Joe Turner's Come and Gone

by August Wilson

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Questions and Answers: Act I, Scenes 1-2

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1. At what point in Scenes1 and 2 does the recurring image of the road appear? What significance does the road have for the former slaves?

2. Who is Martha Pentecost, and why won’t Seth tell Herald that he knows where Martha lives?

3. What is the Binding Song, where does it come from, and what is its significance to Bynum?

4. What are Rutherford Selig’s occupations? What power does he derive from them?

5. What occupations did Rutherford Selig’s father and grandfather have? How are these occupations linked to Selig’s profession as a people finder?

1. The road is an ever-present image in the play because it literally leads people to and from the Hollys’ boardinghouse. Herald and Zonia have been on the road for some time, looking for Martha Loomis. Jeremy’s job is building a new road. Bynum discovers his identity and is given his Binding Song while he is walking down a road. The road is significant for former slaves because since the end of slavery, freed slaves have traveled the roads, heading North in search of new lives, although it is clear from the stories of Herald and Bynum that this is not an “easy road” to take. The road, then, symbolizes both freedom and tribulation.

2. Martha Pentecost is a woman who answers to the description of Herald’s long-lost wife, Martha Loomis. Seth refuses to tell Herald that he knows his wife and her whereabouts because he doesn’t trust Herald; to the grumpy, free-born Seth, Herald appears unkempt, mean, and off-balance.

3. The Binding Song is a powerful conjuring chant that Bynum received during what might have been a vision or dream. Although the shiny man led Bynum to the bend in the road where he obtained the song, it is Bynum’s father, another rootworker, who gave it to him. The Binding Song signifies Bynum’s identity, and he takes his name from it because he employs it to bind people together.

4. Selig has two occupations: he is a peddler who travels up the river selling wares like pots and dustpans to folks, and he is a people finder. He is able to locate people so easily because of his job as a traveling peddler. Selig derives a certain degree of power from knowing where people are, and he profits from finding them for others. It could be said that Selig is swindling folks by charging them a dollar to “find” people when he could just as easily do it for free, since he’s already traveling as a peddler.

5. Selig’s grandfather brought Africans to America as slaves. His father captured runaway slaves and returned them to plantations. These occupations are linked to Selig’s, as Bertha suggests, in that Selig never “finds” anyone that he hasn’t already taken away. Bertha’s insight implies that Selig’s occupation is akin to that of his father and grandfather, for his father never “found” and captured anyone that his grandfather hadn’t, in one sense, taken away from the African “homeland” in the first place.

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Questions and Answers: Act I, Scenes 3-4