The Piano Lesson

by: August Wilson

Important Quotations Explained

Gin my cotton Sell my seed Buy my baby Everything she need

For Wilson, music functions as an allegory for the lesson on legacy. The play attempts to dramatize its uses. Appropriately, the play begins with an epigraph from Mississippi blues musician Skip James that exemplifies how musical traditions might encode a family's history. On the manifest level, the lyrics refer to Boy Willie's entrepreneurial dreams. Indeed, he recites similar lines to Doaker and Lymon when describing his plans to start a farm. By dint of a double entendre, however, these lines also become a cryptogram—or piece of writing in secret characters—for a traumatic past. The two middle lines ("Sell my seed/ Buy my baby") evoke the memory of slavery and the traffic in human flesh, the trauma at the heart of the piano's history. Thus, music encodes the legacy of the familial suffering.