The Piano Lesson

by: August Wilson

Act I, Scene 2—Part I


Three days later, Wining Boy sits at the kitchen table drinking as Doaker washes pots. They discuss the recent events. Boy Willie and Lymon have been trying to sell their watermelons in the white neighborhoods, but their truck keeps breaking down. Berniece is still deep in mourning for Crawley, though Doaker suspects she may be seeing Avery.

Doaker jokes about Avery's dream, and Wining Boy tells him of a man who tried to impersonate Christ—right up until the time came for his crucifixion. Thinking of a woman he just left in Kansas City, Wining Boy muses on the death of his ex-wife, Cleotha. He reads a letter announcing her death and reminisces on their marriage, a marriage ruined by his need to wander. As long as Cleotha lived, Wining Boy could be certain he had a home.

Boy Willie enters with Lymon and they greet each other. The Ghosts of Yellow Dog and their many victims come up for conversation. Wining Boy relates a time where he spoke with the Ghosts at the junction of the Southern and Yellow Dog railroads. The longer he stood there, the bigger he got; he left feeling like a king and had a stroke of good luck for the next three years.

Boy Willie then announces that he has already secured the sale of the piano. Doaker and Wining Boy protest that the land he wants is worthless, that the intelligent white man has already migrated to the cities, and that Sutter is probably cheating him. Willie remains undaunted.

Changing the subject, Wining Boy mentions that he heard Willie and Lymon were on Parchman Prison Farm, where both he and his brother spent time. Willie explains that some whites had tried to chase him, Lymon, and Crawley from some lumber they were pilfering. Crawley fought back and was killed, while the other two went to prison for theft. Lymon was shot in the stomach. Eventually Mr. Stovall bailed Lymon out on the condition that he work for him. Unwilling to serve Stovall, Lymon immediately fled, planning to stay in Pittsburgh where they treat blacks better than in the South.

Willie disagrees with his partner evaluation of the South, that whites will only treat you as badly as you let them. Wining Boy concurs but underlines an important difference: the white man can make use of the law. Willie declares he only follows law when it is right. Wining Boy responds that as a result, he will end up back on Parchman. The men reminisce about Parchman and sing an old work song ("Oh Lord Berta").