Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing: Chapter 3: Jojo Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning Leonie wakes Jojo and Kayla early and hurries them out the door. Misty is already waiting in the car. Jojo hugs Pop goodbye. They drive for a while, and Jojo stares at Misty. They stop for gas; Leonie gives Jojo money and tells him to pay for gas and buy her a coke. Jojo asks for one himself, but Leonie just tells him to bring her change. Back in the car, Jojo catches Misty’s eye in the mirror and she winks at him. Mam taught Jojo about sex when he was eleven. Jojo was painfully embarrassed, but Mam forced him to pay attention. After having the “sex talk” with Mam, Jojo asked Pop to tell him more of the Parchman story. Pop describes the agony of working in the field all day, saying it was like “being made into an animal.”
Leonie’s request for a coke for herself emphasizes her failings as a mother; she feeds herself before her children, and doesn’t seem to care about Jojo’s needs. As a result of Leonie’s neglect, it was left to Mam and Pop to do the work of raising Jojo, including things like teaching him about sex. In many ways Jojo is still innocent; at the same time, he has been forced to grow up quickly due to his mother’s neglect.
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
Back in the present, Jojo discovers a gris-gris bag that has been placed alongside the things he packed for the journey. Inside is a white feather, an animal tooth, a small rock, and a piece of paper that reads: “Keep this close.” It could be either Mam or Pop’s handwriting. Jojo starts thinking about Parchman again. Pop describes Parchman as “mass murder.” He once told Jojo that there was “spirit in everything” and that gris-gris bags help to achieve “a balance of spirit.” Pop explains that Richie was small and weak, which made it difficult to work the fields, so Pop tried to do some of Richie’s work for him.
Just as Mam taught Jojo about sex, Pop teaches Jojo about the spiritual workings of the world. The gris-gris bag is a symbol of Jojo’s grandparents’ care for and harmony with the world around them. This is all the more significant in light of the challenges both Mam and Pop face. In spite of Pop’s traumatic past and Mam’s current battles with cancer, they still manage to love and care for Jojo.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
One day while Pop and Richie were doing laundry, Kinnie Wagner rode past. Kinnie was a notorious white man who was put in charge of the prison’s dogs even though he’d previously escaped Parchman and been brought back. One of the black men holding the dogs tripped and fell, and Kinnie asked Pop to take over. From that point on, Pop rode with Kinnie, the other men, and the dogs, sometimes traveling deep into the forest to catch runaways.
Pop’s special connection with animals gave him an advantage while at Parchman, as he was able to escape the back-breaking work in the cotton fields in order to ride with Kinnie. On the other hand, catching runaways is a particularly brutal and traumatic form of work.
Themes
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Back in the car, Misty tells Leonie that she has to stop to see some friends for a minute before getting back on the road. They pull up to a house with a little white boy sitting outside. Misty tells Leonie to honk, and a white woman (Carlotta) steps outside. Misty gets out and hugs her. Inside, Kayla says “hi” to the little boy, but he looks at her “like she’s his dog.” Misty asks Carlotta how business is going, and if she’s still “got” her. The woman assures her that she does, and that her husband, Fred, won’t be long.
Racism is so deeply ingrained in the world of the novel that even white four-year-olds exhibit signs of it. Just as Pop and the other black inmates in Parchman were treated like animals, so is Kayla treated like an animal by the little white boy who she has only just met.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
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The little boy starts playing Grand Theft Auto, crashes his car, and punches the TV until it cracks. Carlotta shouts from the other room, but he picks up a baseball bat and smashes the TV. Carlotta rushes in, picks him up, and beats him with the bat. When she is done, the boy curls up crying. Jojo runs outside to pee. He sees a shed with a white man sitting inside. The man is working with buckets, beakers, and tubes; Jojo recognizes the smell from when Michael lived with them and realizes that he is cooking meth. Jojo goes back inside the house, and they leave soon after. Misty takes a plastic bag with them into the car.
Jojo’s world is characterized by brutality. There is a clear connection between the violence of the video game, the little boy’s act of violence in smashing the TV, and his mother’s violent beating of him as punishment. However, there is also a subtler connection to the man cooking meth outside, which Jojo notes is the reason why Michael was sent to prison. Like more direct forms of violence, poverty, drug abuse, and incarceration have a wounding effect.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon