The Piano Lesson | Study Guide

August Wilson

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The Piano Lesson | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

It's several hours later, and Berniece is in bed. Boy Willie comes in with Grace. She is put off when she finds out they have to sleep on the couch or the floor. She says they should go to her place, where there's a bed; she's certain her ex-boyfriend, Leroy, won't come back since he left with another woman. Boy Willie isn't taking any chances, though. They begin kissing and undressing each other—so enthusiastically they knock over a lamp. This wakes up Berniece, who comes downstairs in her nightclothes and tells Boy Willie she "don't allow that" in her house, especially with her daughter asleep upstairs. Grace and Boy Willie leave again.

Berniece is making herself a cup of tea when Lymon comes in. He tells her he saw Grace first and really liked her, but Boy Willie talked to her first. Lymon bought another girl a few drinks, but then left. He tells Berniece he's not looking for someone who won't remember him the next day. He wants a steady job and the right woman. He wonders if he and Berniece are the only two people like that. Then he mentions Avery and asks why Berniece doesn't get married. "Avery's alright," she replies, but says she "ain't really got nobody in mind." Lymon says she should marry Avery. Then he apologizes for keeping Berniece up, but she says he isn't. He admires her nightdress. Sexual tension builds between them. Fishing in his pocket, he finds a small bottle of perfume he'd been going to give as a present when he found an interesting woman, Dolly, but he didn't like the one he'd bought drinks for. He dabs perfume on Berniece's neck, smells it, and kisses her neck. They kiss. Eventually Berniece breaks away. Lymon gives her the perfume, and she goes upstairs. He strokes the silk suit happily.

Analysis

Act 2, Scene 3 reveals new information about Lymon and Berniece. But first, an additional character is introduced.

Grace is the woman both Boy Willie and Lymon found attractive, but Lymon's reticence meant Boy Willie ended up with Grace tonight. It was the cocksure Boy Willie who talked to her first. As a character Grace does not affect the main plot of the play; her role is to further illustrate the characters of Boy Willie and Lymon. Grace also voices a city girl's perspective on country boys. She wants to go to be with Boy Willie in an actual bed, and when he is happy with the floor, she says she "didn't know [he] was this country." Grace knows her own value and expects to get what she demands. Boy Willie, however, is typically self-centered; he would rather avoid confrontation with Leroy and sleep on the floor at Berniece's than risk going to Grace's. Soon Berniece and Grace take this decision out of his hands.

Without Boy Willie to talk over him, the audience learns a lot more about Lymon. By nature he is placid, observant, and generous. When Boy Willie went after the woman he was interested in—Grace—Lymon didn't get angry; he accepted the situation and voices his admiration for her to Berniece even after learning Boy Willie is probably spending the night with Grace. He is disappointed because he didn't get to go to "the picture show" but unlike Boy Willie, doesn't blame anyone. The conversation reveals him as a practical and mature young man who is ready to settle down—a complete contrast to Boy Willie. He talks about Maretha and how much he likes children. He tells Berniece honestly why he can't go back to Mississippi and has already put out feelers for work in Pittsburgh. Lymon is also surprisingly astute in his assessment of others' characters. For instance, he is aware Dolly might not even recognize him again although they spent several hours together. He used to be like that, he explains, but not anymore.

Interestingly Lymon apparently did not take Wining Boy's advice about using pickup lines on the women he met. But he was prepared to take Doaker's advice about buying them a gift and purchased the little bottle of fake French perfume. He didn't use it in quite the way Doaker advised, however, but it did have the desired effect. Berniece was touched by the gift, it is clear. The audience might wonder why Avery doesn't try this approach.

The encounter between Lymon and Berniece is as touching as it is unexpected. With Lymon, who makes no demands on her and for whom she is not responsible, Berniece can be herself. The audience learns her refusal to marry Avery does not come from a desire to cling to Crawley but more from her lack of desire for Avery. She seems to view Avery as a friend, not a lover. Up to this point in the play, Berniece was ready to fight with anyone who disagreed with her, but Lymon has no problem quietly expressing his opinion about going to saloons or to the movies, and Berniece doesn't argue. Her response to Lymon's kiss shows she has not lost interest in sex. Still, as she told Boy Willie, with Maretha sleeping upstairs, she can't allow "that kind of stuff" in the house. That stricture doesn't apply only to Boy Willie; it also applies to her. And Lymon seems to understand this without being told. He's happy to know she wanted him; it gives him hope for the future.

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