Joe Turner's Come and Gone

by August Wilson

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 929

One Saturday morning, Seth Holly is sitting in the kitchen looking out at Bynum, who is performing a ritual of sacrificing pigeons. After Bynum enters the house, so does Rutherford Selig. Bynum asks Selig if he has found the Shiny Man; then, Bynum relates his story of having met a Shiny Man who shared with him the secret of life and of his deceased father, who appeared and showed him how to find his song.

After Selig leaves, four people enter in quick succession: Jeremy, a boarder who has been jailed overnight for vagrancy; Herald Loomis and his daughter, who are seeking a room; and Mattie Campbell, who is looking for Bynum. Each is also searching for something else: Jeremy is looking for a woman to spend time with, Loomis is searching for his wife Martha, and Mattie desires Bynum’s assistance so that her man, Jack Carper, will return to her. Bynum tells Loomis that he needs to see Selig, the People Finder; he tells Martha that Jack is not bound to her because their babies died and that someone else is searching for her. Jeremy approaches Mattie, and they decide to spend time together.

Outside, Zonia plays and sings. She meets Reuben and tells him that she and her father are searching for her mother. Reuben tells Zonia that Bynum is a conjure man who buys pigeons from him. The pigeons once belonged to Reuben’s friend Eugene, whose dying request was that Reuben set the pigeons free.

The following Saturday morning, Seth talks to his wife about his discomfort with Loomis. Their discussion turns toward Martha Pentecost, a former tenant who is probably Martha Loomis. When Selig returns, Loomis gives him money to find Martha Loomis. Bertha tells Loomis that he has wasted his money, for Selig is not really a people finder; he only finds those whom he himself has taken away.

The next morning, after Jeremy informs Seth that Mattie is going to move in with him, Bynum tries to explain to Jeremy the value of a woman in a man’s life. Molly Cunningham comes by the boardinghouse, seeking a room. Jeremy is immediately attracted to her; as a result, he thinks he understands what Bynum has been saying.

That Sunday evening, as all of the boardinghouse residents are present except Loomis, Seth suggests that they dance the juba, an African American call-and-response dance that contains some African residuals. Loomis returns while they are dancing and, hearing the word “Holy Ghost,” insists that they stop. During an act of rage and rebellion, he goes into a trance. Speaking in tongues and dancing, Loomis relates that he sees bones rising out of the water. Encouraged by Bynum, he reveals that the bones, which are walking on water, sink, yet when waves wash the bones on shore, they have flesh. The bones people lie on the shore; then, they simultaneously stand. Loomis attempts to stand as well but cannot. Bynum picks up the vision, telling Loomis that the bones people are walking. Bynum coaxes Loomis, but, still unable to stand, Loomis collapses.

The next morning, Seth tells Bertha that Loomis has to leave. When Seth approaches him, Loomis states that he has paid for another week; consequently, he is allowed to remain until Saturday. Having entered the kitchen, Molly and Mattie share their stories of being abandoned by their men. After Mattie leaves for work, Jeremy enters and tells Seth that he has been fired; he and Molly run off together.

Seth and Bynum play dominoes as Bynum sings the blues song “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” Loomis enters...

(This entire section contains 929 words.)

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and objects to the song. Bynum identifies Loomis as one of Joe Turner’s men and tells him that he has forgotten his song. Loomis relates his story of being enslaved by Turner for seven years, being released, and returning home to find his wife gone and his daughter living with his mother-in-law. He has spent four years searching for his wife. Loomis then identifies Bynum as one of the bones people.

The following morning, Bertha, in an effort to comfort Mattie over Jeremy’s departure, offers advice about men and love and tells her that her time is coming. When Loomis enters, Mattie asks him about his vision. There is an attraction between them, but when Loomis tries to touch Mattie, he discovers that he cannot.

Reuben and Zonia discuss two supernatural events from the previous evening: The wind spoke to Bynum, and Seth’s dead mother, Miss Mabel, appeared to Reuben, reminding him that he promised Eugene to let the pigeons go. The conversation turns to Loomis’s search for Zonia’s mother so that he can find his place in the world. The two take an interest in each other; they kiss, and Reuben promises to search for Zonia when he grows up.

Zonia and Loomis leave the boardinghouse. A short time later, Martha enters with Selig. Loomis returns and gives Zonia to Martha. When Martha thanks Bynum for finding her child, Loomis becomes angry. Accusing Bynum of binding him, Loomis brandishes a knife. Bynum explains that he bound the child to her mother and that Loomis has bound himself by not finding his song. Martha interrupts, telling Loomis to look to Jesus. Defiantly, Loomis insists that no one needs to bleed for him; he slashes himself and rubs himself with his blood. Realizing his self-sufficiency, Looms is finally able to stand. When Loomis turns and leaves, Mattie follows. Bynum calls after him, telling him that he is shining like new money.


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