Doaker Charles

Berniece and Boy Willie's uncle and the owner of the household in which the play takes place. Doaker is tall and thin and forty-seven years old. He spent his life working for the railroad. He functions as the play's testifier, recounting the piano's history. Like Wining Boy, the other member of the family's oldest living generation, Doaker offers a connection to the family's past through his stories.

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Boy Willie

Berniece's brash, impulsive, and fast-talking brother. The thirty-year-old Boy Willie introduces the central conflict of the play. Coming from Mississippi, he plans to sell the family piano and buy the land his ancestors once worked as slaves. By selling the piano, he avenges his father, Boy Charles, who spent his life property-less.

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Boy Willie's longtime friend. The twenty-nine-year-old Lymon is more taciturn than his partner, speaking with a disarming "straightforwardness." Fleeing the law, he plans to stay in the north and begin life anew. An outsider to the family, he functions particularly in the beginning of the play as a sort of listener, eliciting stories from the family's past. Obsessed with women, he will also appear prominently in his seduction of Berniece, where he helps bring her out of her mourning for her dead husband.


Sister of Boy Willie. Unlike other characters, the stage notes for Berniece are somewhat sparse, describing her as a thirty-five-year-old mother still in mourning for her husband, Crawley. She blames her brother for her husband's death, remaining skeptical of his bravado and chiding him for his rebellious ways.

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Berniece's eleven-year-old daughter. Maretha is beginning to learn piano. She symbolizes the next generation of the Charles' family, providing the occasion for a number of confrontations on what the family should do with its legacy.

Avery Brown

A preacher who is trying to build his congregation. Avery moves north once Berniece's husband dies in an attempt to court Berniece. Thirty-eight years old, he is honest and ambitious, having "taken to the city like a fish to water," and found opportunities unavailable to him in the rural South. Fervently religious, he brings Christian authority to bear in the exorcism of Sutter's ghost.

Wining Boy

A wandering, washed-up recording star who drifts in and out of his brother Doaker's household whenever he finds himself broke. Wining Boy is one of the most memorable characters of the play. A comic figure, he functions as one of the play's primary storytellers, recounting anecdotes from his travels. He is one of the two older players in Wilson's scenes of male camaraderie, providing a connection to the family's history. Finally, Wining Boy also appears as the other character in the play speaks with the dead, conversing with the Ghosts of Yellow Dog and calling to his dead wife, Cleotha.

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A young, urban woman whom Boy Willie and Lymon each try to pick up.