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The Piano Lesson (The Century Cycle #4)

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,894 Ratings  ·  152 Reviews
August Wilson has already given the American theater such spell-binding plays about the black experience in 20th-century America as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Fences. In his second Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Piano Lesson, Wilson has fashioned his most haunting and dramatic work yet.At the heart of the play stands t ...more
Paperback, 108 pages
Published December 1st 1990 by Plume
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Ashleyflores i say no because all she wants is for that piano to stay in her house because its the memory of her ansesters and all the tears her mom cried on it…morei say no because all she wants is for that piano to stay in her house because its the memory of her ansesters and all the tears her mom cried on it and all the work her mom did on that piano.(less)
Jaden Stokes I think Bernice is a bitch because instead of letting boy Willie sell the piano for half of Sutter land and taking half the money she kept him from…moreI think Bernice is a bitch because instead of letting boy Willie sell the piano for half of Sutter land and taking half the money she kept him from taking something she hasn't touched for years.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Courtney H.
May 29, 2013 Courtney H. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: century-cycle
Because what follows is too long and not really a review (which is particularly terrible given that I'm reviewing a playwright whose brilliant brevity would make Hemingway envious), I'll start with this (which I do not say lightly): The Piano Lesson should be on everyone's personal required reading list.

The Piano Lesson was my first foray into Wilson, and the only one I've been lucky enough to see performed (twice, both brilliantly, once in Washington DC and once at Yale Rep). Wilson is a master
Erika Schoeps
Aug 28, 2014 Erika Schoeps rated it really liked it
3.5 Stars

A short and sweet play about a family feud over a family piano. My brother recommended this book to me. My brother is really interested in chemistry, and doesn't like to read; so when he recommends something, I check it out.

The characters are well-developed, and their motivations and desires are well-presented and played out. The introductions were interesting, and the story progressed at a solid pace as the tension slowly increased. By the climax, the passive aggressive behavior of th
Sep 13, 2011 Haya rated it did not like it
The Piano Lesson is about two siblings fighting over an antique piano that has been with their family ever since it'd been made. I wasn't supposed to know that this play existed, but it turned out I was supposed to read it over the summer.

I've read a lot of books that make no sense or left me thinking, WHAT THE FUDGE? or were simply pointless, but this play was just POINTLESS. A Big-Foot-DOES-Exist kind of pointless (because he doesn't exist, if you get what I mean). Yes, the story was
Jul 05, 2015 Yamini rated it really liked it
Incredibly simplistic but full of meanings, symbolism, and interesting explorations of double consciousness. Wilson clearly seemed to be very good at what he did. Would love to try more of his plays in the future.
Connie  Kuntz
Oct 23, 2009 Connie Kuntz rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Theatre Nerds
Recommended to Connie by: I like the author
This is one of those family dramas that engaged my mind and my spirit from word one. I can't even imagine the bliss I would experience if I actually saw this play staged.

Reading The Piano Lesson was a joyful experience for me because the characters were so immediately engaging. Wilson has a way of introducing his characters that feels (to me) quick and familiar BUT also compelling and mysterious. I found myself leaning into the book to learn more about the characters as the drama unfurled.

I nev
Nov 09, 2014 Melinda rated it really liked it
Wilson’s dialog is superb. The conflict is all too real. The prose is strong, realistic with some poetic smatterings scattered about. Vibrant, with an emotional pull causing the narrative and ensemble to come alive. The building tension creates a suspenseful and plausible ambiance.

The ending adds fuel to the fire, as the climatic finale binds the entire narrative.
Jan 05, 2011 Izzy rated it liked it
I would have loved to have seen Samuel L. Jackson as "Boy Willie."
Jessica Barkl
Apr 20, 2014 Jessica Barkl rated it really liked it
Well, I find it extraordinarily odd that I don't have a review in my collection here, considering I taught this play for 3 years in my adjunct faculty jaunt in Walla Walla, goes a new reading from yesterday:

Back cover (a decent summary/blurb): "August Wilson has already given the American theater such spellbinding plays about the black experience in 20th-century America as MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning FENCES. In his second Pulitz
Nicholas Armstrong
Jan 02, 2012 Nicholas Armstrong rated it it was amazing
I've said this before with plays and I will say it again: they must be watched. There is a film version of The Piano Lesson with Charles Dutton that is really remarkable. I'm not sure if they still perform this, but it will be the first play I mark down to see if it is.

