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The Piano Lesson

August Wilson

Act I, Scene 2—Part II

Act I, Scene 2—Part I

Act I, Scene 2—Part II, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Doaker tells the piano's story. During slavery, a man named Robert Sutter—the recently deceased Sutter's grandfather—owned the Charles family. He wanted to make an anniversary present out of his friend, Joel Nolander's, piano but could not afford it. Thus he traded a full and half grown slave, Doaker's grandmother Berniece and his father, for the instrument. Though initially Miss Ophelia, Sutter's wife, loved the piano, she started to miss her slaves and attempted to trade them back. When Nolander refused, she fell desperately ill.

So, Sutter called Doaker's grandfather, Willie Boy, and asked him to carve the faces of his wife and child into the piano. Willie Boy was known as a great craftsman, and thus Sutter kept him when Nolander offered to buy him to keep the family together. Willie Boy complied with Sutter's order but did not only carve his immediately family, however. He included his mother, father, and various scenes from their family history. Though Sutter hated the carvings, they thrilled Miss Ophelia, who played the piano until her death.

Years later, Doaker's eldest brother and Berniece and Boy Willie's father, Boy Charles, developed an obsession over the piano, believing that as long as the Sutters held their family's history, they held them in bondage. So, on July four, 1911, he, Doaker, and Wining Boy stole it, storing it in the neighboring county with Mama Ola's family.

Later that day, lynchers set Boy Charles's house on fire. Charles fled to catch the Yellow Dog. The mob, however, stopped the train and, when unable to find the piano, set his boxcar on fire. Boy Charles died along with the hobos in his car. The murderer was never identified, though the suspects soon began falling in their wells. Local residents attributed their deaths to the work of their victims' spirits, dubbed the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog.

Once Doaker finishes his story, Boy Willie forcefully declares that these events are in the past and that his father would have done as he wants now. Doaker refuses to take sides in his dispute with Berniece; Wining Boy, on the other hand, clearly thinks he should leave it alone.

Wining Boy begins to sing a familiar song, "I'm a rambling, gambling man." Berniece and Maretha then enter, and the former greets her uncle, and then the two retire upstairs. Once they exit, Willie and Lymon attempt to move the piano and test its weight. As they start to move it, Sutter's ghost is heard. Only Doaker notices it. Sutter's ghost makes noise again, and all take notice.

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