Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing: Chapter 11: Jojo Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Jojo arrives back home and sees Pop again, it takes a concerted effort for him not to cry. Pop tells Jojo to put Kayla to bed, saying “we’ll talk about it tomorrow.” Once Kayla is asleep, Jojo sees Richie looking at Pop, his eyes full of hope. Richie tries to get Pop’s attention, but Pop can’t hear him. Pop asks if Jojo found the gris-gris bag, explaining that it was the only way he could send some part of himself with them, considering that Mam was sick and Pop could never go back to Parchman. Richie tells Pop he sees his face every day, “like the sun,” but again Pop doesn’t hear. Richie says that Pop was the only daddy he ever had, adding: “I need to know why you left me.” 
Richie’s love for Pop is deeply tragic. While Pop’s life is focused on caring for Jojo and Kayla, Richie remains completely devoted to and reliant on Pop. Richie’s comment that Pop’s face is “like the sun” to him suggests that he needs Pop as much as a person needs light, warmth, and nourishment. Yet Pop is not even aware of Richie’s presence, and is incapable of seeing him.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
In the morning, Kayla wakes Jojo up, saying “eat-eat.” Michael is cooking bacon in the kitchen, wearing one of Jojo’s t-shirts. Michael asks Jojo if he remembers when they went fishing together, and says they will do more of that kind of thing now that Michael is home. Jojo recalls that Michael opened up about the explosion on the oil rig during that fishing trip. Michael also admitted that it was his cousin who killed Given. Michael serves up the bacon, but it is burnt, and Kayla falls to the floor shrieking. Michael bends down and slaps her. Jojo picks her up and takes her outside to the backyard.
The beginning of this scene is full of hope. It seems as if there may finally be a chance for the family to become whole, loving, and happy, and again this state of love is represented through feeding. However, this optimistic moment doesn’t last long. When Michael burns the bacon, it symbolizes the fact that he, like Leonie, is not capable of being a loving parent. This is confirmed when he hits Kayla, an event linked to Kayla’s injury in the car.
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
Outside, Richie asks why Pop can’t hear him, and Jojo admits he doesn’t know. Richie insists that Jojo gets Pop to tell him the story of how Richie died, because that is the only way Richie can go home. Jojo resists, as he knows that Pop doesn’t want to tell the story. Eventually, Jojo agrees. He takes Kayla back inside and makes them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He brings water to Mam and tells her that Michael hit Kayla. Mam sighs and says that Leonie “ain’t got the mothering instinct.” Jojo says that Leonie hates him, but Mam replies that she doesn’t—she loves him, but her love for Michael “gets in the way.”
Once again, Jojo exhibits the characteristics of both a child and a parent. He is fiercely protective of Pop, to the point that he resists asking Pop to tell the story about Richie’s death even if this means they will continue to be haunted by Richie. Making the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches also shows that Jojo is a more capable parent to Kayla than Michael or Leonie. However, Jojo’s question about Leonie hating him serves as a reminder that he is still only a child.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Jojo wants to tell Mam about Richie, but instead he asks her where she will go when she dies. Mam replies that “it’s like walking through a door.” Jojo asks if Mam will be a ghost, and Mam replies that she probably won’t be. Usually people only become ghosts when they have “bad,” violent deaths. Mam assures Jojo that even though she won’t be a ghost she’ll still be present, on the other side of the door, and that she’ll be with Given, Pop’s parents, and her own parents. Mam tells him that time isn’t a “straight line,” and that everyone––dead and living––exists at the same time.
This passage provides a useful explanation of the understanding of death at work in the novel. It also sheds light on Richie’s earlier comment that Jojo doesn’t know anything about time. Once again, it’s shown that in the world of the novel, time is circular and eternal rather than linear. This then connects to the importance of ghosts and the dead, as no one ever truly dies in the sense of leaving time behind (as they would if time were linear).
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Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
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Mam asks if Jojo has ever seen a ghost, and Jojo replies he hasn’t. Mam admits that she does not have the ability to see ghosts, even though she inherited other psychic powers. Richie then starts singing and Mam can hear it, though she doesn’t know what it is. Mam says it’s possible Jojo might have “the vision,” and asks if there’s something outside. Jojo lies again, telling her no.
It may seem strange that Jojo lies to Mam at this moment, particularly given that she is on the brink of death. Mam appears to suspect that Jojo has inherited the gift of psychic intuition. Jojo’s refusal to admit that he has this gift then perhaps indicates that he is frightened of his own abilities.
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