Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

by

August Wilson

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The Guitar Symbol Analysis

The Guitar Symbol Icon

The fact that Jeremy’s guitar enables him to make money wherever he goes signifies the play’s interest in the relationship between music and travel. Indeed, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is itself a title borrowed from an old blues song about the white tyrant Joe Turner (or Joe Turney), who used to capture black men and force them into labor. When somebody would ask why black men were missing from a town, people used to answer by saying, “Joe Turner’s come and gone,” a phrase that soon made its way into a blues refrain, becoming a song that traveled throughout the South and into the North. As such, Wilson uses music to discuss migration and transience, as evidenced by Bynum’s belief that each person has their own “song” that they must find—this “song” (or the lack of it) is what drives people to the road, as even Bynum himself admits that as a young man he traveled from town to town because he couldn’t find this “song.” Jeremy’s guitar, then, becomes a stand-in for his internal song, a way of compensating for the fact that he hasn’t yet formed his spiritual identity. In keeping with this idea, Wilson notes, “He is a proficient guitar player, though his spirit has yet to be molded into song.” Indeed, Jeremy seems to rely on his ability to make his own music, a skill that allows him to travel wherever he wants rather than staying in one spot and dealing with hardship. When he loses his job, he says, “I can get my guitar and always find me another place to stay.” In this way, his guitar keeps him on the road, just as Bynum’s pursuit for his internal “song” kept him traveling from place to place.

The Guitar Quotes in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

The Joe Turner’s Come and Gone quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Guitar. 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

From the deep and the near South the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrive dazed and stunned, their heart kicking in their chest with a song worth singing. They arrive carrying Bibles and guitars, their pockets lined with dust and fresh hope, marked men and women seeking to scrape from the narrow, crooked cobbles and the fiery blasts of the coke furnace a way of bludgeoning and shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of definite and sincere worth.

Related Symbols: The Guitar
Page Number: 0
Explanation and Analysis:
Act One: Scene One Quotes

These niggers coming up here with that old backward country style of living. It’s hard enough now without all that ignorant kind of acting. Ever since slavery got over with there ain’t been nothing but foolish-acting niggers. Word get out they need men to work in the mill and put in these roads…and niggers drop everything and head North looking for freedom. They don’t know the white fellows looking too. White fellows coming from all over the world. White fellow come over and in six months got more than what I got. But these niggers keep on coming. Walking…riding…carrying their Bibles. That boy done carried a guitar all the way from North Carolina. What he gonna find out? What he gonna do with that guitar? This the city.

Related Characters: Seth Holly (speaker), Bynum Walker, Jeremy Furlow
Related Symbols: The Guitar
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

JEREMY: It didn’t make no sense to me. I don’t make but eight dollars. Why I got to give him fifty cents of it? He go around to all the colored and he got ten dollars extra. That’s more than I make for a whole week.

SETH: I see you gonna learn the hard way. You just looking at the facts of it. See, right now, without the job, you ain’t got nothing. What you gonna do when you can’t keep a roof over your head? Right now, come Saturday, unless you come up with another two dollars, you gonna be out there in the streets. Down up under one of them bridges trying to put some food in your belly and wishing you had given that fellow that fifty cents.

JEREMY: Don’t make me no difference. There’s a big road out there. I can get my guitar and always find me another place to stay. I ain’t planning on staying in one place for too long noway.

Related Characters: Seth Holly (speaker), Jeremy Furlow (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Guitar
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Guitar Symbol Timeline in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Guitar appears in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Play
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
...are “kicking in their chest[s] with a song worth singing,” and they carry Bibles and guitars with them. They’re characterized by a “fresh hope” and a desire to sculpt “the malleable... (full context)
Act One: Scene One
Spirituality Theme Icon
...he can meet life’s challenges head on. He smiles a lot. He is a proficient guitar player, though his spirit has yet to be molded into song.” (full context)
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
...way he was treated the previous night. Ignoring this, Bynum tells Jeremy to take his guitar and go down to a nearby “gambling place,” where they hold guitar-playing competitions.  (full context)
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
...until he returns. They then decide to go on a date that night to Jeremy’s guitar competition. (full context)
Act One: Scene Three
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
...morning, Jeremy comes into the kitchen and announces that he won a dollar in the guitar contest. He asks Seth if Mattie Campbell can move into his room with him, and... (full context)
Act Two: Scene One
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
...me no difference,” Jeremy replies. “There’s a big road out there. I can get my guitar and always find me another place to stay. I ain’t planning on staying in one... (full context)
Migration and Transience Theme Icon
Racism in Post-Slavery America Theme Icon
...anybody else to help her do so. Still, Jeremy insists that he can bring his guitar and they can go around making money at dances. Suddenly interested, Molly says he’ll have... (full context)