Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing: Chapter 4: Leonie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Leonie reveals that Misty encouraged her to transport drugs on their trip to Parchman. Misty pointed out that it would pay for the trip and allow Leonie and Michael to get a place of their own. Even though Leonie agreed, she resents how easy it has been for Misty to break the law without consequence. Before Michael went to prison he’d worked on an oil rig that blew up. Eleven of the men Michael worked with died in the accident, and when he came home he started using drugs. Misty tells Leonie that the first time she transported drugs she was nervous, too, but that as time has gone on it’s gotten easier.
Leonie and Misty lead very similar lives, but Misty has escaped much of Leonie’s suffering simply due to the fact that she is white. Although Leonie feels close to Misty, the comparative ease with which Misty moves through the world becomes a block in their relationship. Leonie cannot help but feel jealous and resentful of Misty, thereby once again creating a sense of disconnection between the friends.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Leonie looks at Jojo in the backseat and thinks that he looks like Given, but more serious. Misty wants to drive past a courthouse that is apparently beautiful, but Leonie refuses. To her, the justice system is nothing but death and brutality. Later on the drive, Leonie realizes that Kayla is sick––she is crying and coughing, and eventually vomits. Jojo unbuckles her and cradles her in his arms. Leonie feels guilty and resentful that Jojo is more like a parent to Kayla than she is. They stop at a gas station, and Leonie buys Powerade. She tries to get Kayla to drink it but can’t, and eventually has to hand her over to Jojo. As soon as Kayla drinks she vomits again. Periodically, Leonie tells Jojo to make Kayla drink, and each time she throws up once more.
Here the motif of vomiting reappears in the text, and it is now Kayla, rather than Jojo, who is the sufferer. Kayla’s illness is something of a mystery. It has no obvious cause and because Kayla is so young, none of the characters can ask her what might have caused it. Kayla’s suffering is completely confusing to Leonie, whose attempts to care for her (by buying her Powerade) backfire. Jojo also doesn’t know what is wrong with Kayla but he, unlike Leonie, is able to care for her based on instinct.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
They stop at another gas station and Leonie tries to buy nausea medicine for children, but the store doesn’t stock any. When Leonie was young, Mam taught her how to use plants for healing purposes, but even at the time Leonie struggled to remember the specifics. Now, Leonie remembers that milkweed could help Kayla, and begins to search for it in the grass by the gas station. When Mam first found out she had cancer, she announced that she would cure it herself, but this ultimately did not work. Leonie knows she can use wild strawberry leaves instead of milkweed, but she can only find wild blackberries. She rips out the plants, unable to remember which part of them she is supposed to use. 
The novel is clear in suggesting that Mam’s healing abilities are real and can have a tangible effect on the world. However, they do have limits, as shown by the fact that Mam is not able to cure her own cancer. Mam’s natural form of healing also requires a special skill and nature in the person who practices it. The problem is not just that Leonie does not remember the specifics of which plants to use, but that she lacks the caring instincts that the other members of her family all possess.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon