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The Piano Lesson | Study Guide

August Wilson

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The Piano Lesson | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary



Boy Willie gets back late the next morning to find Lymon asleep on the sofa. Willie wants Lymon to help him load the piano on the truck before Berniece gets back. He's arranged to sell it for $1,150 ($20,412 adjusted for inflation). Lymon says Wining Boy saw Sutter's ghost the night before, but Boy Willie is unconcerned. Lymon and Boy Willie try to pick up the piano, and immediately an eerie sound is heard, though they don't notice. No matter how hard they try, though, the piano won't budge.

Doaker Charles comes out of his room, and Lymon asks him how they got the piano into the house. Doaker doesn't answer. He just tells them to leave it where it is; they're not carrying anything out of his house. Boy Willie insists it's his piano and "ain't got nothing to do with" Doaker. Doaker tells him to cut it in half, then, and take his half; Berniece's half isn't leaving the house. Boy Willie finally gives up. He says he's going to get some moving equipment and come back for the piano; no one is going to stop him.


Act 2, Scene 4 is the next-to-last scene, and in it the entire focus of the play shifts to the piano. Boy Willie has all the money he needs except for his half of the receipts for the piano. He is determined to complete the sale with or without Berniece's permission. However, although they were able to shift the instrument a little the last time they tried to move it, this time it won't budge. As the men begin trying to move it, Wilson's stage directions say, "The sound of Sutter's Ghost is heard." Although this implies the ghost is making it impossible for the men to shift the piano, their lack of success might have perfectly natural causes. For instance, Boy Willie had a lot to drink last night followed by very little—if any—sleep; it's possible he doesn't have the strength he did the last time they tried to move it. Also, Lymon's loyalties may have changed; he may no longer be putting as much effort into moving the piano since his conversation with Grace the night before.

As they struggle with the piano, Lymon and Boy Willie discuss the preceding night. Lymon tells Boy Willie that Wining Boy has seen Sutter's ghost. Boy Willie is the only member of the Charles family who hasn't seen it. Berniece, Maretha, and now Wining Boy have seen the ghost, and Doaker saw it before anyone. When Doaker saw it, it didn't interact with him, only with the piano. However, Berniece heard the ghost speak, and its appearances are becoming more frequent. They are building toward a confrontation that will come in the next scene—the final scene of the play.

As they chat, Lymon doesn't comment on Boy Willie spending the night with Grace or on his blaming the broken lamp on her. It's likely Lymon knows his friend well enough to realize Grace was not at fault—at least not solely at fault. Lymon is not a jealous man, but he is a patient one, and his patience will bear fruit in the next scene.

Doaker walks in to find the two men pushing at the piano and tells them in no uncertain terms they are not to move it until Berniece comes home. Doaker may not want the piano, but he is not one to let his own feelings influence events. The audience has seen how he allowed Wining Boy to push him into "lending" his brother money against his better judgment. Years ago he allowed Berniece to move her piano into the house although he didn't want it there. From the beginning, when Boy Willie woke the household at 5 a.m., Doaker has been unfailingly calm and friendly toward Boy Willie. Now he uses Berniece as a reason for raising his voice to his often obnoxious nephew. He says Boy Willie should go ahead and cut the piano in half; he can't tell Boy Willie what to do with his half, but Boy Willie is not to take Berniece's half. This statement is reminiscent of the Bible passage 1 Kings 3:16–28, in which King Solomon settled a dispute over which of two women was a baby's real mother by threatening to cut the baby in half. Unlike the baby's mother, however, Boy Willie does not relinquish his claim on the piano; he decides to get the equipment to build a dolly. Regardless of his intentions, he has been forced to wait for Berniece before moving it.

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