The Emergent Properties of ‘Song’ as a Metaphor in August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Felix Nwabeze Ogoanah

Abstract

Most works on August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone have emphasized its enigmatic African elements that have stunned white audiences since the play was first produced in 1984. Such elements are manifested in characters such as Bynum and Loomis, or in rituals such as the Juba and blood sacrifice (Shannon, 1995; Wolfe, 1999; Elam Jr., 2006; Harrison, 1991; Richards, 1999; Pereira, 1995). These images confront the reader at first glance and produce that feeling of strangeness characteristic of the African world. However, underneath these images is the most subtle element or trope on which the events of the play are anchored − the 'song', which has been described as “that all important quest for self-affirmation in black life” (Harrison, 1991: 309). Applying the Relevance-theoretic framework of inferential pragmatics, this study explores the concept 'song' by examining its salient properties based on reader's inferences or contextual assumptions. The study claims that through an inferential analysis, the metaphor, 'song,' in Joe Turner's Come and Gone can be realised as an ontological construct which signifies the individual's quest for spiritual transcendence and personal development and that through this metaphor Wilson privileges the need for the African American to take responsibility for what becomes of his life rather than seeing himself as a victim of the white hegemony.

Keywords

Relevance; Metaphor; Personal song; Inference; Self-affirmation; Personal development



DOI: https://doi.org/10.14198/raei.2014.27.09