Redemptive Apotheosis and Joseph Campbell’s Narrative of the Hero’s Journey: August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Revisited
Keywords:redemptive; Hero’s Journey Narrative; apotheosis; spirituality; identity; self-discovery
Ever since Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom appeared on one of New York’s Broadway stages in 1984, August Wilson’s focus on the history, destiny and identity of African American people during the course of the 20th century through his celebrated 10-play cycle has continued to fascinate and draw the attention of numerous critics all over the world. A good number of these critics focus on the playwright’s depiction of alienation, confusion and despair among African Americans since emancipation. Some among them also identify Wilson’s call for African Americans to locate their destiny and identity in African history with its rich blend of ancestor worship and African spirituality if they are to overcome these challenges. In this article, I carry forward the latter focus and give it a new twist and an innovative thrust. I harness a comparative approach in order to juxtapose traditional film theory with the dramatic form as I argue that August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone can be read against Joseph Campbell’s narrative of the Hero’s Journey. In this comparative approach, my principal argument is that in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Wilson posits a redemptive apotheosis that is located in African spirituality for members of the black race. Just as in Campbell’s narrative of the Hero’s Journey, Wilson’s redemptive apotheosis is rooted in presenting a mysterious or inscrutable hero/character who travels on a journey that will lead to positive self-discovery not just for himself but also for the generality of Wilson’s African American characters. I argue that although Joseph Campbell’s narrative of the Hero’s Journey is normally associated with film analysis, it is also available as a broad framework with which to analyse Wilson’s play in a fascinating and innovative way. This will further enhance our general understanding of the play.