Election Day is November 3rd! Make sure your voice is heard

The Piano Lesson


Act II, Scene 5

Summary Act II, Scene 5


Scene 5 begins later that day, with Doaker playing solitaire, Maretha sitting at the piano, and Boy Willie screwing his dolly together on the sofa. Willie is telling Maretha of the Ghosts of Yellow Dog. Berniece enters and once again orders Willie out of her house. She tells Maretha to go upstairs and bring down her comb and hair grease. Willie accompanies her to protect her from Sutter's ghost.

Doaker tells his niece of Willie's current plan to cart the piano out of the house. Berniece replies that she is ready to use her husband's gun to stop him if necessary. Willie and Maretha return, and the siblings begin to argue anew. When Berniece threatens him, Willie declares that he does not fear death. He recounts a story from childhood when a priest failed to revive his dead dog. Having learned that nothing was precious, he went out and killed a cat and discovered the "power of death." This power makes him the equal of the white man.

As Berniece begins to style Maretha's hair, Willie continues, stating that the Bible dictates the justice of "an eye for an eye," and that Berniece and Avery would ignore those teachings. Though he is not a believer, he knows Berniece should remain true to the entire Bible. Maretha cries out in pain and Berniece silences her. Willie protests and says that if Berniece wants to tell her daughter anything, she should tell her the piano's story. The household should celebrate the day of Boy Charles's theft, Independence Day, as their own personal holiday.

Berniece replies that Willie can dispense his teachings when he has children of his own. Willie retorts that he would never have children as he has no advantages to offer them. He remembers how his father would stare off at his hands, without the tools to produce anything, left only with the power to kill. Unlike his father, land will enable him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the white man. Willie accuses Berniece of teaching Maretha that as a black person she lives at the "bottom of life"—the only result will be that she will come to hate her.

Berniece replies that she only tells her daughter the truth. Willie protests that he is living at life's top and that none of their ancestors would have ever thought themselves at the bottom. He knows that the world wants no part of him but that it is better because of his existence. Though some fear the sound of a "nigger's heart beating," his will not beat quietly. Willie will mark his passing on the road. Avery enters, and Willie interrogates him on what a Christian should believe. He also mocks the imminent exorcism. We learn that the bank has finalized Avery loan for the church. Lymon then enters carrying a coil of rope.


Thematically, this final confrontation between Berniece and Boy Willie involves most of Boy Willie's speeches on race relations. Notably Willie delivers these speeches while Berniece does Maretha's hair. Maretha's presence indicates how the fate of the future generation is very important.