Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing: Chapter 10: Leonie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Leonie wakes up in immense pain, yet with a feeling of relief because she is with Michael. He explains that he fed her milk and charcoal and that she vomited a lot. Leonie goes back to sleep, and dreams that she is in a sinking raft with Michael, Jojo, and Kayla, trying to keep them afloat. When she awakes again, Michael suggests that they drop the kids off at Mam and Pop’s house and go get something to eat. Leonie feels irrationally disappointed, fantasizing about her and Michael living in an apartment of their own. Kayla kicks Leonie’s seat, saying “Ony”––her version of Leonie––despite Leonie urging her to say “Mama.” Eventually, Leonie slaps Kayla hard, feeling jealous that Kayla still “has all her brothers.”  
Leonie’s dream about drowning highlights the sense of panic and helplessness she feels in simply trying to survive each day. Although she can seem like a selfish and careless mother, her dream suggests that the problem is not that she is insensitive to the needs of her family but rather that she feels that the needs of each of her family members conflict with one another. As a result, when Leonie supports one family member she feels that she is leaving others to “drown.”
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Related Quotes
They arrive back home to find Mam and Pop gone, and Michael decides to drive them over to visit his parents. Leonie feels anxious and protests, but Michael insists that it’s important they go. Leonie knows that she and the kids are the reason why Michael’s parents never came to visit him in Parchman. On the way, they drop off Misty, who is still annoyed about all the vomit she’s been exposed to on the journey. Leonie takes Kayla onto her lap and gives her a peppermint. Just at that moment, a wild hog runs out into the road; Michael swerves and Kayla goes flying. Leonie picks Kayla up and sees that she has an enormous bruise on her forehead. Kayla screams.
Once again, the act of being a good parent is represented through feeding, and Leonie’s attempt to mother Kayla is thus symbolized by the peppermint. However, the appearance of the wild hog and subsequent swerving of the car quickly turns this act of love into an (accidental) act of wounding. The bump on Kayla’s forehead, like her vomiting, is a physical manifestation of the emotional pain caused by having a neglectful and incompetent parent. 
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
Reluctantly, Leonie gives Kayla back to Jojo, unable to look at either of them. They drive to Michael’s parents’ house in silence. Big Joseph answers the door and hugs Michael. Michael’s mother Maggie joins them, suggesting that they come inside to eat, but Big Joseph says they’ve already eaten and that “they ain’t welcome in this house.” Maggie insists, and asks to be introduced to Jojo and Kayla. She is polite, but not friendly. Kayla doesn’t say anything, and Big Joseph remarks that he knew the kids would be rude because they were raised by Leonie. Joseph goes on to say the children are “bad blood,” and Maggie doesn’t say anything. Eventually, Big Joseph explodes, calling Leonie a “nigger bitch.”
Michael’s return to his parents’ house is the most disturbing instance of “homecoming” in the novel. Although Big Joseph and Maggie seem to genuinely love their son, this love is overridden by the strength of Big Joseph’s racial hatred. Big Joseph’s comment about “bad blood” indicates his fury at the idea of his own white family line being “tainted” by miscegenation. Again, this hatred is so strong that it prevents him from even acknowledging the existence of his grandchildren. 
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
Michael head-butts Big Joseph and they begin to wrestle one another. Leonie feels panicked but also strangely amused, thinking that whole thing is “ridiculous” and “stupid.” Maggie tries unsuccessfully to intervene, and Leonie suddenly grabs her children’s hands and marches them out of the house. They get in the car and wait until Michael comes crashing out, with Maggie following close behind. They talk; Michael is crying. Leonie knows she should leave but she stays and watches Maggie embrace Michael. Eventually Michael gets in the car and they drive away.
Leonie’s reaction of amusement may seem strange, given that Michael and Big Joseph are in considerable physical danger and that she and the kids are facing a brutally cruel level of racism. However, her feelings indicate that racism can sometimes gain power through being treated as a serious (and thus valid) way of thinking. Leonie cannot help but acknowledge the absurdity of racism even if this means finding Michael’s family conflict “ridiculous.”
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
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They arrive home to find Pop sitting on the porch. As they get out of the car, Leonie notices that Michael is a little hesitant. Pop tells Leonie that she should go and see Mam. Inside, Leonie is relieved to find that Mam is still breathing; she gives Mam some water and feels guilty about having been gone. Mam tells Leonie: “It’s time… for me to go.” Mam says she did all she could, and tried to open herself up to the mystère (a kind of intermediary spirit in some forms of Voodoo), but that her body would not let them in. There is one last mystère that Mam wants to be possessed by: Maman Brigitte, the mother of the dead. Leonie asks if they can summon a healing mystère instead, and Mam sighs that she didn’t teach Leonie enough and now she doesn’t understand. 
Due to her spiritual beliefs and understanding of the world, Mam does not seem to fear death. Instead, she is prepared for it, and has decided to embrace death on her own terms. Leonie’s resistance to helping Mam prepare for death is arguably a sign of her immaturity and lack of spiritual connection to the world, which Mam indicates when she laments that she hasn’t taught Leonie enough. On the other hand, Leonie’s reluctance could simply be a sign of her love for Mam and unwillingness to lose her.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Mam asks Leonie to gather rocks from the cemetery, cotton, cornmeal, and rum. Leonie cries and asks if Pop can do it instead, but Mam says that because she brought Leonie into the world, Leonie should help take her out. Mam falls asleep and Leonie leaves the room, walking past photographs of Given and past Kayla, who has fallen asleep white eating a cracker. Suddenly, Leonie can feel Mam in the next room, and it is like Mam’s pain is a fire inside her chest.
This passage suggests that facing the death of a parent creates a kind of role reversal in which the child takes on the parental role. Leonie resists this reversal, wanting Pop to help in the preparation for Mam’s death. This suggests that even though Leonie is a parent herself, she has really remained in the position of being a child.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon