A Doll House Vs The Piano Lesson
Writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century were the voice of the people and from their words; one can feel the smell of revolution against prejudices of the contemporary society.
They embossed real life in their words, which they had seen and experienced and showed the majestic human spirit who always find themselves in the midst of conflicts arising partly from the Society and partly from the inner self and consciousness.In the nineteenth century was born among the many writers, a play writer that broke the shackles of the dominant Patriarchy society of the eighteenth century to give voice to the women behind the four walls of their Doll House.
A father of modern realistic drama, Henrik Ibsen, was a Norwegian play writer who was charged of being scandalous only because he had examined the realities of life that lay behind many facades and social obequities.
Another of the same genere was Wilson who won the Pulitzer Prize of 1992 due to his enduring words that raised the consciousness of the Blacks.Spent his childhood also in poverty in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his parents and five siblings, he made his goal to shed the light on the sufferings that their ancestors had to go through among younger generations of blacks.
Wilson himself realized this fact that his parents had withheld from them the knowledge of even greater hardships that they had endured themselves.
He once told New York Times in 1984, “My generation of blacks knew very little about the past of our parents, they shielded us from the indignities they suffered.” (Gale Research, Autobiography of Wilson, Para.7). His Piano Lesson was one among his many works that eludes us to the greater revelations- the revelations of ourselves, and our association with our golden heritage.
Both Ibsen and Wilson were the mouthpieces of the suppressed and subjugated. In 1871 before Ibsen even started his play, a real incident touched his soul. One day Ibsen got infatuated by a Norwegian girl named Laura Petersen, whom he called skylark. But in 1872 Laura married a Danish schoolmaster, Victor Kieler, but as soon as she married, her husband Victor contracted tuberculosis, but as they were poor they could not manage to go, so without her husband’s knowledge Laura arranged a loan. With this money they went to Italy and Victor soon recovered. But later the humiliation that Laura suffered was unbearable.
When she was forced to tell the truth to her husband regarding the loan, she was abused and Victor straightforwardly found her unfit to be his wife. Laura could not tolerate and she had a nervous breakdown, but in return Victor admitted her in a public asylum.
This incident prompted Ibsen to show the Society its true face. Thus emerged from his immense delicate soul, the master the most beautiful play, A Doll House; a play which is a struggle against the tyrannical and dehumanizing oppression of women in a society which frowned upon the women who asserted themselves for individuality.
Nora is suppressed in number of ways by her husband Torvald and tyrannical social conventions. Torvald is a smug bank manager and with his job he has number of responsibilities. He treats his wife as if she is her responsibility and a mere product. Torvald is more worried about his reputation but he least cares about her.
Though Nora is financial well off yet there is not a single incidence in her life when she does not face rebuke by her husband. On the onset their marriage life seems to be satisfied, yet time and again Nora’s heart was burning like fire seeking Independence from the subjugation of her husband. Yet she fulfills her duty as a wife, and here is the hidden irony. Nora also took loan to save her husband’s life, but instead of credit she gets only rebuke from her husband.
As the play moves forward, she realizes how she has to remain subjugated in her parents house and now as a wife too, and how her marriage is only a mere game of a Doll, so unrealistic. So when Helmer tells Nora, “Because such an atmosphere of lies infects and poisons the whole life of a home.
Each breath the children take in such a house is full of the germs of evil,” Nora decides to discontinue her inauthentic role of a doll and closed the doors of domesticity to seek out her individuality, but that too she could attain at the cost of her children.
She has to leave her children behind so that they do not get corrupted. In the end of the play, her assertion comes straightaway from her mouth when she says, “I’ve been your wife-doll here, just as at home I was Papa’s doll-child.”(1608).
This is Nora and theare are Boy Willie and his sister, Bernice in the Piano Lessons who learned to cherish their heritage and assert their rights as human beings. Piano Lesson has a quintessential plot that revolves around a conflict.
It appears on the surface that the conflict that is going on is between Boy Willie and his sister, Bernice, but hidden beneath lies the conflict for preserving their heritage and culture, which is in the form of Piano. Boy Willie wants to sell Piano to buy a land for good fortune. What he was visualizing was the future which is the dream of Westernized world of younger generations, whereas Bernice wants to stay firm to her roots, and declines to part with the heritage.
The piano was reminder of her past. It was her father’s piano, who died retrieving it from the Sutter’s home. The unique thing about Piano are the engravings of the history of Charles family on it and for Bernice the souls of their ancestors reside in the Piano. It is the Piano only that joins them to their ancestors.
The story of Piano dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century, when the Charles family were slaves, their owners Sutters sold two members of the family for a piano. Sutters then got the Charles pictures of Charles family engraved on Piano, but the carpenter carved whole history of the family into it. This instrument was then stolen by their father who was later killed by the Sutters in retribution.
With this piano, August Wilson firmly evokes into the heart of the today’s generation the reality of the black people in American Society and how they assimilate into the White people, it simply means to give up their black culture and adopt the Westernized ways.
When the Doll House was staged in 1879, the spirit of revolution was ravaging like a fire in Europe and writers inculcated in their writings new thoughts and new perceptions of life which totally defied the old conventions. Wth his colloquial language, Ibsen inserts the burning passion of Independent thoughts which allows the A Doll’s house to achieve laurels inspite of criticism.
On the other hand, The Piano Lesson was set in Pittsburgh in 1930 when there was Great Depression which became historical background for the play. At that time, the black migration was also at the peak. They were migratinog from south to north in search of better life.
This all inspired Wilson but inspiration of the play, he got from Romare Bearden painting by the same name. In the painting was shown a teacher and a student in a form of an an allegory which means that how African Americans should associate themselves with their past.
Thus in their writings, inconsequent streams of thoughts, longings, apprehensions, and musings pour out as they arise in the mind of all and thus emerge the consciousness of Individuality, Freedom, and Independence.
1. Gale, “Biography of August Wilson” Internet (Last Updated: Available: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~awilson/bio.html, May 11, 2007
2. Spark Notes, “The Piano Lesson by August Wilson” Internet Available:
http://www.sparknotes.com/drama/piano/context.html, May 11, 2007
3. Templeton, Joan. Ibsen’s Women. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997
4. Wikipedia, “A Doll’s House” Internet (Last Updated May 08, 2007) Available:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Doll’s_House, May 11, 2007