Joe Turner's Come and Gone - Act 2, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

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Act 2, Scene 2 Summary

Later the same day, Bynum and Seth play dominoes in the parlor when Herald returns home. Seth reminds Herald that Herald must leave on Saturday; Seth then returns his attention to the game and Bynum's absentminded singing of the song "Joe Turner's Come and Gone." The lyrics are the story of a man who has been taken by the infamous Joe Turner, who stole black men to work on chain gangs in Tennessee.

Herald is offended by the song and asks Bynum to stop, which the old man does, as he has other songs he can sing. Bynum tries to engage Herald in conversation and asks if Herald has ever worked in farming. Herald admits to having picked cotton during his life. Bynum feels as if Herald is familiar in some way, as if he has seen Herald near the town where Bynum saw his own shiny man.

Bynum shares that it is funny that Herald is looking for his wife and Bynum still looks for his shiny man. Everyone is looking for someone. Bynum tells Herald that he knows who Herald is just by looking at him, a skill taught to Bynum by his own father. According to Bynum, Herald is a man who has lost his own song and no longer knows who he is. Bynum instinctively knows that Herald was "one of Joe Turner's niggers," men who lose their own songs. Herald tries to deny Bynum's statement but ultimately reveals that Bynum is correct.

Herald had been a married man with a baby when he was caught by Joe Turner's men near Memphis in 1901. For seven years, Herald worked on the notorious chain gang and lost all contact with his family. Joe Turner's practice was to keep men for seven years and release them on his own birthday. After his release, Herald returns to the place where he lived with his wife, Martha, and daughtetr, Zonia, but they are no longer living at the farm where they were sharecroppers. Martha has left Zonia with her own mother and headed north.

Since that time, Herald and Zonia have been trying to find Martha because Herald feels that all he needs to regain his life is to simply see Martha's face. If Herald could have his wife back he knows his life would begin again.

Bynum asks Herald if he knows why Joe Turner wanted Herald. Seth interrupts by answering that Joe Turner obviously needed work done, but Bynum thinks that Joe Turner wanted Herald's song. The theft of Herald's song has left Herald an empty man, but Bynum feels that Herald still knows the song and encourages Herald to find it within himself again. As Bynum speaks, Herald comes to the realization that Bynum had been one of the bone people from his own vision, and understands that Bynum had been a slave.

Act 2, Scene 2 Analysis

The plight of black men improved very little in the South in the years following the Civil War as verified by Herald's story of being taken away in chains to work for the notorious Joe Turner. Although not technically a slave, Herald has led a diminished life and lost everything dear to him, including his own sense of self. Bynum tries to get Herald to understand the need for finding his song, a metaphor for his own identity. This is an issue very familiar to Bynum, who has himself struggled with the issue of reclaiming his life after surviving a lifetime in slavery. Bynum received his song from the "shiny man," his own father, and hopes to help Herald in the same way so that the younger man can claim his life and begin to live again.

This section contains 615 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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