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Oedipus the King and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone: Choice or Destiny 1. This paper -- based on the play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson (viewed at XYZ Theatre on the xx.xx.20xx)-- argues that themes and characters in this work represent the exercise of free will and conscious choices, rather than gods’ will or destiny that guards protagonist in this work. 2. The theme of finding one’s song, which permeates Joe Turner, is simultaneously a personal and collective ambition for Wilson and for all of black America. The author shows that the progress achieved by blacks is a direct result of their free will and their conscious choice rather than the result of the mysterious deeds of divine presence or destiny. For Wilson as poet and playwright, finding his song (which is also associated with exerting himself and making concrete and conscious steps towards reaching his dream) means finding an individual artistic voice despite the anxiety of influence. For Wilson as a black man in America, finding his song means going back to the forgotten regions of his African past, bypassing the influence of his father’s German ancestry to confront head-on the painful elements of his mother’s history as an African woman who lives in America.
Hers is the history he claims, but it is a history drawn to the forefront in his work by a selective process of gathering and piecing together images from both imagined and actual experiences. He explains: It was my song. It had come from way deep inside me. I looked way back in my memory and gathered up pieces and snatches of things to make that song. I was making it up out of myself. And that song helped me on the road. Made it smooth to where my footsteps didn’t bite back at me. (Wilson 126) Wilson’s odyssey to find his song is the basis for a larger strategy to help all black Americans to do the same. He invites them to acknowledge their African beginnings via a journey of symbolic healing, one play at a time. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is such a play. 3. Modern audiences resist the conclusion that a great play can possess a totally fated hero, one who seems a puppet at the mercy of gods. What is more, we assume that characters are compelling only when doing and saying things for which they are morally responsible. One has to note that the most striking part about Joe Turner is that this play focuses upon cultural fragmentation, that is, the emotional and physical effects associated with cultural upheaval and physical relocation.
In Joe Turner, Herald Loomis, the play’s protagonist, is one of many lost souls in this environment. As the play opens, he and his young daughter, Zonia, come upon a boardinghouse where he seeks clues as to the whereabouts of his estranged wife, Martha. Seven years earlier, Loomis had become one of the numerous kidnapped farmhands of legendary Joe Turner, who notoriously tricked freed black men into extended periods of forced labor. Now, finally released, he tries to locate his family only to find his family. 4. The acting in Joe Turner’s can be best illustrated by the scene when the family does finally meet and when only a partial reunion takes place. Actors are very emotional and they are able to convey a very emotional message to the audience. Martha reclaims her daughter, yet cannot accept the uncivilized Loomis. To scare him away from what she sees as his life of sin, she launches into a sermon whose text involves being “washed in the blood of the lamb” (Wilson 93). Loomis, having finally “found his song” -- having exercised his free will of seeking his family and his soul -- responds by slashing his chest in a heavily symbolic denunciation of her God and affirmation of himself: “I don’t need nobody to bleed for me!
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I can bleed for myself” (Wilson 93). Performing such horrible deed was not a destiny’s provision (even though many critics may suggest that it was society and oppression that made Loomis slash his chest), but a conscious choice of this character: he would rather kill himself than accept God in his heart. 5. The costumes are especially effective and useful in Joe Turner’s as they stress or accentuate the message that the protagonist rules his destiny but is not controlled by his fate. The costumes serve a very important role in the play as they help to underline the vital moments in the plot. The characters wear grey clothes as they go through difficult times. At the same time, their costumes shine with brightness and glow as positive moments occur. While Joe Turner’s typical theme of search recalls the quest in Wilson’s later work, the play’s emphasis upon facing demons of one’s past parallels some plays by Ancient Greeks (e.g. Sophocles’ Oedipus the King). Joe Turner’s features tormented protagonist who goes to great lengths to atone for a terrible past; and Loomis comes to acknowledge that in order to go forward, he must revisit his past --no matter how horrifying it may seem to him.
What is more Loomis is apparently the chosen medium for thousands of tormented slaves whose stories for centuries remain untold. The costumes, torn and threadbare, play a critical role in conveying the message of inequality and prejudice to the audience. 6. In conclusion, Loomis is fully responsible for his actions because he continuously exercises the power of his free will. On the other hand, his actions fail and are often presented as influenced by people or various events that are interfere and place obstacles before him. In general, Joe Turner’s is a brilliant play that makes great use of the light, sound, costumes, and acting in order to convey an important message to the audience, mainly that the protagonist, similarly to any man in this world, creates his destiny almost independently of any events that take place in his life. The play shows that, despite various obstacles that appear in the person’s way, he or she is able to successfully overcome all of them if this individual has the strong will to do so.
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