Joe Turner's Come and Gone | Study Guide

August Wilson

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Joe Turner's Come and Gone | Character Analysis


Herald Loomis

Herald Loomis is a broken man ever since he was forced to join Joe Turner's chain gang and kept there for seven years. During that time, he felt worthless and lost much of his identity, including his position in the church and his family. When he returned, he found his daughter, Zonia, at her grandmother's, but his wife, Martha, wasn't there. Ever since, he has been looking for Martha. Loomis feels he needs to find her to have "a starting place in the world" so he can figure out who he is and where he is going. Seth Holly sees Loomis as drunk or crazy, but he is really just haunted by what has happened to him and what he has lost.

Bynum Walker

The play's messages about the importance of finding one's own identity are stated mostly by Bynum Walker. While at first the audience might see him as a bit crazy because of his voodoo sacrifices, he actually has a good handle on what he wants out of life. It is he who tells Jeremy the importance of finding a good woman as a companion. He is also the one who recognizes Loomis needs to rediscover his sense of self. Unlike Seth Holly, Bynum looks beyond the surface to see into people's souls. His focus is on the spirit.

Seth Holly

Seth Holly is a man with a good sense of who he is. Born a free man in the North, he owns the boardinghouse and works in a skilled job. To earn better money, he wants to set up his own business and train others as metalsmiths to work for him. Seth is proper, practical, and cautious. He sees things in black and white and says what he thinks. He insists on running a proper establishment as his parents did and won't tolerate improper acts among his tenants. Unlike Bynum, Seth forms his opinion of people based on what a person looks like and does. He doesn't try to see beyond the surface. But he is also perceptive, seeing what each person is now even if he can't see what they might become if set on the right path.

Bertha Holly

Bertha serves as a sounding board for Seth and the boardinghouse tenants. She is a mediator between Seth and Bynum, finding value in each man's perspective. Unlike her husband, she is willing to believe in people's basic goodness. Bertha also nourishes people. She does this not only with her home-cooked meals, but also with her good advice. For instance, Bertha advises the lovelorn Mattie Campbell to find a man she can laugh with. "That's all you need in the world is love and laughter," Bertha tells her.

Rutherford Selig

Rutherford Selig calls himself a peddler and a people finder. However, he is a shyster who takes advantage of the African Americans with whom he does business. He helps people escape in his peddler's wagon but then accepts money from others to find the people he helped disappear. He considers himself to be continuing in the tradition of his grandfather, who was involved in the slave trade, and his father, who hunted escaped slaves. Selig is always trying to take advantage of Seth to get a better deal on his pots.

Jeremy Furlow

Jeremy is a young man with wanderlust. He isn't sure exactly what he wants to do yet, and he loses his job because he doesn't want to accept unfair treatment. He has his guitar, which is a symbol of his freedom. He can always make money with that wherever he goes. He wants to find a woman, but isn't fussy about who that woman might be. In the course of the play, he learns not just any woman will do. A man needs to find a woman who is right for him.

Zonia Loomis

Zonia Loomis is the daughter of Herald Loomis and the lost daughter of Martha Loomis. Martha left Zonia with her grandmother when Martha's church moved north. However, before she could return to pick Zonia up, Herald had already been released by Turner and had taken the child with him. They have been searching for Martha ever since, and Zonia has grown attached to her father. Zonia is an agreeable girl who helps Bertha in the kitchen. She also lets young Reuben Scott kiss her. She and Reuben represent the future generation.

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