Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "The Piano Lesson Study Guide." Course Hero. 5 Oct. 2017. Web. 21 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Piano-Lesson/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2017, October 5). The Piano Lesson Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 21, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Piano-Lesson/

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "The Piano Lesson Study Guide." October 5, 2017. Accessed September 21, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Piano-Lesson/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "The Piano Lesson Study Guide," October 5, 2017, accessed September 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Piano-Lesson/.

The Piano Lesson | Characters

Share
Share
Character Description
Berniece Berniece is a young widow from Mississippi who lives with her uncle in Pittsburgh and cleans houses for a living. Read More
Boy Willie Berniece's younger brother, Boy Willie, has driven up from Mississippi to sell a truckload of watermelons. Read More
Doaker Charles Doaker Charles is Berniece and Willie's middle-aged uncle; he owns the house where Berniece and her daughter live. Read More
Lymon Lymon, who accompanies Boy Willie to Pittsburgh, supplies the truck the men use to bring the watermelons. Read More
Avery Farmworker Avery followed Berniece to Pittsburgh from Mississippi, hoping to persuade her to marry him; in Pittsburgh he realizes his true calling is to be a preacher. Read More
Wining Boy Doaker Charles's freeloading older brother Wining Boy travels the country, drinking, gambling, and playing piano. Read More
Maretha Maretha is Berniece's 11-year-old daughter; she's learning to play the piano. Read More
Mama Berniece Mama Berniece was the great-grandmother of Berniece and Boy Willie. A slave on Robert Sutter's plantation, she and her son were traded for the piano. Their likenesses were later carved onto the instrument.
Boy Charles Boy Charles does not appear in the play, but is an instigator of a major plot point; as a young man he was obsessed with the idea the piano, though owned by Robert Sutter, really belonged to his family, since his grandmother and father had been the currency traded for it and his grandfather had carved the family history onto it. He eventually persuaded his brothers—Doaker and Wining Boy—to help him steal it and later perished because of the theft.
Papa Boy Charles Papa Boy Charles was the great-great-grandfather of Berniece and Boy Willie. He was a slave owned by Robert Sutter's family, and his daughter and grandson—Mama Berniece and Boy Walter—were traded for the piano.
Cleotha Cleotha was Wining Boy's estranged wife, whom he respected although they did not live together. She died a year prior to Wining Boy's reunion with his family.
Coreen Coreen is Doaker's estranged wife. They have been apart for years; he thinks she may be living in New York City.
Crawley Crawley, Berniece's dead husband, does not appear in the play, but his loss influences Berniece's attitude toward life and, significantly, her brother, Boy Willie. Boy Willie was involved in the event that led to Crawley's death, and Berniece blames her brother for the tragedy.
Mama Esther Mama Esther was the great-great-grandmother of Berniece and Boy Willie. She was a slave owned by Robert Sutter's family, and her daughter and grandson—Mama Berniece and Boy Walter—were traded for the piano.
Ghosts of the Yellow Dog The Ghosts of the Yellow Dog are the spirits of four men who perished when the Yazoo Delta Railway car they occupied was set ablaze. Boy Charles was one of the men, and it's believed the fire was set as revenge for his stealing the Sutters' piano. Although none of these ghosts appear in the play, they are spoken of often; many believe they are responsible for the deaths of several men who drowned in their wells.
Grace Grace is a young woman who catches Boy Willie's attention; when that doesn't work out, she and Lymon hook up.
Mama Nellie Mama Nellie was the grandmother of Berniece and Boy Willie. A young woman at the end of the Civil War, she became a free woman. Her sons—Boy Charles, Doaker, and Wining Boy—were born free.
Joel Nolander Joel Nolander was the original owner of the piano; he traded it to Robert Sutter for "one and a half [slaves]" and refused to reverse the deal when Sutter's wife decided she would rather have her slaves than the piano.
Mama Ola Mama Ola was the mother of Berniece and Boy Willie. She was widowed when her husband, Boy Charles, was murdered in the boxcar fire on the Yazoo Delta Railway.
James Sutter Grandson of slave owner Robert Sutter, James Sutter recently drowned in his well, presumably pushed by the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog. His ghost now haunts Doaker's house.
Ophelia Sutter Robert Sutter's wife and recipient of the piano, Ophelia eventually missed her cook and the cook's young son more than she loved the piano. After likenesses of the missing woman and boy—and other members of their family—were carved onto the piano, Ophelia happily began playing it once again.
Robert Sutter Slave owner Robert Sutter owned the Charles family until the abolition of slavery. As a gift to his wife, Ophelia, he traded a female slave and her young son for Nolander's piano. He later had another slave carve a likeness of the two traded slaves onto the piano, as his wife missed them. The bartered slaves and the woodcarver were members of the Charles clan. Boy Charles, Doaker, and Wining Boy eventually stole the piano from Sutter's house, claiming it rightly belonged to their family.
Boy Walter Boy Walter was the grandfather of Berniece and Boy Willie. A slave on Robert Sutter's plantation, he and his mother were traded for the piano. Freed at the end of the Civil War, his sons—Boy Charles, Doaker, and Wining Boy—were born free.
Papa Boy Willie Papa Boy Willie was the great-grandfather of Berniece and Boy Willie. A slave belonging to Robert Sutter, he was an accomplished woodworker. When his wife and son were traded for the piano, he was asked to carve their likenesses on the instrument.
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Piano Lesson? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!