Remaining Effects Of Slavery In America In The 1930s Portrayed In Drama The Piano Lesson And Novel The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

June 16, 2022 by Essay Writer

In The Piano Lesson, August Wilson illustrates that blacks in America, specifically in the 1930s, are still haunted by the poverty that slavery left them in. There are many similarities and differences between slavery in the 1840’s in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and slavery in the 1930’s in The Piano Lesson.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain uses the raft that Jim and Huck are sailing on across the Mississippi River as a symbol that the relationship between them is unbreakable as they are escaping to freedom. As Twain writes, “Jim and me was pretty glad to see it. It took away all the uncomfortableness and we felt mighty good over it, because it would a been a miserable business to have any unfriendliness on the raft; for what you want, above all things, on a raft, is for everybody to be satisfied, and feel right and kind towards the others (Chapter 9, page 5).” Huck and Jim were able to work their little fight out on the boat which gives Huck some relief. Huck and Jim friendship is so strong that they can work things out even out on a crowded raft.

Similarly, in The Piano Lesson, August Wilson uses the piano as a symbol of the Charles’ family bond that the family holds within themselves and is worth everything to them. In both, Twain and Wilson use the raft and the piano respectively, to represent themes of the story. The raft with Jim and Huck on it represents the strong bonds of friendship, and the piano represents strong family relationships.

Additionally, in both The Piano Lesson and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn we see the theme of religion (specifically Christianity) playing a key role. Huck is always being told to go to Sunday School and Church. Even though Huck does not like civilization, the book still emphasizes Christianity and the religious life as the proper way of living. In The Piano Lesson Christianity is felt in the play, mostly through Avery, a black minister who is trying to grow his congregation. Prior to the Civil War, the time period that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes place, it was unthinkable for a black person to buy land. Throughout the novel, Jim, who has no rights, is consistently on the run and is always scrapping for money.

On the contrary, it is evident from The Piano Lesson that although blacks were still suffering from slavery, it was still very different than when they were actually enslaved. August Wilson is trying to show this through Bernice, a single, black woman who owns the house that the movie takes place in. A single, black woman owning a house was unthinkable in the 1840s. Additionally at the end of the movie, Boy Willie and Lyman are selling watermelons so that they can buy land. “Come buy my watermelon. It is the best on the planet.” After the Civil War, watermelons were a crop commonly grown, eaten, and sold by former slaves. In this play the fruit became a symbol of their freedom. Boy Willie and Lyman made a huge profit on their truckload of watermelons, which eventually helps them achieve their goal. Lymon will have plenty of money to tide him over until he finds work in Pittsburgh, and Boy Willie has made another third of the cash he needs to buy the land he wants.

This is the exact transition between the novel and the movie. In the time period surrounding The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, everything was leading to this period of selling watermelon. The selling of watermelons in the movie is what signals that they are still free in the 1930s. Many people believed that slavery was a thing of the past in the 1930s. However, The Piano Lesson shows us that slavery was still very much present. Although slavery is illegal in the United States, racism is unfortunately still very much a part of the American experience.


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