American Literature--The Piano Lesson: Character Study of Avery and Lymon (by Vesna Ilievska)



Avery is an acquaintance of Boy Willie and Lymon from the South, and considers himself to be Bernice’s boyfriend. He’s in his late thirties and has become a preacher. Like most of the characters in the play, he is also fighting for his dream, and that’s starting his own church and being able to hold congregations there. In addition to his Avery’s passion to preach, he also works as an elevator boy, which in a way nicely depicts how well he has adapted to city life, in comparison to working the fields in the South. Avery holding a menial job and doing a totally different kind of work in his community is also something that can be frequently encountered among the people from the African-American community during that period. Nevertheless, as a preacher Avery gets the chance to climb up the social ladder and earn respect far more quickly than being an elevator boy and that position is seems to match Avery’s almost silly religiousness perfectly.

All of this makes Avery look like a good and strong man, but perhaps a little bit unimaginative and plodding, as we see in his relationship with Bernice. When it comes to her, Avery’s extremely respectful, gentle and thoughtful which almost seems to be counterproductive because Bernice continues rejecting his marriage proposals.

He is extremely persistent as well, because as a preacher he is in good social standing to be able to marry any woman he wants, but instead he keep trying to convince Bernice to be his wife which seems almost futile. Finally, I see Avery as the character that has the most indirect approach to things. Boy Willie is ready to load the piano on his truck and Bernice is ready to shoot Boy Willie to keep the piano in the house, but Avery stops to ask Bernice whether there’s “any woman left in her”, instead of actually kissing her and discovering the woman in Bernice.


Lymon is Boy Willie’s good friend from the South that has accompanied him to the North, to Pittsburgh, because he wants to make a chance in his life. He’s in his late twenties and seems to be an easygoing man. Like the others, he’s trying to make a future for himself and is looking forward to a new beginning in a new place. There are two main reasons why he chooses the North over the South, one reason being the fact that he is being prosecuted in the South and the other being his beliefs that the law will always be changed to suit white folks, thus he believes he will never be treated equally and make a living like the others. Here, we also discover Lymon’s struggle to be self-sufficient and independent because he would rather stay in prison than have someone pay his debt and go back to serving someone again.

Lymon seems to be rather spontaneous and direct compared to some of other characters, which we see in his attitude towards him moving to the city. Instead of planning his future a touch more, he seems to be more willing to go with the flow and enjoy the nightlife and the women of Pittsburgh rather than find a place to live, a good job and settle down. We do not see a lot of Lymon’s personality because he is after all a stranger to the family and tries not to get between Boy Willie and Bernice. When compared to Boy Willie, Lymon seems to lack Boy Willie’s explosiveness but often is more brilliant in his own way. This is probably what attracts Bernice towards Lymon. We see him as more laid back, yet caring and sensual. Though he is presented as a bit naïve at certain moments in the play, like when he agrees to buy Winning Boy’s coat because he believes the coat will bring him luck in his love life, it takes him only minutes to get to a point with Bernice which would have taken Avery months or even years. In the end, he and Boy Willie go their own ways and even if we do not have any information on what happens next with Lymon, we somehow feel he will succeed in whatever he puts his mind on.


Note: The American Literature students and I were assigned to develop studies of two characters from the play.

These studies are essentially rough notes, developed to stimulate class discussion. If you quote or paraphrase from these original character studies for a scholarly paper, please cite this post as a source.


Work Cited

Wilson, August. The Piano Lesson. Rpt. in Literature and Society: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction, 4th Ed. Eds. Pamela J. Annas and Robert C. Rosen. Upper Saddle River (NJ): Pearson-Prentice Hall, 2007. 809-879.

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