Slavery in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and in The Piano Lesson
Was the lasting effect of slavery in America over by the 1930s? 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.
The Symbol of Strong Bonds
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.
The Rights of Black People
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, another difference between the piano lesson and Huckleberry Finn is how the main characters in each values their family relationships. We see In Huckleberry Finn that Huck really doesn’t get along with his father and his father even kidnaps him once he finds out about the large sum of money. As it says “Pap he hadn’t been seen for more than a year, and that was comfortable for me; I didn’t want to see him no more. He used to always whale me when he was sober and could get his hands on me; though I used to take to the woods most of the time when he was around”. This is showing that Huck wanted absolutely nothing to do with his drunken, lost father. However, in The Piano Lesson the whole opposite thing occurs. Bernice refuses to sell the piano because of the family bonds that the piano represents. We see that Bernice and Huck have a totally different representation of what family means to a individual.
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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