Speaking of the play (and a lot of this comes off far better in the theatrical version), the characters are amazing. The history of the characters and how it has defined them, their loves and their hates, their flaws and their tal
Tai Harris
Sep 20, 2011 Tai Harris rated it really liked it
In this piece, August Wilson does an amazing job at using the piano as symbolism for family legacy and unity which brings this inadament object to life. Wilson uses the piano’s presence as the vital piece to illustrate the central conflict but also uses it as the unifying element between the Boy Willie and Berniece, the main characters. The play dives deep into the wounds of African-Americans at the hands of Whites in the 1930s during the Depression. The ghosts of Yellow Dog and Sutter, who both ...more
Another Wilson play that was just okay. I wanted to learn more about the piano, but the characters never really get around to explains what exactly is so important and symbolic about the piano that it must be kept within the family. I feel like this would be an amazing play to see onstage since the final scene has so much action and the characters have so much dialogue between themselves that causes for the reader to need to actually see it acted out instead of just reading it in a book.

I will s
Jun 03, 2010 Sue rated it it was amazing
I have seen this play performed and it was very powerful. I wanted to read the play and experience it again and found it just as compelling as the performance. The play revolves around a piano owned by a brother and sister that contains carvings depicting their family history. It becomes a point of serious contention as the sister wants to keep it and the brother wants to sell it. The real lesson of the piano is the conflict between preserving the history of an African-American family that all t ...more
Nov 27, 2014 MacK rated it liked it
I had hoped to feel the same emotional sting I once felt with The Autobiography of Malcolm X while reading August Wilson's The Piano Lesson (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1990--and another book that may yet sneak its way into my curriculum). A lynch-pin in Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" (covering 100 years of African-American experiences largely in and around one neighborhood of the Steel City) it's a tightly wound family drama about the past, and the future.

I love reading dramatic lite
Samuel Oluwatobi Olatunji
Reading August Wilson's The Piano Lesson is a brief, interesting journey into the intimate lives of some black people in the 20th century America. Wilson presents a filial feud over a piano, which has historical and seemingly spiritual essence. Boy Willie wants to sell the piano, desiring to let go of the past and convert the present into a better future, while his sister, Berniece, refuses to agree to his selling the piano; she wants to preserve the family heritage that the piano embodies. It s ...more
Jan 09, 2015 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
Very powerful.
I remember going to see this play for the first time in New Haven a few years back and being so impressed (as always) by the power of Wilson's language and the ferocity of the themes of loss and hope. All the book's characters are deeply scarred by the constant assault on their family's dignity and life that was slavery, as well as the continued deep oppression that they have faced.
The piano as a central object is there in every scene, the images of the family's history carved int
Kelly Mogilefsky
Apr 26, 2009 Kelly Mogilefsky rated it it was amazing
I am reading this again to prepare to teach it over the summer. I always think I've got this play down, but another read brings me a fresh perspective. It is a great character study, depicting with clarity the struggle between past and present, memory and fulfillment of promise.
Mar 18, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing
Have I talked about how natural the dialogue is in these plays? I know Wilson wrote a lot in bars, listening to the talk all around him, but this is a skill far exceeding just the ability to pull from reality. I love how Boy Willie clearly talks first and thinks later, just easily slipping stretches of the truth here and there to always bolster his point. Even for things that don't even matter. We've all known people like that who will just casually drop, "Lymon got tired" or something like that ...more
Dec 03, 2014 Genesis rated it it was amazing
I think that the play was a great book the people were very clever.I want every one to read this book because it shows what happen in private homes,what they had to go through in there lives.And how during that time period things for African American were bad and some people just hatted it.I recomend this book to people who are intrested in learning about this time period and it's a great book to read.people have to read this play it's to perfect I give it 5 stars to this book, Even young adults ...more
Loretta Fields
This book was intresting because it talks about the old west their are about 5 songs and they are all in one catagory the blues they are sad and they all focus on the one problem slavery boy willie is very self centered and childish all he thinks about it his daddy and all berniece thinks about is her mother they both think about the sacerfices they made for them and they try to justify their actions like boy willie taking the piano and berniece making her daughter play the piano and making her ...more
Roger Lohmann
Feb 27, 2016 Roger Lohmann rated it it was amazing
Conflict between a Pittsburgh woman, Bernice, and her brother from Mississippi over ownership of a piano that has been in the family since slave time. By all means, read it, but if you have a chance to see it produced do not miss it! Critics may say Wilson's Fences is better, but I find this one hard to top. Wilson's unique mix of African-American and universal themes is really unmatched. And his "Century Cycle" (completed before his death) in which he has written a play set in each decade in th ...more
Dec 03, 2014 Jenay rated it it was amazing
i think that this book is a good book because it talks about how people back then did not have as much as we have today. Also because this book talks about different characters like berniece,boy wille,winning boy, doaker, maretha and etc and i think all these characters are good in the play the piano lesson because it was around the time of the great depression . finally, i love this book because the characters all fit in with the book and it talks about history and about black people during the ...more
Leah Wolff
Well I had to read this for my English class that is specifically "sounds/music in literature" so naturally this is the first book of the semester. I wouldn't say I would have picked it up by myself just for the hell of it and I'll probably never read it ever again, but it wasn't entirely awful, especially since it was a book I had to read for school, which are notoriously terrible. The moral of the story was pretty obvious, but that's nice because it makes for an easy paper topic and there are ...more
Shane Westfall
Mar 23, 2010 Shane Westfall rated it liked it
In The Piano Lesson August Wilson presents a charming tale centered on reconciling the past with the present. Much of the story centers on ghosts, both literal and figurative, and how best to put those spectres aside and move on with life. Although much of the plot revolves around the power struggle between Bernice and Boy Willie over control of the piano, the piano seems merely a metaphor for deciding the future direction of this extended family.
From the moment that Boy Willie arrives, Bernice
Shelley N
Apr 28, 2011 Shelley N rated it liked it
This is a pretty solid play about a black family in the 1930s struggling to figure out how to appropriately celebrate and protect the family's legacy. The play follows the conflict between Willie Boy Charles and his sister, Berniece Charles, over the fate of the family's piano. The piano belonged to the Sutter family, who owned Willie Boy and Berniece's grandparents during slavery. Mr. Sutter traded two members of the Charles family in order to buy the piano as an anniversary present for his wif ...more
Jul 16, 2011 Rick rated it really liked it
Shelves: drama
An old piano is as much a character in this play as any of the characters who speak lines, chase dreams, or resist ghosts in this starkly beautiful drama. Like all but one of the other tens plays in August Wilson’s Century Cycle, The Piano Lesson is set in Pittsburgh. The time is the late 1930s, making it the fourth chronologically in the cycle (fifth in order of composition). I’ve been reading them in chronological order and this one is the most compelling and enjoyable to date (in a stiff comp ...more
Nov 28, 2014 Eddie rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-american
Acclaimed playwright, August Wilson, pens The Piano Lesson, a story of a family living in Pittsburgh whose family ancestry traces back to slavery in the South. A piano is the cause of much contention particularly between two characters: Boy Willie and his sister, Berniece. You will find that Wilson was careful not to add too much depth to the other characters in the two act play. A reserved Berniece wants to keep the piano in the family. An over-exuberant Boy Willie insists that the piano be sol ...more
Aug 17, 2010 Christopher rated it it was amazing
Sadly this was my FIRST foray in the world of August Wilson, and I had been wanting to read this book for quite a while after I heard a interview with Charles Dutton discussing Wilson's plays and Dutton's performances in the various plays.

