Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

by

August Wilson

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Joe Turner’s Come and Gone: Act One: Scene Four Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
All the boarders except Herald eat dinner in the kitchen on Sunday. In good spirits, Seth decides they should “Juba” (a style of singing “reminiscent of the Ring Shouts of the African Slaves”). The residents jump up and drum the table while chanting. Wilson notes that the words of their song “should include some mention of the Holy Ghost.” Amidst the commotion, Herald enters and screams, “Stop it!” When everybody turns to gape at him, he says, “You all sitting up here singing about the Holy Ghost. What’s so holy about the Holy Ghost? You singing and singing. You think the Holy Ghost coming?” He continues his rant about the Holy Ghost and God, eventually saying, “Why God got to be so big? Why he got to be bigger than me? How much big is there? How much big do you want?” At this point, he starts unzipping his pants.
Although Herald’s averse reaction to the boarders’ song about the Holy Ghost is at first hard to understand, it comes to signal his resistance to anything that references domination or subordination. Indeed, in this moment he takes issue with God’s almightiness, lamenting that God is “big” and asking why He has to be so much “bigger” than him. Above all, this denotes a discomfort with authority, as if Herald can’t bear to think that somebody (or something) could rule over him. Furthermore, his aversion to the Juba suggests that he wants nothing to do with something that recalls slavery. His overall reaction culminates in a bold move as he unzips his pants, clearly wanting to assert his masculinity by belittling the idea that something like religion or slavery might force him into submission.
Themes
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
As Herald unzips his pants, Seth shouts, “Nigger, you crazy!” In response, Herald starts speaking in tongues and dancing around the room while Seth chases him. Dropping the hysterics, Loomis says, “You all don’t know nothing about me. You don’t know what I done seen. Herald Loomis done seen some things he ain’t got words to tell you.” As he goes to walk out the door, he suddenly stops in his tracks and falls to the floor, “terror-stricken by [a] vision.” When Bynum goes to him and asks what he’s seen, Loomis says, “I done seen bones rise up out the water. Rise up and walk across the water.” Bynum asks him to tell him more about the bones, coaxing the terrified man into telling his story one response at a time. In this manner, Herald explains his vision and Bynum repeats it before asking for more information.
There’s something of a supernatural connection between Bynum and Herald here. The nature of their conversation is interesting, as Bynum encourages Herald to relate his vision using a call-and-response method of storytelling, in which he himself—the listener—actually participates in the telling of the tale. This is relevant to the play’s interest in racism and slavery because slaves often used to sing using call-and-response. As such, while Herald initially bristled at hearing the Juba because it harkened back to the “African slaves,” he now finds himself encouraged by this old technique, which very directly arises out of slavery. In this way, Wilson suggests that, try as he might, Herald cannot stand outside of the country’s painful history.
Themes
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
“I come to this place…” Herald says, “to this water that was bigger than the whole world. And I looked out…and I seen these bones rise up out the water. Rise up and begin to walk on top of it.” Hearing this, Bynum repeats what Herald has said, then asks what happens next. Apparently, the bones suddenly sink back down into the water before an enormous wave swells, sweeping up the bones and scattering them on the shore. At this point, Bynum becomes an active participant in the storytelling, relaying the next detail instead of asking for it; “Only they ain’t bones no more,” he says. Loomis agrees, explaining that now these bones have “flesh on them,” black skin covering them as they lie on the shore next to Herald. “What you waiting on, Herald Loomis?” Bynum says. “I’m waiting on the breath to get into my body,” he replies. 
Bynum’s strange ability to partake in the telling of Herald’s vision further establishes their supernatural connection. Indeed, it’s as if Bynum is already familiar with the experience Herald is going through, a notion made even more apparent by the fact that Herald describes the setting of his vision as a place full of “water that was bigger than the whole world.” This phrasing recalls the way Bynum described his own mystical experience of learning his song; when he turned the corner with the shiny man, he entered a place that was “bigger than life.” This ties these two characters together, and although Wilson doesn’t yet make clear the significance of their analogous spiritual experiences, it becomes evident  that Bynum’s worldview will most likely eventually shed light on Loomis’s strange disposition.
Themes
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
“The breath coming into you, Herald Loomis,” Bynum says. “What you gonna do now?” Answering this question, Herald declares that he’s going to stand up. “I can’t lay here no more,” he says. Bynum agrees with this, saying that everybody around him on the shore is standing. “The ground’s starting to shake,” Loomis says. “My legs,” he shouts, “…my legs won’t stand up!” Bynum urges him along, remarking, “Everybody’s standing and walking toward the road. What you gonna do, Herald Loomis?” Still, Herald insists that his legs won’t work. “They shaking hands and saying goodbye to each other,” Bynum says, “and walking every whichaway down the road.” With Bynum’s encouragements, Herald tries to stand, but falls heavily to the floor as the stage goes dark.
The image of these unknown black people—assembled by the bones on the shore—standing up and “walking toward the road” is illustrative of the mass migration taking place in the decades after slavery. Indeed, just as ex-slaves and their ancestors start making their way out of the South, these mysterious bone-people start assembling themselves and setting off to start new lives. Unfortunately, though, Loomis himself is unable to even stand up, a notion that suggests he can’t seem to find a foothold in this world, which is still shifting and taking form. That he can’t use his own legs denotes his inability to attain agency and self-possession, and yet he knows he can’t remain lying in one spot because everybody else is “walking every whichaway down the road,” going on with their lives and leaving him to struggle on his own.
Themes
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
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