Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

by

August Wilson

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

Summary
Analysis
Sitting at the kitchen table on the following Saturday, Seth expresses once again his feelings about Herald. Apparently Herald has been seen loitering outside the church just outside town, a fact that only contributes to his mysterious aspect. Seth reminds Bertha that Martha—whom he’s now sure is Loomis’s wife—stayed in the boarding house for a little while before moving to a nearby town to follow the church, which relocated. When Bynum passes through the kitchen, Bertha tells Seth that he’s the one to talk to, since Martha originally came to the boarding house to visit the old man. Seth disagrees with this timeline, saying that Bynum wasn’t around at that time. “He’s one of them fellows never stay in one place. He was wandering all around the country till he got old and settled here.”
Although Bynum seems rather situated and settled in Seth’s house, Seth affirms in this moment that the old man has indeed spent his fair share of days wandering and living a transient lifestyle. This is perhaps why he’s so apparently able to relate to people like Jeremy and Herald Loomis. Unlike Seth, he has experienced the insatiable desire to roam throughout America (and/or some negative force driving him to do so).
Themes
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Bynum enters the kitchen and sits down for breakfast, asking after Herald. Seth tells him Herald’s upstairs, and Bynum remarks that Herald’s going to hire Selig to find Martha. “Selig can’t find her,” Seth says. “He talk all that…but unless he get lucky and knock on her door he can’t find her.” He then voices his suspicion of Herald to Bynum, but Bynum merely says, “Mr. Loomis alright, Seth. He just a man got something on his mind. He just got a straightforward mind, that’s all.”
Once again, Bynum proves that he’s willing to grant Herald the benefit of the doubt, saying that he’s “alright” and that he just seems strange because he’s obsessed with something. Bynum’s accepting mentality is the result of his own past as a wanderer, a transient man searching for something. Indeed, Bynum has had “something on his mind” before, so he understands Herald’s situation. Seth, on the other hand, has spent his life in Pittsburgh, establishing himself as a stable craftsman and landlord. As such, it’s harder for him to sympathize with Herald’s need to spend his life searching for his lost wife.
Themes
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Selig arrives and immediately tells Bynum not to ask about the “shiny man” because he hasn’t found him. While Selig pays Seth for the dustpans, Herald comes downstairs and asks him to find Martha. Paying him a dollar, he describes his wife, explaining that the last time he saw her was in Tennessee in 1901. “I’ll tell you, mister,” Selig says, “you better off without them.” He tells a story about his own failed marriage, explaining that one day he woke up and noticed his wife looking at him as if she wished he were dead. After pacing around the house and feeling her hateful gaze, he walked out the door once and for all, and she locked it behind him. Since then, he’s never fallen in love again. 
Although Selig’s choice to leave home is similar to the decisions other transient characters make in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, it’s worth noting that his is purely motivated by escapist desire and interpersonal conflict. Whereas black migration and transience is inextricably linked to the history of racism and the legacy of slavery in America, Selig’s decision to leave home has almost nothing to do with historical or cultural circumstances. Rather, he merely wants to flee a marriage that has soured, proving that travel is often used as a form of escapism even for white people who don’t have to contend with the same bigotry and injustice.
Themes
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
Selig tells Herald there’s no guarantee he’ll find be able to find Martha. Nonetheless, he assures his client of his expertise, saying, “My great-granddaddy used to bring Nigras across the ocean on ships.” After that, his father made a living tracking down escaped slaves and returning them to plantation owners. “After Abraham Lincoln give you all Nigras your freedom papers and with you all looking all over for each other…we started finding Nigras for Nigras,” he says. Having made clear that he can’t make any promises, Selig assures Herald he’ll return the following Saturday with more information about his search for Martha.
Once again, Wilson accentuates how the consequences of American slavery bring themselves to bear on a post-slavery world. Although Selig is a more or less friendly character, he reveals in this moment that his skills as a people finder are rooted in racism and oppression, since his family members made their wealth by tracking down black people so that other white people could enslave them. Once slavery ended, though, people finders naturally had to adapt, and so Selig started finding black people for other black people, a trade that was surely especially lucrative in the decades directly after slavery, when slaves who had been scattered throughout the country started trying to find their families. This bit of information casts Selig as a more ominous figure than he previously appeared, and the audience begins to understand that he is, above all, motivated by profit, not by compassion.
Themes
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
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When Selig leaves, Bertha enters and Bynum tells her that Herald has hired the People Finder. “You can call him a People Finder if you want to,” she replies. “I know Rutherford Selig carries people away too.” Having said this, she explains that Selig lets people ride out of town with him when they want to disappear, then charges townspeople a dollar to find out what he already knows: their whereabouts.
Once it’s been made apparent that Selig’s trade as a people finder grows out of a tradition of racism, it’s no surprise to hear that his current methods are exploitative and dishonest. As somebody who both takes people away and brings them back, Selig occupies an interesting position in a community torn between transience and stability. On the one hand, he helps satisfy a person’s desire to escape; on the other hand, he helps satisfy another person’s desire to regain something missing. As such, he provides an outlet for two distinct—and contradictory—feelings, ultimately profiting off of his clients’ emotional discrepancies.
Themes
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon