The play “Joy Turner’s Come and Gone” was written by August Wilson. The detailed analyses of the play and Loomis’s character makes it possible to say that the play reflects all those changes faced by the American society at the beginning of XX century: migration, industrialization, national and racial identity. August Wilson uses “song” as a metaphor for life struggle of Loomis. The solo of Loomis’s life can be also called the “song of freedom”. The theme of “biding song” represents the development of the character, his psychological state and search for personal identity.
At the beginning of the story Wilson describes Loomis as a person who has lost everything: his family and his cultural background. His soul suffered from emptiness and agony. This state was cause by Turner who: “has got you (Loomis) bound up to where you can’t sing your own song. Couldn’t sing it them seven years ‘cause you was afraid he would snatch it from under you” (Wilson, 1992). During this period of time, individual freedom coincides with the absence of physical coercion, and the Northern city, and boardinghouse for Loomis became a symbol of a new nation. The start of the Loomis journey into the North marks the beginning of his “song”, it was his “mark on life” (Wilson, 1992).
Two themes are represented here: looking for the wife and transformations of cultural identity. The first theme is clearly depicted in the play, but the second one is hidden.
During the progressive era, Loomis flocked to the city, attracted by economic opportunity and the promise of better life. The soul of Loomis is fractured, but new opportunities proposed help him to overcome the state of numbness. A “Binding song” is a synonym to cultural identity of Loomis. In fact, enslaved Africans had no voice, they could not sing, but “free men of color” who lived in the North, or migrated to the Northern city like Loomis, received a great opportunity to sing his song.
The development of Loomis’s character is connected with the key question ‘Who am I?’. Identity is a definition, an interpretation of the self that establishes what and where the person is in both social and psychological terms. At the end of the play the “new character” of Loomis shows that when one has identity one is situated. Individuals like Loomis, through their identification with the nation, can be compared with believers. The individuals who compose the group feel themselves bound to each other by the very fact that they have a common faith.
The development of Loomis’s character shows that his identity fulfils three major functions: it helps to make choices, makes possible relationships with others, and gives strength and resilience. The defining criteria of “binding song” are: continuity over time, and differentiation from others. It means Loomis has to find his personal identity, which “binds” people of the same nation. Continuity springs from the conception of the nation as a historically rooted entity that projects into the future. In this case the metaphor “binding song” means a “bridge” between the past and future for Loomis, and for this reason Loomis tries to find his wife perceiving this continuity through a set of experiences that spread out across time and are united by a common meaning, something that only “insiders” can grasp.
Differentiation stems from the consciousness of forming a community with a shared culture, attached to a concrete territory, both elements leading to the distinction between members and “the rest” and “the different”, but the “binding song” is the element which helps to transform a tormented soul whose song is full of sorrow, anger, and self-pity into a self-sufficient personality who “shine like new money” (Wilson, 1992). The search for identity includes the question of what is the proper relationship of the individual to society as a whole.
It is possible to conclude that the main changes of the Loomis’s character include new perception of the world and self, new interpretation of freedom and humans rights, new science and industrial innovations in comparison with the previous age. This search is also evident at the personal level of Loomis through the need to belong to a community.
- Wilson, A. Joe Turner’s “Come and Gone”. Plume Books; Reissue edition 1992.