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
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.