post-class notes for The Piano Lesson (3.30.2019)

An interesting discussion Friday warrants this additional blog post.

There were a few comments on the relationship and relationship dynamics between Berniece and Boy Willie that really caught my attention, perspectives I had not considered previously. It was pointed out that Boy Willie and Berniece’s mother was pretty much a dysfunctional parent after the death of her husband and there are clues to this in the text. She spent all her time ploishing that piano, rubbing it until her hands bled, then rubbing that blood into the piano wood. What normal person does that?

“Mama Ola polished this piano with her tears for seventeen years. For seventeen years she rubbed on it till her hands bled. Then she rubbed the blood in . . . mixed it up with the rest of the blood on it. Every day the God breathed life into her body she rubbed and cleaned and polished and prayed over it.”

OK. Not normal. It’s not a tremendous leap in logic, then, to hypothesize that the oldest child, Berniece, took on the “mother” role for a younger Boy Willie. And it emerges in the play. Whenever Boy Willie criticizes Berniece’s parenting skills, he speaks with an emotionalism that suggests he had personaly been on the other side of those bad parenting skills. When Berniece tells Maretha “If you was a boy I wouldn’t be going through this,” Boy Willie has a very strong negative reaction. And when Berniece tells Boy Willie, in front of Maretha, “You right at the bottom with the rest of us,” Boy Willie recoils with “If you believe that’s where you at you gonna act that way. If you act that way then that’s where you gonna be. It’s as simple as that.” And Boy Willie goes on and on for two pages, acting out something that is clearly from his boyhood when Berniece was his loco parenti.

The brother-sister relationship between Berniece and Boy Willie was/is “overlain” by the mother-son relationship forced by the emotional absence of the actual mother figure in the family and both of them resent each other because of it. But as was mentioned in our Friday discussion, while there are times when Boy Willie seems almost affectionate towards his sister, in speech patterns and in general feelings expressed, there is seldom an exchange in which Berniece shows some affection for Boy Willie, that is, until the end of the play.

postscript. Berniece’s three years of grieving over her husband’s death may be a learned behavior, mimicking her own mother’s prolonged grieving over the death of her father. If so, it is not a good omen for the future.

OK. I’m not going to beat this horse to death. Each person in the group brings a wealth of background experience to our discussion. It is beautiful and I am so grateful to be a part of these discussions with you all each week.

2 thoughts on “post-class notes for The Piano Lesson (3.30.2019)

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