In his play, Joe Turner's Come and Gone August Wilson dramatizes the introduction of African Americans into the industrial economy of the twentieth century. Wilson's play takes place in a Pittsburgh boarding house in 1911. This setting is appropriate since most of the characters are displaced people, migrating north, whether uprooted by desires of opportunities or fleeing the tyranny of the South. Recognizing that all characters in this play are on a search for self-actualization, the search by the characters Seth Holly, Rutherford Selig, Bynum Walker, and Herald Loomis is not motivated by practical consideration, but rather economic opportunities and spiritual renewal.
Seth is a boarding-house owner determined to achieve material success. He refuses to acknowledge any suggestion of his African heritage. Seth's focus in life is to become financially stable by any means necessary. He is very demanding of boarders, insisting on advanced payment in full, and is preoccupied with maintaining a respectable house. The revealing aspect of Seth is his scorn for the African American movement north. When one of his young boarders gets in trouble with the police, Seth tells Bynum, "These niggers coming up here with that old backward country style of living. It's hard enough now without all that ignorant kind of acting. Ever since slavery got over there ain't been nothing but foolish-acting niggers" (Wilson 2042). The expression reveals Seth's refusal to acknowledge any affinity with his African past. He is a man who wants to blend into the white man's world. The representation of white material success that Seth longs to imitate is Rutherford Selig. His ongoing negotiations with Selig over the manufacture and sale of dustpans manifest his longing for the white man's success and opportunities to exploit African Americans. Seth is a hard worker, not only does he run the boarding house, but he also works an industrial job, grows his own vegetables, and manufactures products for Selig.