Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing: Chapter 2: Leonie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Leonie (who narrates this chapter) gets off the phone with Michael, she goes to work an extra shift at the Cold Drink, a nearby bar. When the shift is over she goes back to the trailer where her friend and colleague Misty lives. The two women snort cocaine and Misty asks if Leonie is happy that Michael is coming home. Leonie had been thrilled at first, but later Jojo’s look of disappointment when she was leaving had reminded her of her failings as a mother, and she feels sad. Every time Leonie gets high, she sees a vision of her older brother, Given. This time Misty notices her staring. Misty (who is white) has black boyfriend named Bishop, and this fact helped the two women to bond quickly. That evening, Leonie feels like Misty is her “best friend” and her “only friend.” Misty says she can tell Leonie is seeing things; Leonie denies it, but Misty knows she’s lying. Misty says it isn’t normal to hallucinate on cocaine.
The second chapter is told from Leonie’s point of view, as the novel frequently switches perspective. Leonie’s relationships with the people around her are all tainted in one way or another. She is separated from Michael because he is incarcerated, and it is already clear that her relationship with Michael is somehow at odds with her ability to be a good mother. The fact that Misty is both her “best friend” and her “only friend” points to Leonie’s isolation, which––given the comment about Misty’s boyfriend being black––could in part be due to racism. Furthermore, Leonie and Misty’s friendship seems to primarily revolve around their mutual drug use.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
The next day Leonie and Pop argue about Leonie bringing the kids to pick Michael up from Parchman. When Leonie got her period for the first time, Mam told her that some women in their family have the gift of supernatural intuition. This gift helps them to take care of the people around them. In her youth, Mam would help women give birth, nurse the sick, and prepare gris-gris bags to protect people, even though few seek her help in her old age. In those days Mam had always told Leonie to pray to “the Mothers.” She said she thought Leonie might be able to “hear what the world sings.” 
This passage introduces the oppositional differences between Mam and Leonie. Mam has special capabilities that allow her to heal and care for people, a gift she links back to a community of women when she tells Leonie to pray to “the Mothers.” Leonie, meanwhile, seems to have inherited neither this special gift nor even a “normal” maternal instinct.  
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Leonie throws Jojo’s day-old birthday cake in the trash. Pop says Leonie has to tell Mam if she’s going to take the kids to pick up Michael. When Leonie tells her, Mam asks if Misty is coming too. Misty’s boyfriend Bishop is also in Parchman, so she and Leonie usually drive up to visit them together. Mam tells Leonie: “You love who you love. You do what you want.” Leonie realizes Mam is dying.
Mam seemingly accepts Leonie’s decisions because she is too weak to fight and because she knows she is not going to be around for much longer. She sees that Leonie’s decisions are destructive, but chooses not to fight her on it.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
In his senior year of high school, Leonie’s brother Given was a dedicated football player who was friends with both his white and black teammates. One day he went hunting with his white teammates, even though Pop warned him against it. Given bet Michael’s cousin that he could kill a buck with a bow before Michael’s cousin could hit one with a rifle. Given won the bet, and Michael’s cousin shot Given and killed him. Later Michael’s uncle slapped his son for this, saying, “This ain’t the old days.” Big Joseph called the police and told them it was a hunting accident. Michael’s cousin was sentenced to three years in Parchman. Mam now plants a tree every year on the anniversary of Given’s death.
Given’s tragic death emphasizes the extent to which the world of the novel is shaped by profound racism. The fact that Michael’s uncle told his son “This ain’t the old days” is a reminder that in the past, white people could hurt and kill black people with little consequence—yet Michael’s cousin’s three-year sentence at Parchman suggests that perhaps the “old days” aren’t yet over.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
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Mam explains that some women with the “gift” can see dead people, but that Mam can only dream of seeing Given again. Leonie saw him for the first time three years ago, after doing a line of cocaine. At the time, she was at a party and was pregnant with Kayla. Given tried to speak to her, but she couldn’t hear him. Leonie didn’t tell Mam that she’d seen him.
Leonie’s ability to see Given but not hear him highlights her disconnection from the world around her. Although she is a daughter, mother, partner, and friend, the troubled nature of Leonie’s relationships leaves her isolated.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Leonie drives up to leave a note at Michael’s parents’ house to say she is going to pick Michael up. After Michael’s cousin had killed Given, Michael spoke to Leonie for the first time. He came up to her in school, apologized for what his cousin did, and asked if she wanted to go fishing with him. She agreed. While they sat fishing together, Michael implied that his father was racist and wouldn’t want the two of them to be spending time together. Back in the present, Leonie gets to Michaels’ parents house and sees Big Joseph out mowing the lawn. Leonie turns the car around and, as she drives away, gives Big Joseph the finger.  
Depending on how you see it, Michael and Leonie’s relationship is either dark and disturbing or hopeful and romantic. The fact that they get together immediately after Michael’s cousin murders Given suggests that their relationship is a form of healing after an act of hatred. However, the reality is that the couple are then still left facing the brutal racism of Michael’s family.
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