In August Wilson’s play, Joe Turners’ Come and Gone the characters struggle to find a life that will help them overcome the pain from their past. My goal is to examine how each character’s identity changes throughout the play and how others remain the same. Bynum is a complex character that has a major influence on the ending of the play. His significance to the play must also be discussed. There are many conflicts that arrive as a result of the characters living together in a boarding house in Pittsburg during the early 1900s. As the characters begin to share their stories, solutions as well as other problems unfold. Seth Holly is Bertha’s husband and the owner of the Pittsburgh boardinghouse where the play is set. Seth is a suspicious man, and is constantly on the lookout for anything that could make his boardinghouse seem less than respectable. Bertha Holly is Seth’s wife, who offers advice to many of the tenants at their Pittsburgh boardinghouse. Bertha has been married to Seth for twenty-seven years, and has learned to deal with her husband’s prickly nature. While Seth is extremely critical of many people, Bertha generally gives people the benefit of the doubt. (Arnold, Stephanie. The Creative Spirit: An introduction to Theatre. New York, 2008. Print.) Bertha is in charge of the cooking and cleaning at the boardinghouse, while Seth collects the rent and works two side jobs. Mattie Campbell is one of Seth’s tenants that wants to get married and have children. Molly is one of Seth’s tenants who desires nothing more than to be independent. Jeremy Furlow is a young, impulsive man in his twenties who does not want to be tied down to a needy woman or a place. Jeremy also finds a home at Seth’s Boarding house. (Arnold, Stephanie. The Creative Spirit: An introduction to Theatre. New York, 2008. Print.) Herald Loomis is a former deacon who was illegally enslaved by Joe Turner. Herald tried to stop some black men from gambling and all of the men, including him, were illegally snatched up by Joe Turner. When Herald was released, he went to his mother-in-law’s house, where he found his daughter, Zonia, but not his wife, Martha. Herald and Zonia walked north for years, searching for Martha. After moving in to Seth’s boarding home Herald hires Selig to find Martha. Martha Loomis is Herald’s wife, who has been separated from him for eleven years since Herald was illegally enslaved by Joe Turner. When Herald was captured, Martha was unable to work their Tennessee farm by herself and was evicted by their landlord. After she and Zonia lived at Martha’s mother’s house for five years, Martha assumed that Herald was dead and moved on with her life. Martha moves north to avoid racial persecution, and leaves Zonia behind at her mother’s house, intending to pick her up in a few months. . However, Herald is released while Martha is up north, and Herald goes to pick up Zonia. Herald and Zonia search for Martha, while Martha searches for Zonia. Martha stays at Seth’s boardinghouse briefly where Bynum binds Zonia to Martha, so that they can find each other someday. (Arnold, Stephanie. Wilson, August. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. The Creative Spirit: An introduction to Theatre. New York, 2008. Print. p76-p114.) In the meantime, however, Herald, who is noticeably angry, causes a major disturbance in the boardinghouse. Seth threatens to kick Herald out for causing the disturbance, but Herald stands his ground. When Bynum sings the song, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” Herald opens up about his slave experience. (Douglas Anderson, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” in CLA Journal, Vol. XL, No. 4, June 1997, pp. 432-57.) Zonia Loomis is the daughter of Herald and Martha. Zonia helps Bertha in the kitchen to help pay for her board. Reuben Scott is the boy next door who befriends Zonia and tells her he will marry her someday. Rutherford Selig is a white peddler and people finder who finds Martha Loomis and brings her to Herald. (Arnold, Stephanie. The Creative Spirit: An introduction to Theatre. New York, 2008. Print.) Selig is the only white character in the play. He stops by the boardinghouse every Saturday to sell sheet metal to Seth and put in orders for the items that he needs made out of the metal. In addition to his peddling, Selig is a people finder, who charges one dollar to find somebody. When Selig brings Martha to the boardinghouse, she and Herald reunite. They swap their stories, and then Herald passes Zonia on to Martha. Although Martha encourages Herald to look to Jesus Christ and the blood of the lamb for salvation, Herald uses a knife to slash his chest and draw his own blood which he wipes on his face. He realizes that with this act of self-reliance he is free. (Douglas Anderson, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” in CLA Journal, Vol. XL, No. 4, June 1997, pp. 432-57.) Bynum Walker is an older resident of the boardinghouse. Bynum received a binding power as the result of a vision he had on the road when he used to travel. A strange man came up to him and offered to show Bynum the Secret of Life. During Bynum’s vision, the strange man began to shine. Bynum’s father appeared as a guide, telling him that if he ever saw a shiny man again, he would know that his song has been accepted. When Bynum came out of his vision, he had the power of the Binding Song, and was able to bind people together so that if they became separated they would be able to find each other. Bynum uses the power of binding to bind Zonia to her mother. Like Bertha, Bynum helps provide advice to various tenants. He advises Mattie to move on from her old boyfriend, and gives her a good luck charm. He tries to counsel Jeremy on the many virtues of women, but Jeremy ignores his advice and runs off with Molly. Bynum also acts as a spiritual guide to Herald. (Arnold, Stephanie. Wilson, August. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. The Creative Spirit: An introduction to Theatre. New York, 2008. Print. p76-p114.) When Herald has a vision of his African ancestors during a juba dance, Bynum helps guide Herald through it. Also, when Herald reacts badly to Bynum’s singing of the song, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” Bynum realizes that Herald has been enslaved by this notorious man. Bynum gets Herald to tell his story, and tells Herald that Joe Turner captured Herald because he was trying to steal his song which is his identity. However, Bynum lets Herald know that when Herald was captured, he forgot his song so that Turner could not steal it. Bynum is the one who lets Herald know that he is bound to his song and that he only needs to sing it to be free. At the end of the play after Herald has slashed himself and found his identity again, Bynum tells Herald that he is shining. Bynum has found another shiny man. Conclusively, Bynum is the character that brings the story together. Without Bynum the plot would not have had the same effect on the play. As a result Bynum helps the other characters with their identity problems and during the process he stumbles across his new identity.
Arnold, Stephanie. The Creative Spirit: An introduction to Theatre. New York, 2008. Print.
Bogumil, Mary L., Understanding August Wilson, University of South Carolina Press, 1999, p. 65.
Arnold, Stephanie. Wilson, August. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. The Creative Spirit: An introduction to Theatre. New York, 2008. Print. p76-p114.
Douglas Anderson, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” in CLA Journal, Vol. XL, No. 4, June 1997, pp. 432-57.
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