The Piano Lesson doesn't disappoint, and it delves deep into the criminality inflicted upon Blacks in America, and how the survival instinct overrides lots of other human instincts for Black Americans.

Samuel Jackson played the lead role in the play when it firs
Lydia Morales
Dec 03, 2014 Lydia Morales rated it it was amazing
i liked it i think it shows us the struggles at that time peroid and it helps us realize there hardships and how hard there life was back then compared to now because then you are judged by your skin color and not how you act now you have a little bit more respect from back then and the play shows how people can change within seconds because at first i thought bernice was rude and just straight up cold at the end she turned out to acutally care about boywillie
Dec 03, 2014 Ashleyflores rated it it was amazing
i think that the play is good and that there was a lot of problems with the family. At first i thought that Barnice was annoying and a bad person but at the end i noticed that she was just scared to play the piano. ai i learned why she didnt want to sell the piano because its a memory of her ansesters and mom.Also that the piano is realy important beacuse Barnice loves it. Boywilly just wants it to sell it so he can have a land that he wants to buy.
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August Wilson was an American playwright. His literary legacy is the ten play series, The Pittsburgh Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Each is set in a different decade, depicting the comic and tragic aspects of the African-American experience in the twentieth century.

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel, Jr. in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the fourth
More about August Wilson...

Other Books in the Series

The Century Cycle (10 books)
  • Gem of the Ocean
  • Joe Turner's Come and Gone
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Seven Guitars
  • Fences (The Century Cycle #6)
  • Two Trains Running
  • Jitney
  • King Hedley II
  • Radio Golf

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“I been with strangers all day and they treated me like family. I come in here to family and you treat me like a stranger.” 101 likes
“-How long you been with the rail road now?
-Twenty-seven years. Now, I'll tell you something about the railroad. What I done learned after twenty-seven years. See, you got North. You got West. You look over here you got South. Over there you got East. Now, you can start from anywhere. Don't care where you at. You got to go one of the four ways. And which way you decide to go, they got a railroad that will take you there. Now that's something simple. You think anybody would be able to understand that. But you'd be surprised how many people trying to go North get on a train going West. They think train's supposed to go where they going rather than where it's going.”
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