Joe Turner's Come and Gone - Study Guide Act 1, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

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Act 1, Scene 4 Summary

It is now later Sunday evening. Mattie has moved in and dinner has just ended. Mattie offers to help Bertha with the dishes but Bertha has already enlisted the help of the young girl, Zonia. The residents gather to juba, which is a call-and-response form of African song and dance. Bynum and Jeremy create the rhythm by drumming on the table as the others sing and stomp in the African slave ritual.

After awhile Herald can take no more of the incantations and hollers for the group to stop. Herald begins ranting about the imminent presence of the Holy Spirit which will burn up all of them and begins to unfasten the fly of his pants. Seth thinks that Herald has gone crazy, especially when Herald begins to dance around, speaking in tongues.

Herald stops abruptly and Bynum encourages Herald to describe what he has just experienced; Bynum feels certain that Herald has had some sort of spiritual vision. Herald explains that he sees bones coming out of water and coming to a place "bigger than the whole world," and then sees the bones walking across the water, where they quickly sink. A wave washes the bones onto the shore and the bones fill with the flesh of black men. Herald lies on the floor as if to demonstrate the position of the bones he has just described.

Herald is unable to stand on his own at this point and Bynum encourages Herald, telling him that the whole world is standing and walking toward the road. Herald wants to stand and Bynum continues telling Herald that everyone is walking now, men just like Herald and himself, coming out of the water. Herald continues to struggle to stand but cannot do it and collapses on the floor.

Act 1, Scene 4 Analysis

This scene is heavy with symbolism, beginning with the juba ritual which is a combination of African song and dance. Combining African heritage with the ways of the new life in America, the dance symbolizes the melding of the two cultures for the black people. The preservation of the native heritage is strong but the people also realize the need for adaptation into their new lives. The dance is a way to blend the two perspectives.

The juba is also a device to unify the residents of the boardinghouse and creates a sense of family.For the time being, the wandering souls can feel like they have found a home among these kindred spirits.

The juba is also a spiritual representation of differing religions: that of the African nations with the new religions experienced in America. Herald's vision is brought about by his own rejection of the melding of Christian and African religions. The purpose of the juba is to call forth the Holy Spirit, found in Christianity, which is in opposition to the African religions. It is as if the juba attempts to keep the old religion alive while calling up the Holy Spirit of the new religion, a conflict which sends Herald over the edge in despair and confusion.

Herald's vision is dramatically poignant as it symbolizes the black people who were torn away from their homes in Africa and transported across the ocean to America, where they were sold into slavery. The bones which sink into the water in Herald's vision represent the countless black people who died on the slave ships through illness and violence, their bodies tossed overboard as if they were some sort of refuse.

The remainder of the bones in Herald's vision represent the black people who arrived on the shores of America and were sold into slavery. The bones fill with black flesh but are lifeless because of the enforced slavery. Eventually the bones are able to stand and move but Herald is not yet capable of the same action, symbolizing his own enslavement in both body and spirit.

Herald is still trapped in the personage of forced labor and cannot yet comprehend a life free from umbrage. Bynum's attempts to help free Herald from the psychological chains which bind him are not yet successful because Herald is not able to give himself permission to be free like the others around him.

This section contains 694 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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Joe Turner's Come and Gone from Drama for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.