Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Analysis

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Analysis
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The play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone was written by August Wilson and was first staged at the National Playwright Conference in Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 1984. This play is set to take place in 1911. Throughout the play, the main messages the author is trying to put across are the idea of identity and the problem of racial discrimination.  Throughout the play, the characters are shown to be looking for their different identities, mainly their spiritual and racial identities. In particular, the author focuses on the life of African Americans in the United States. Through the play, the author is able to communicate how some of them embraced their heritage and how some were racially abused and exploited.

            Throughout the play, Wilson appears to be showing how African Americans were attempting to search for their African heritage. The author himself was born of an African American mother and a German father. It was not until 1965 when he eventually embraced the African heritage of the mother. Throughout the play, the author appears to communicate to the audience the need and importance of embracing one’s roots and heritage. In the play, the author highlights two extremes: on one hand, those who are willing to embrace their heritage and roots, and on the other hand, those who are less interested in their heritage.  For example, one of the characters in the play who captures this theme effectively is Seth Holly. He was an African American born of northern parents and is an owner of a boardinghouse. Throughout his life, he was only interested in making money and following the idea of capitalism just like any other American. He is one of the characters who completely fail to recognize the importance of his African roots. He even refers to the African rituals performed by Bynum as “old mumbo jumbo nonsense.” Bynum is one of the characters used by the author to show how people can cling to their heritage. This is well-brought tout by his binding song that helps people to find one another. He has strong ties to his African roots and performs African rituals. Herald Loomis is in search of a new identity. He represents the many blacks who were victims of mistreatments and harassment during the early twentieth century in America. Throughout the play, he is shown to be caught between the African heritage and black American identities.

            The author also highlights the problem of racial discrimination that was witnessed in American society at the start of the twentieth century. The name of the play is derived from Joe Turner, who was notorious for impressing African Americans into slavery. Although slavery was illegal, he ignored this and continued to bring African Americans to work on his plantation. Throughout the play, the author shows how other African Americans were exploited by the whites. For instance, Martha, one of the characters in the play, left the American South due to the intense racial discrimination. Jeremy narrates how white policemen harassed him and his co-worker and snatched them their money. The white policemen were collecting money from the black in order for the blacks to keep their jobs. Another character, Even Selig, also comes from a family that has a history of harassing African Americans. For instance, he says that his grandfather brought Nigras across the ocean. The blacks were exploited by the whites to make profits for themselves.

            The ideas presented in the play are not unique but represent the messages common in most of the author’s works. For example, in the play The Piano Lesson, August Wilson shows how the piano was an important possession of the Charles family. The Charles family has been a victim of discrimination, and a Charles child was traded for the piano. In this play, the author clearly shows how African Americans were subjects of mistreatment by the whites. Similarly, messages on black Americans can also be found in the plays Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Gem of the Ocean all written by the same author.

            The messages in this play resonate with those found in other works by different authors during the early twentieth century. Most of the works written during this time were mainly focused on the plight of African Americans in the United States. Many of them were victims of slavery, racial abuse, and mistreatment. For example, in the book by W. E. B. Du Bois titled The Souls of Black Folk (1903), the author highlights the life African Americans faced. Just like the play above, many African Americans were racially abused and segregated. The idea of identity and heritage was also captured by early literature on African Americans. For example, in the Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) written by James Johnson, the author tells the story of a young man who was born of a black mother and a white father. However, due to his connections to African heritage, he is unable to embrace the world successfully.

Works cited:

Bois, Du. “The Souls of Black Folk.” Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903 

Johnson, Weldon. “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.” Boston: Sherman, French & Company. 1912.

Wilson, August. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.  New York: Penguin, 1988