Joe Turner’s Come and Gone


August Wilson

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Pigeons Symbol Icon

Pigeons appear with surprising frequency in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone because they’re representative of the various ways in which freedom can be cut off or restricted. When Reuben first meets Zonia, he explains that when his friend Eugene was on his deathbed, he asked that Reuben set his pigeons free. Because these pigeons are all that’s left to remind him of Eugene, though, Reuben can’t bear to let them go. As such, he sells them everyday to Bynum, who uses them in his spiritualistic rituals. Although Reuben doesn’t know what exactly Bynum does with the birds, Wilson makes sure the audience knows that the old conjure man kills them, as Seth mentions at the beginning of the play when he says to Bertha, “He done killed that pigeon and now he’s putting its blood in that little cup.” Just before the play’s final scene, the ghost of Seth’s mother appears and orders Reuben to set Eugene’s pigeons free. That this occurs directly before Herald Loomis finally finds his “song of self-sufficiency”—thereby liberating himself from the shackles of his own history—shows that pigeons are emblematic of the play’s interest in freedom and oppression. In the same way that Herald has to see Martha’s face so that he can say “goodbye” to her and thus begin to create his new life as a free man, Reuben must bring himself to set Eugene’s pigeons free, thereby releasing himself from the painful memory of his friend’s death.

Pigeons Quotes in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

The Joe Turner’s Come and Gone quotes below all refer to the symbol of Pigeons. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone published in 1988.
The Play Quotes

SETH: […] All that old mumbo jumbo nonsense. I don’t know why I put up with it.

BERTHA: You don’t say nothing when he bless the house.

SETH: I just go along with that ’cause of you. You around here sprinkling salt all over the place…got pennies lined up across the threshold…all that heebie jeebie stuff. I just put up with that ’cause of you. I don’t pay that kind of stuff no mind. And you going down there to the church and wanna come come [sic] home and sprinkle salt all over the place.

BERTHA: It don’t hurt none. I can’t say if it help…but it don’t hurt none.

Related Characters: Seth Holly (speaker), Bertha Holly (speaker), Bynum Walker
Related Symbols: Pigeons
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
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Pigeons Symbol Timeline in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

The timeline below shows where the symbol Pigeons appears in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One: Scene One
Spirituality Theme Icon
...the boarding house. Bynum is currently outside in the garden performing a spiritualistic ritual with pigeons, a fact that troubles Seth. “All that old mumbo jumbo nonsense,” he says. “I don’t... (full context)
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
...these days because his friend Eugene died. Apparently, Eugene used to keep a horde of pigeons, which he sold one-by-one to Bynum for the old man’s rituals. Just before he died,... (full context)
Act Two: Scene Four
Spirituality Theme Icon
...him that he has to honor the promise he made to Eugene about letting the pigeons free. “Didn’t you promise Eugene something?” she said, hitting him with her cane. “Let them... (full context)