Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing: Chapter 14: Leonie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After bringing Mam the rocks from the cemetery, Leonie goes to find Given. She sees him and he shakes his head at her. Leonie knows that Given can hear something, but she doesn’t know what. Given is bleeding from his neck and chest, the places where he was shot, and is being pulled outside by an unseen force. Leonie feels angry at him for being dead, for being unable to speak, and wishes he was alive so she could kick him. Given shakes his head once more and disappears.
Like a child, Leonie expresses her pain and trauma through rage (and frequently through physical aggression). Of course, it is not the case that Leonie actually hates Given for being dead, just as she doesn’t hate Jojo even though she behaves in a cruel and selfish way toward him. As this passage makes clear, Leonie’s cruelty is a manifestation of her grief and pain. 
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Kayla is crying, and keeps repeating “the black bird, the black boy.” Leonie thinks she must still be half-dreaming, and tells her to go back to sleep. Kayla shouts that the boy wants Mam. Leonie opens the door and shows Kayla that Mam is still lying in bed. Mam’s room smells like her body has been turned inside out. Mam says she could hear “him,” and that although she’s never seen a ghost, sometimes she hears them. The boy she could hear is vengeful, she says, but still young and in need of love. He wants to see his mother. Given is then in the room again, and Leonie feels frightened. Given repeats: “Not your mother.” Leonie gathers up the items Mam asked her to gather, and Mam asks her to say the litany.
Because Leonie isn’t able to see Richie, it is unclear exactly what is happening in this scene. We can deduce that Richie is the “black boy” Kayla is talking about (and also perhaps the “black bird”). However, Leonie’s partial vision obscures the reality of why Richie wants to see Mam and what he is trying to do. We only have access to Richie’s actions through the reactions of other characters, such as Given’s statement that Mam is “not your mother,” which implies that Given feels like Richie is somehow intruding into his family.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
Jojo and Pop run in, and Leonie says the litany, asking Maman Brigitte to accept their offerings. Jojo tells someone that he got what he came for, and Given joins in: “You heard my nephew. Go, Richie.” Leonie cannot see Richie, only Given. Jojo and Given see each other, and they nod, recognizing each other. Given smiles and says, “Nephew.” Given embraces Mam, saying he has come for her, and Mam goes still. Everyone cries, except Jojo, who accuses Leonie of saying the words that took Mam away. Pop assures Jojo that Mam needed to die, and Leonie sobs that she didn’t want to, but that she did it because Mam needed her to. Leonie then lunges at Jojo and Kayla, feeling full of rage, and rushes out of the room.
Mam’s death is simultaneously a moment of healing and one of trauma. On one hand, this scene allows Jojo to see Given for the first time; Given’s smile and acknowledgment of Jojo speaks to the bond that has always existed between them despite the fact that Given died before Jojo was born. At the same time, this moment of resolution is interrupted by Jojo’s resentment of Leonie and Leonie’s subsequent anger. The book refuses to end on an untainted note of healing, suggesting that some wounds remain open. 
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Later, Michael finds Leonie on the porch. She tells him that Mam is dead and that she wants to go to Al’s. She wants to get high and see Given again, even though she knows he won’t come anymore. Michael says they need to stay for the kids, but Leonie insists that she “can’t be a mother right now,” so they get in the car. Michael says they are just going for a ride, but Leonie knows she will be able to persuade him to go to Al’s. They hold hands and drive away.
Whereas the rest of the family confronts Mam’s death head on, Leonie cannot bear to do this, and instead chooses to escape through drugs and her relationship with Michael. It is unclear whether Leonie will ever be able to change her behavior or if she will continue to abdicate her role as a mother forever.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
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