Joe Turner's Come and Gone | Study Guide

August Wilson

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Joe Turner's Come and Gone | Symbols



Pigeons come up frequently during the play. They symbolize both bondage and freedom. Eugene told his friend Reuben to release the pigeons after Eugene's death. However, Reuben couldn't let them go because they reminded him of Eugene. He sells them to Bynum, telling himself he doesn't know what Bynum does with them. Bynum sacrifices them in his voodoo rituals. Reuben later has a vision in which he sees Seth Holly's deceased mother, Miss Mabel. She tells him he must release the pigeons as he promised. This has its parallel in what Joe Turner has done to Herald Loomis. Despite emancipation Turner enslaves African Americans. Although Turner frees the men he takes after seven years, he always replaces them with more forced labor. Reuben, having seen the error of his ways, lets the pigeons go.

A Man's Song

According to Bynum Walker, every man has his own song, which symbolizes his identity or his soul. If a man loses his song, as Herald Loomis did during the time when he was with Joe Turner's chain gang, that means he has forgotten who he is. Bynum sings many songs throughout the play. In the second act, he sings a song with the lyrics, "They tell me Joe Turner's come and gone." Loomis gets agitated when he hears it, and Bynum says he knew Loomis had been in Joe Turner's chain gang. He sings the song in an attempt to force Loomis to come to grips with what has happened to him. It is not until Loomis sees Martha and says goodbye to her that he can find his song. He can stand up on his own and begin to create his life anew.

Jeremy's Guitar

Jeremy's guitar is a symbol of his independence. In the first act, he uses it to earn money at Seefus, money he then uses to pay for Mattie to move in with him. In the second act, he says he can support Molly by playing guitar. Although Jeremy has been fired from his road-building job, he can leave because his guitar will provide him some support. He can travel anywhere and still earn money. Thus, the guitar, like Seth's pot-making, is a skill that stays with him wherever he goes and gives him value and an identity.

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