Joe Turner's Come and Gone Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 68 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Joe Turner's Come and Gone.
This section contains 1,312 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)

Act 1, Scene 1

When Joe Turner's Come and Gone opens, Seth is complaining to his wife Bertha about Bynum, a tenant in their Pittsburgh boardinghouse who kills pigeons for his African rituals. Seth and Bertha also talk about Seth's night job at the steel mill, and his third job as a tinsmith, making items out of the sheet metal sold to him by the white peddler, Rutherford Selig. Seth would go into the tinsmithing business by himself, but cannot get approved for a loan unless he signs over their boardinghouse, which he refuses to do.

Selig stops by for his weekly Saturday business visit, buys some pots from Seth and puts in an order for some dustpans. Bynum asks Selig about the shiny man that he paid Selig—a people finder—to find for him. Selig asks Bynum for a better description, and Bynum tells him about the strange man, who gave him the vision in which he acquired the power of the Binding Song. Bynum is now able to bind people together, so that they can find each other if they are separated. Selig leaves. Jeremy, a young tenant, comes in and tells everybody how the police locked him up so they could steal money from him. Herald Loomis and his daughter, Zonia, arrive and rent a room from Seth. Herald is looking for his wife, Martha, and Bynum tells him that he should talk to Selig on his next Saturday visit. Seth shows Herald to his room. Bynum encourages Jeremy to take his guitar to the nightly contest at Seefus's bar, a black gambling house, but Jeremy is leery of contests, after a bad experience with a white contest sponsor.

Seth comes in and says that Herald must be looking for Martha Pentecost, a woman he knows, because Zonia resembles her. However, Seth will not tell Herald this, because he does not trust Herald. Mattie Campbell, a young woman, stops by to talk to Bynum and ask him to bind her old boyfriend, Jack Carper, to her. Bynum says that Carper is bound to somebody else, and that Mattie should move on, although he gives Mattie a small good luck charm to put under her pillow. Jeremy asks Mattie out on a date, and she reluctantly agrees. Outside, Zonia plays in the yard and meets Reuben, the boy next door. Zonia tells him that they are searching for her mother, who ran away when a man named Joe Turner did something to her father. Reuben says that his only other friend, Eugene, died, and that, against Eugene's dying wish, Reuben keeps Eugene's pigeons in captivity, selling the pigeons to Bynum to use in his African rituals.

Act 1, Scene 2

The next Saturday morning, Bertha and Seth argue about Herald. Seth does not trust him, since he does not work, and thinks he might be a thief. Bertha, however, gives Herald the benefit of the doubt. They talk about Bynum's past, then recall how Martha came to see Bynum several years ago, distraught that she could not find her little girl. Selig shows up for his weekly visit, and Seth sells him the dustpans that he has made. Herald hires Selig to find his wife, and Selig explains that his family has been involved in the people-finding business for a long time, first as slave transporters, then as slave bounty hunters. Now, after the slaves have been freed, he helps black people find lost family members. Selig leaves, and Bertha says that Selig can only "find" people who have hitched a ride on his wagon. Herald is unshaken in his faith, however, and says that Selig will find Martha by the next Saturday.

Act 1, Scene 3

The next morning, Seth talks to Bynum about the fact that he is still unable to get a loan to start his own tinsmithing business. Jeremy pays for Mattie to move in with him at the boardinghouse. Jeremy likes Mattie because she is pretty and treats him well, and Bynum lectures Jeremy, saying that he has to learn to appreciate everything that a woman can offer, besides the physical relationship. Just then, Molly Cunningham, an extremely attractive woman, stops by to see Seth. Molly has missed her Sunday train, and rents a room for a week. Jeremy is smitten.

Act 1, Scene 4

Later that evening, everybody except Herald sits around the dinner table. Seth pulls out a harmonica and everybody starts to "juba," an African-style song and dance that mentions the name of the Holy Ghost. Herald enters in a rage, and tells them that the Holy Ghost is going to burn them up and attempts to mock their ritual dance. In the process, he has a vision, and Bynum guides him through it. Herald imagines that he is looking out on an ocean, where bones—representing his ancestors who died on slave ships—walk on the water and then sink. Herald's vision continues, and the bones become living Africans, lying immobile on the American shore, unable to stand up for them selves under the repression of slavery. Near the end of the vision, Herald himself feels as if he is lying there with the others, and he panics when he realizes that he is not able to stand up.

Act 2, Scene 1

The next morning, Seth tries to kick Herald out, but Herald refuses to leave until Saturday. Mattie leaves for work, and Molly says that she refuses to work, and that she does not need any men or any children. Jeremy comes in, saying that he got fired when he refused to pay a white man an extortion fee to keep his job. Jeremy decides to leave Mattie and run away with Molly.

Act 2, Scene 2

On Monday evening, Bynum and Seth sit and play dominoes, and Bynum sings the song, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone." Herald comes in and tells Bynum to stop it. Bynum tells Herald that he knows that Joe Turner enslaved him, because Herald has lost his song. Herald breaks down and tells the story of his enslavement, and asks Bynum why Turner would want him. Bynum says that Turner was hoping to steal Herald's song, but could not, because Herald forgot it in captivity.

Act 2, Scene 3

The next morning, Herald and Mattie talk about his vision. They talk about their respective mates who left them, and Herald becomes interested in Mattie. He suggests that they get together, and tries to hold her, but finds that he has forgotten how to touch, another consequence of losing his identity as a slave for Joe Turner.

Act 2, Scene 4

The next morning, Zonia and Reuben play in the yard, and Reuben tells Zonia that a ghost told him to release Eugene's pigeons. Reuben is sad that Zonia will be leaving Saturday with her father, and he says that he will marry her when they grow up. Reuben kisses her and says that he will come looking for her some day.

Act 2, Scene 5

On Saturday morning, Herald and Zonia prepare to leave and Herald tells Mattie that a man would be lucky to find her. Selig arrives, with Martha Pentecost, Herald's wife. Herald and Martha swap their stories, and Herald gives Zonia back to her mother. Martha tells Herald that he should look to Jesus for his salvation, but Herald denies Christianity, saying that Jesus has done nothing for him but bring him pain. Martha tells him that the blood of the lamb will make him clean, but Herald slashes himself across the chest with his knife, wiping his own blood on his face. Herald realizes that he has set himself free with this act of self-reliance and leaves the boardinghouse a new man, having found his song, his identity, once again. Mattie rushes after Herald, presumably to start a relationship with him and Bynum realizes that he has found his shiny man.

This section contains 1,312 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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Joe Turner's Come and Gone from Gale. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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