component in healing the mental handicaps inflicted by historical trauma.

All of the unfortunate circumstances which African Americans endured stem in all regards from the white culture. Furthermore, from white culture’s standards. August Wilson forewarns of “[the] white man. going around to all colored people’s houses looking to buy up musical instruments” (Wilson 26). The white culture seeks to disempower the African American culture by depriving them of their individuality. African Americans must safe guard their music for it is the most significant tool in embracing their beautiful culture.

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