The Piano Lesson

by: August Wilson

Act I, Scene 1—Part two

Closely connected to the function of music in the play is the dialogue's emphasis on storytelling, reportage, and testimony. Like music, these modes of speech will serve as vehicles by which to preserve and transmit the family legacy, thus the "retrospective structure" of Wilson's plays noted by a number of critics. Most scenes in The Piano Lesson begin with some either form of reportage that recapitulates and elaborates the events previous or an anecdote recounting some past experience. Much of this first scene prefigures the storytelling to come, providing details require further information. In particular, Lymon will function as an outsider eliciting the family's history.

As the trope of the piano/history lesson figures so prominently, we should finally note how Wilson's plays are tendentiously steeped in history, written to chronicle a particular moment in the history of black experience. For example, the stage notes include the description of Avery and Doaker's jobs, the references to culinary traditions, the allusions to black migration patterns from north to south, the use of colloquialisms, the meandering, digressive conversations that create the impression of "real life" speech, and onward. Though we should be weary of regarding these devices as constitutive of some "black experience," we cannot consider them as mere exercises in realism either. Through the realism of dialogue, setting, and characters, Wilson aims at the representation and documentation of a history largely absent from the American stage.