Critical Overview

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 396

When Joe Turner’s Come and Gone debuted on Broadway in 1988, it received overall good praise from the critics. However, not all audiences responded as well. As Peter Wolfe notes in his 1999 book, August Wilson, "Playgoers comfortable enough with the African retentions built into Wilson’s two earlier plays recoiled from the ethnicity of Joe Turner." The play has enjoyed a strong critical reputation since then, with the majority of critics focusing on the main idea of the play, African Americans’ search to find their identity. Says Sandra G. Shannon, in her 1995 book, The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson, "The theme of finding one’s song, which permeates Joe Turner, is simultaneously a personal and collective ambition for Wilson and for all of black America."

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In addition, critics have also noted the two main influences of the play, the 1978 Romare Bearden painting, entitled Millhand’s Lunch Bucket, and the historical person of Joe Turney. Although most critics have failed to recognize that "Joe Turner" is an incorrect name, Wolfe says, "The difference in the names of the blacks’ captor, though small, deserves a look." Wolfe notes that:

The mistake evokes the famous Kansas City blues singer Big Joe Turner (1911–1985) in a play that not only relies heavily upon music but also includes, in Jeremy Furlow, a blues guitarist in its cast.

Other critics discuss Wilson’s portrayal of women in his plays, including Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Although Wilson himself has said many times that he does not focus on...

(The entire section contains 396 words.)

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Critical Evaluation


Essays and Criticism