Gilgamesh Epic Poem

“But then I ask the question: How many men must die before we can really have
a free and true and peaceful society?How long will it take?If we can catch the
spirit, and the true meaning of this experience, I believe that this nation can
be transformed into a society of love, of justice, peace, and brotherhood where
all men can really be brothers.” -Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since
the beginning of early civilization, differences in races and cultures have been
a part of society. Along with these differences, there evolved a hatred against
what was not considered ” the norm” . For many years, prejudice, especially
in the form of racism, has sparked many hate crimes and wars. Over generations,
people have devised strategies to combat these injustices in the most effective
way possible, whether it be civil or violent ways of protest. August Wilson’s
Pulitzer Prize winning play, ” The Piano”, is set in the early 1930s at a
time when racism was spreading like wild fire. The play takes a close look into
two dynamically different approaches to overcoming prejudice in America.


Although their strategies differ greatly, both Berniece and Boy Willie both find
ways to combat the problems associated with living in a racist culture. Slavery
is still fresh in the minds of many blacks and whites during the ?30s and so
are many harsh feelings. Berniece and Boy Willie tackle the racism of their time
in the same way their parents did. Bernice’s personality is very similar to
her mother’s, Mama Ola. She chooses to avoid conflicts over racism whenever
possible, even if it means keeping quiet about subjects that should be
addressed. She finds it easier to ” lay low” than to create a situation.

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Berniece views the history of the piano with the same disdain and sorrow that
her mother held for so many years. In one of many heated arguments with Boy
Willie, Berniece says, ” Mama Ola polished over this piano with her tears for
seventeen years…seventeen years worth of cold nights and an empty bed. For
what a piano?…To get even with somebody….and what did it ever lead to? more
killing and more thieving.” When Boy Willie speaks, one can almost hear the
vigor and determination of his father, Papa Boy Charles’ voice. He, much like
his father, believes in the theory: “by whatever means necessary.” Boy
Willie is willing to do whatever it takes and remove whoever stands in his way;
and that includes getting rid of any white man that poses a threat against his
dreams. Boy Willie is very proud that his father gave his life to steal the
piano, with the carvings of his family’s history, from Sutter, the man who
enslaved his great grandmother and his grandfather. Papa Boy Charles believed
that his family would always be slaves as long as Sutter still had ownership of
the piano. Boy Willie tells Berniece that she should tell her daughter, Maretha,
about the story behind the piano so that she can be proud of her grandfather.


“You ought to mark down on the calendar the day that Papa Boy Charles brought
that piano into the house…throw a party…have a celebration.” Although
their points of view are similar to their parents, they are very opposed in
their strategies for dealing with racism. At a time when racism is at its peak
due to unresolved issues on both sides, the future for blacks in America seems
bleak. Although slavery has ended, brutal attacks against blacks still exist and
many are worse off financially than they were as slaves. Berniece looks at her
lifestyle from a realist’s point of view with little optimism. She sees no
chance of growth for blacks and expresses this when she says, ” I’m going to
tell her [Maretha] the truth…you at the bottom with the rest of us…that’s
just where she living.” Berneice believes that blacks are at the bottom of
life and they may never overcome their situation. Although she believes that
blacks can find success; she feels that successs is limited to the boundaries in
which blacks are born. She follows the idea that some blacks refer to as ” the
house negro mentality”. This nickname was coined for those slaves who were
comfortable with their lifestyles because they saw nothing good that could come
from freedom. Berniece believes blacks must gratefully take what is handed to
them and work with what they receive. If they become to greedy they may wind up
with nothing. Surprisingly, Boy Willie chooses to be optimistic in spite of his
surroundings. In a world that tells him that there is no future for people of
color, Boy Willie is an idealist. He sees a future for himself beyond the color
of his skin and is determined to go out and grab it. He also knows that he
cannot wait for white men to drop success on his lap; he has to get it himself.


Despite his sister’s opinions, Boy Willie does not see himself at the bottom
but instead at the top of society. “…I’m living at the top of life. I
ain’t gonna just take my life and throw it away at the bottom…I’m in the
world like everybody else.” He further stresses this opinion when he says, “
how a person views himself is how he will live”. Boy Willie tells Berniece
that if a person chooses to believe he is at the bottom and there is no future;
that is how he will live – at the bottom with no future.He also believes that he
is the same and deserves just as much as any white man. He sees himself as an
equal and perhaps, better off than some white men. Boy Willie refuses to believe
that white men are somehow better than him or deserve more than him. Boy Willie
and Berneice definitely differ in how they handle racist situations and the
injustices committed against them. Berniece chooses to battle racism in a more
submissive way. She sees only the pain and heartache that can result from taking
a stand against prejudice. Her father died trying to prove his manhood to white
men and she sees nothing good that can come from speaking out. Speaking out can
only make the living situation for blacks worse in Berneice’s opinion. Boy
Willie takes a more militant approach to battling racism. Boy Willie is bold and
outspoken and does not care whose feet he steps on to get his point across. He
is fearless and perhaps foolish when he says, ” a nigger that ain’t afraid
to die is the worst kind of nigger for the white man”. Boy Willie is willing
to fight, or even kill, any white man that stands between him and freedom. He
tells Wining Boy that no white man could ever mistreat him because he refuses to
be mistreated. He treats people the way they treat him. No stranger to jails,
Boy Willie shows complete disregard for the laws of the land. He feels that the
law only applies to him when it is convenient and satisfies his needs. He feels
that the law was not designed for him but against him, and unless it fits his
purposes he will not abide by it. Boy Willie refuses to allow anyone to rule
over him in any manner, whether that man is black or white. In the play, ” The
Piano Lesson”, August Wilson’s characters offer two popular ways used by
blacks for surviving in a racist culture. In one case, the character of Berniece
choose to live in silence in order to avoid any repurcussions that would result
from speaking out. Boy Willie chooses to fight any man that steps in his way and
tries to prevent him from finding the oppurtunity and freedom that he deserves.


Although some forms of their strategies are effective; in the long run, they are
both terribly wrong. By choosing to live in denial about the way blacks are
treated; Berniece is actually allowing this kind of abuse to continue. Unless
people speak out when they are unjustly treated, no change can ever occur. One
must look within himself to find the courage to stand up for what he believes in
despite what backlash may incur. Berneice is definitely safer in comparison to
Boy Willie’s ideas. His behavior and ideas are brash, foolish, and
self-destructive. His hateful ways can offer no solution to the present state of
racism. By choosing to be headstrong, the only achievement he may receive for
his actions is death. Violence and outright disobedience is never a recipe for
peace. The Reverend Martin Luther King,Jr. probably best understood the
importance of devising a strategy that could combat racism and bring about peace
among all races. Through the means of peaceful protest, teaching, understanding,
and love; people, the world over can look towards a future of peace.

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