Summary and Analysis: Act II, Scenes 1-3
It is morning again, and while Bertha busies herself in the kitchen, Seth rants about Herald. He wants to force Herald to leave the boardinghouse. Bertha tries to argue with him, but to no avail. Jeremy has gone off to work, building the new road. Molly, Bynum, and Mattie enter the kitchen for breakfast. When Herald comes downstairs, Seth informs him that he can’t have any carrying on and that Herald and Zonia have to leave. Herald refuses to leave, asserting that he has already paid for the whole week, so he will stay until Saturday. Seth gruffly consents, and Herald stalks out of the house. Molly asks Bynum if he’s one of those "voo-doo" people. Bynum explains about the Binding Song and the power it gives him to bind people to one another. He tells Molly that his father had the power to heal people by singing over them. Molly declares that that kind of thing is too spooky. Offended, Bynum leaves for work. Mattie says that she, too, must go to work, ironing and cleaning at Doc Goldblum’s. Molly tells Mattie that she never wants to iron another person’s clothes or do anyone else’s work. She asks Mattie if Jeremy is her man, implying that Mattie wouldn’t need to work if Jeremy was taking care of her. Mattie tells Molly that she and Jeremy are just keeping each other company for a while. Molly says that she doesn’t trust any men; she never met a man who meant anyone any good. She says she won’t be tied down with any babies and that she loves no one but her mama. Mattie leaves for work.
Right after Mattie exits, Jeremy enters, having been fired from his job for refusing to pay an extortion fee to a white man who was demanding that all the black laborers pay him. Seth can’t understand why Jeremy wouldn’t just pay the fee and keep his job, but Jeremy says that the sudden fee made no sense to him and that he can always find a new place to stay and a new job. Jeremy sees Molly, then, and asks her to go away with him. Molly points out that he is already with Mattie, but Jeremy tells her that he was just keeping Mattie company because she is lonely. He tells Molly that she is not the lonely kind, that she knows what she wants and how to get it, and that these qualities make her the type of woman he wants to travel with. He tries to persuade her by talking about how much money he can make in guitar contests. Molly informs him that she will not work, she’s not up for sale, and she is absolutely not going South. Jeremy assures her that she won’t have to work, and the scene ends with their implicit agreement to go off together.
As the second scene opens, Seth and Bynum are sitting in the parlor playing dominoes. While he plays, Bynum sings the song “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” The song lyrics are written from the perspective of a woman whose man has been taken away by Joe Turner to work in a chain gang. Bynum explains this to Seth, who is irritable as usual. Herald walks through the parlor and into the kitchen, where he sits eating a plateful of yams with his hands. Bynum continues singing the song. Herald asks Bynum why he is singing that particular song and tells Bynum that he doesn’t like that song. Seth pounces on another opportunity to remind Herald that he must leave if he starts any disturbances in the house. A conciliatory Bynum offers to sing a different song, but Seth tells him to hush up. Bynum starts talking about farming and says he reckons that everyone has had to pick cotton at some point. Seth reminds Bynum that his father was born free, so he never had to pick cotton. Bynum then asks Herald if he ever worked at farming or picking cotton. Bynum says that he can tell just by looking at Herald that he’s done that kind of work. Bynum can look at a person and see his song written on him, but when he looks at Herald, he sees a man who has forgotten his song. Herald has forgotten how to sing his song and hence has forgotten who he is and what is his role in life. This is how Bynum can tell...
(The entire section is 1,927 words.)