John Huston Finley, a former Professor of Politics at Princeton University, reflected on maturity; defining it as “the capacity to endure uncertainty” (Maturity). Each individual has a moral obligation to attain maturity and a sense of self as we age. Some mature early in life, while others never fully reach emotional maturation. Although maturity is not a natural consequence of aging, an individuals’ willingness to experience life while having the flexibility to adapt and change can support personal growth. We must also learn to respect the differences and perspectives of others, considering that maturity can be categorized as a discipline rather than a trait. It is ultimately a sign of intelligence, learning to properly respond to your environment with intentions of responsibility. Through Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, characters embody maturity and confirm it to be a discipline that is learned rather than acquired.
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Within Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, Boy Willie introduces the play’s central conflict. His character drives the plot, shaping the dramatic structure of the play. His impulsive nature encourages a lofty goal of selling the family’s heirloom, a hand-carved piano, to purchase Sutter’s land, where his family was originally enslaved. This, in addition to revealing stage directions, represents his brash character and childlike inclinations. In contrast to his tendency to seemingly disregard his family’s traumatic past, he is especially passionate regarding questions of race. He refuses to accommodate the current racial situation, declaring himself equal to his white peers. He insists that he is deserving of a higher quality of life, thus his intentions of impacting the world around him. Willie seeks Sutter’s land as a means of leveling the playing field with his white neighbor. Sutter’s land contrasts from the setting of the play’s action, Doaker Charles’ home which lacks warmth and vigor despite Berniece’s presence. Adding value to himself and attempting to add respect behind his family’s name, Willie is demonstrating emotional maturity.
The Piano Lesson is a testimony to Willie’s personal growth and relationship with maturity as his environmental awareness increases throughout the piece. He begins to more successfully understand and manage his emotions, maintaining a calmer exterior; recognizing that vision and empathy have the potential to work for and against one another. Willie begins to take responsibility for his own happiness, creating goals and defining a flexible plan for individual and familial success. He additionally learns to respect boundaries, recognizing when it is appropriate to stop arguing. Allowing Bernice to keep the piano, Willie is accepting that the family heirloom has a value that it deeper than money or physical land. He has come to respect the perspectives of his family, relaxing his body language and tone, no longer indulging in comparisons of an alternative lifestyle.
As Boy Willie accepts change within himself, Li’l Bit embraces internal change and finds control within the chaos of her life. Despite this growth, the structure of the piece defies the natural process of aging. Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive presents Li’l Bit as a grown woman in her thirties and moves backward through her life. This intentional element of drama, reveals the details of her relationship with Peck in a style that varies from her true experience. In the opening scene, Li’l Bit is seventeen and presents the audience with a bold statement, “I am very old, very cynical of the world, and I know it all.” Questioning assumptions that typically connect chronological development and maturity, the piece redefines the significance of growing up.
Similar to Willie’s grasping of his moral responsibility, Li’l Bit begins to comprehend her potential for emotional development. Ultimately terminating the unhealthy relationship with her uncle that she has fostered for years, she acknowledges the events that originally drove her to him. Her name, a symbol, is suggestive of the kind of background she comes from, in which family members have nicknames with sexual connotations. She basks in the attention that he gives her throughout the years, posing for pictures and accepting gifts. When, at puberty, her breasts develop, her mother and grandparents make her self-conscious, and other children at school make her feel like an outcast, but Peck speaks to her sympathetically.
We can ultimately conclude that the relationship is questionable; Peck’s desire for control overpowering his seemingly calm and careful demeanor. He appears gentle, depressed and clean of the standard “predatory monster” characteristics. His character, fascinating to Li’l Bit, likely increased her desire to care for Peck and defend him from rumors of scandal. In order for the audience to understand Li’l Bit’s decisions, they must understand that this is not a typical story of a one-dimensional abuse but represents the uncomfortable encounters of two damaged people. They must additionally recognize the nature of learning within her character and understand that their ability to predict her character is rooted within personal expectations and familiarity with dramatic character roles. Identifying Li’l Bit as the protagonist and understanding the limitations of time, the audience accepts Li’l Bit as far from “typical innocent victim” with little hesitation. The piece encourages the audience to sympathize with and in a way admire Li’l Bit while we are to interpret Peck in a negative light.
For Li’l Bit, learning to mature means understanding, rather than simply accumulating experience, and her process of understanding unfolds in a scattered timeline. Despite her young age during the earliest chronological scene, Li’l Bit is intellectually mature. She understands her situation more clearly than many adults would and conceals any blame she knows Peck deserves. Learning from her family to hold a mature perspective of sex at a young age, Li’l Bit allows knowledge to obscure her need for emotional growth.
The most vital element of this growth requires her to distance herself from her family, especially from Peck. She eventually releases Peck’s presence, feeling grateful to him for the freedom of driving. Symbolically leaving the past behind her, Li’l Bit visualizes Peck in her rearview mirror. Her conscious decision to drive off distances her from the uncertainties she previously endured; proving her maturity within the eyes of Professor Finley. This release additionally satisfies the hopes and possible expectations of the audience, completing the cycle of plot and wrapping up the remaining details of the piece.
Although maturity does not directly correlate with typical education, learning and maturation are closely interrelated. Maturation often compensates for the gaps of change that learning presents an individual. Through Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, Boy Willie and Li’l Bit discover the significance of learning maturity for the protection of relationships, safety, and the increased potential for a rewarding life. Working to understand the impact they have on those around them, the characters embrace their emotional growth and recognize the substance found within their experience.
The Piano Lesson, How I Learned to Drive. (2021, Dec 31).
Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from
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