Joe Turner's Come and Gone Study Guide

Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Joe Turner's Come and Gone by August Wilson

Joe Turner's Come and Gone Book Summary

Act One

Scene one - The audience is introduced to Seth Holly's boardinghouse, where Seth and his wife Bertha are in the kitchen watching Bynum in the backyard. Seth is complaining to Bertha about Bynum's strange spiritual activities. Bertha tells Seth to let him be as he isn’t bothering anyone. They also talk about Jeremy, a young man staying in the boardinghouse, getting arrested the night before for supposedly being drunk in public. Seth then has a monologue about the poor situation that the freed slaves are in after traveling up North. He worries that the AfricanAmericans are too naïve and that all the promises of jobs in the North will be taken by the poor white Americans. Then Rutherford Selig, the People Finder, comes to order dustpans from Seth, a maker of pots and pans. Then Bynum talks about an adventure that he once took up river where he found the"shiny man", a man he found on the road that offered to explain to him the Secret of Life. He had a spiritual encounter with the man, and sees the ghost of his father, telling him to find his song in life. His song, he later explains, is the Binding Song, which he uses to bind people to one another.Selig leaves and Jeremy enters, and after getting a scolding from Seth, he tells him that the white cops came and picked him up for no reason and that he was, in fact, not drunk at all. Then Herald Loomis and his daughter Zonia enter, looking for a place to stay for the week. They reveal that he islooking for his wife, Martha. After Seth shows them to their room, Jeremy relates a story about his guitar-playing abilities and how he is wary of playing for white men or money because of a bad experience. Bynum convinces Jeremy to go down to a bar to play for some money. Seth confides in Bynum and Bertha his lack of confidence in Loomis, and thinks that he is a "mean looking" man and he doesn’t want to help him find his wife because of it. After this Mattie Campbell enters, looking for Bynum because she has heard that he can "fix things". Her man, Jack has up and left her, but she wants him to come back. Bynum tells her that he can only bind people that wish to be bound; that she is better off just letting him find his own path in life. Jeremy intervenes and suggests that Mattie stays with him as to cure both of their loneliness. The scene ends with Zonia and Reuben, the little boyfrom next door. Reuben discloses Bynum's odd tendencies to Zonia and tells her a story about his friend Eugene that used to sell pigeons to Bynum so he could use their blood in his rituals.

Scene Two - It is a week later and the audience again finds Seth and Bertha eating breakfast in the kitchen. Seth is still worried about Loomis's intentions and doesn’t like the look of the man. He suspects that he knows who Loomis's wife is but won’t tell him because he is worried about what he will do once he finds her. Selig returns to the house to pick up the dustpans that Seth has made for him and Loomis pays him to try to find his wife because Bynum tells him that Selig is the People Finder.

Scene Three - It is the next day and yet again we find Seth and Bertha in the kitchen. Seth is upset because he can’t find anyone to front him the money to make a new factory for making pots and pans. Then Bynum and Jeremy talk about the importance of being in love with a woman and how being with a woman is all a man needs in life. Then the last boarder enters, Molly Cunningham. She is also looking for a placeto stay because she missed her train to Cincinnati. Jeremy takes a liking to Molly's appearance.

Scene Four - Again they are in the kitchen of the boarding house when the scene opens. The group has just finished eating dinner when Seth suggests they "juba"- an African style call and response song and dance. Loomis enters and demands that they stop the singing. He goes into an episode where he talks in tongues and falls to the floor. He starts recalling a religious hallucination and Bynum has to calm him down and take him upstairs.

Act Two

Scene 1 - Seth informs Loomis that he has to leave the boardinghouse because he thinks that Loomis was drunk when he had his episode. Seth tells him that he runs a respectable house and won’t put up with any shenanigans. Loomis and Zonia have until the next Saturday to leave the house. Bynum, Molly and Mattie are left in the kitchen where they talk about how children often follow in their parents’ footsteps. Molly asserts that she will never follow her father's path and that she will always be a strong, independent woman. Mattie leaves for Doc Goldblum's, where she cleans and irons for work. Jeremy returns to the house from work and reveals to Seth that he would not give a white foreman 50 cents to keep his job so he was fired. Seth thinks it was an idiotic choice because now he is out of a job and no longer makes $8 a week. Molly tells Jeremy that he could easily get his job back by simply returning to work. Jeremy then asks Molly to travel around with him because he needs a woman that is independent and knows what she wants. Molly agrees but refuses to return to theSouth.

Scene Two - Bynum and Seth are playing a game of dominoes and Bynum is singing a song about Joe Turner. Loomis asks Bynum to stop because he is uncomfortable with the song. Bynum reveals that he knew all along that Loomis was taken away by Joe Turner and that he needs to find his song in order to start his life again. Loomis relates his story to Bynum and Seth, telling them that he was taken by Joe Turner's men while trying to preach to some gambling African Americans. He spent seven years on Turner's chain gang and only survived by the thought of his wife and daughter. He tells them that after seven years he returned home to find that his wife had left and his daughter was living with her grandmother. The scene ends with Loomis being skeptical of Bynum and his voodoo abilities.

Scene Three - The scene opens with Bertha reassuring Mattie that she will find everything that she wants and needs in life and that she just has to be patient. The scene ends with Loomis telling Mattie that he's noticed her watching him and that he finds her attractive. He goes to touch her, however, but feels awkward and says "I done forgot how to touch".

Scene Four - It is the next morning and Zonia and Reuben are in the yard. Reuben tells Zonia that he has seen the ghost of Seth's mother earlier that morning and she made him keep his promise to Eugene and release the pigeons. They marvel at the idea that people could come back to life in the form of spirits. Reuben then asks Zonia if he can kiss her on the lips and she agrees. They decide that later in life they will find each other to get married.

Scene Five - In the final scene Loomis and Zonia leave the boardinghouse as it is Saturday. Bertha tells Mattie that all she needs in life is love and laughing- which they all start to do. Then Martha Pentecost [Loomis] enters with Selig looking for Loomis and Zonia. Loomis reenters with Zonia and he recounts the last decade of his life; his search for her and the heartache it has caused him. Martha tells him that she has moved on with her life because she couldn’t wait for him any longer. Martha also reveals that she had Bynum put a binding spell on her and Zonia and that is why they have come to find each other. Loomis goes into a rage and pulls out a knife. He denounces his Christian background and slashes his chest. The stage directions read "Having found his song, the song of self-sufficiency, fully resurrected, cleansed and given breath, free from any encumbrance other than the workings of his own heart and the bonds of the flesh, having accepted the responsibility for his own presence in the world, he is free to soar above the environs that weighed and pushed his spirit into terrifying contractions." He leaves and the play ends with Bynum yelling "Herald Loomis, you shining! You shining like new money!"

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