Doaker Berniece and Boy Willie's uncle is a railroad cook, trying to keep the peace while testifying to the past. Boy Willie A few short generations removed from the African who carved the piano, he comes to Pittsburgh from Mississippi on a mission to sell his piano in order to buy a piece of the land where his ancestors slaved. Lymon Boy WIllie's partner watermelons is anxious to finish the business and begin his new life in the north. Berniece Boy Willie's sister, Doaker and the action of the play reside in her house. She refuses to let her piano be sold. Maretha Berniece's eleven year-old daughter is beginning to learn piano.

Avery A preacher who is trying to build his congregation while tending to the souls of its members. He also courts Berniece. Wining Boy Doaker's brother, Boy Willie and Berniece's uncle is a pianist, drinker, gambler, and connection to the family's past. Grace A young, urban woman whom Boy Willie and Lymon each try to pick up. Summary The Piano Lesson is set in Pittsburgh in 1936, and all the action takes place in the house of Doaker Charles and his niece, Berniece. The characters in the play, some of whom have migrated to the industrial north while others stayed in the rural south, are the children and grandchildren of freed slaves, and evident throughout the play is a teleological connection with the time of slavery.

The central conflict in The Piano Lesson is more easily delineated than in any other of Wilson plays. Boy Willie and his friend Lymon have traveled north to Pittsburgh to sell a truckload of watermelons. Boy Willie also intends to sell the family piano-a priceless heirloom into which his grandfather had carved the history of the family since the middle passage. He intends to use the money fro the piano and the watermelons to buy a parcel of land where his ancestors slaved. The main obstacle Boy Willie faces is Berniece, in who's house the piano sits. Although the piano is little played, she does not want to sell it because of what it portrays and represents about the family's history.

Also on stage are Doaker and Wining Boy, Boy Willie and Berniece's uncles, who tell with authority the history of the piano and the family. While Doaker is a railroad cook, and appears to be stable in this job, his brother Wining Boy is a transient musician, gambler, and alcoholic. The family's youngest generation is seen in Maretha, who mostly just observes the conflicts swirling around her.