Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing: Chapter 5: Jojo Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jojo can see that Kayla needs to eat something and that she is suffering from intense stomach pain. He doesn’t want Leonie to feed her the blackberry leaves. When Jojo was younger, Leonie bought him a betta fish, but when the sample of fish food ran out she didn’t buy anymore even though Jojo kept asking her. Eventually, the fish died. In the present, Jojo tells Kayla a story about a rabbit to make her feel better, and in the middle of it realizes that she has fallen asleep. Jojo feels that Kayla is “her most animal self” at this moment. Eventually, they stop at another house and are welcomed in by the man inside, who is cooking spaghetti. Jojo feels desperately hungry. 
Animals play a variety of different thematic roles in this passage. Leonie’s inability to help Jojo care for his fish re-emphasizes her selfish and uncaring instinct. This is again contrasted with Jojo, whose story about the rabbit is a form of care for Kayla. Jojo’s statement that Kayla is “her most animal self” indicates that there is something mysterious and frightening about animality. The similarity between humans and animals is a reminder of human mortality.
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
The man, Al, is friendly and polite, and Jojo likes him already, although he notices that he smells a little strange. The adults listen to music and drink wine while Jojo sits with Kayla asleep on him. The meth Misty picked up from Fred and Carlotta falls out of her bag, and Al picks it up. Jojo learns that Al is Michael’s lawyer, and seemingly Bishop’s as well. Leonie cooks the blackberry plant and mixes it with food coloring and sugar. She tries to feed it to Kayla; at first Kayla resists, but she eventually gives in. Misty advises that Kayla is probably carsick and just needs to sleep it off. The adults go into the kitchen and then out to the back porch. While they are gone, Jojo forces Kayla to throw up.
Leonie tries to care for Kayla, but is too absorbed in her own needs and desires to do it properly. The fact that the adults go off to take drugs in the other room is a bad omen for Kayla’s healing. Leonie’s indulgence in meth highlights her destructiveness; her drug use, which could easily lead to illness and death, seems incompatible with the task of healing and caring for Kayla. Ironically, it is only by forcing Kayla to be sick that Jojo is able to care for her, suggesting that seemingly harmful acts can sometimes be necessary for healing.
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
Jojo tries to fall asleep, but can’t stop thinking. When he was younger, he wanted a dog, but Pop could never keep dogs after his time in Parchman. In Parchman, Pop had tried to get Richie put to work on the dogs, too, but it didn’t happen. Richie was once whipped for accidentally breaking his hoe, was forced to work with the wounds still bleeding and infected on his back. Kinnie Wagner eventually escaped Parchman. Pop was on the search team that went out to look for him, but the dogs were too attached to Kinnie to hunt for him.
Although it gave him an advantage in the short term, Pop’s time working with the dogs in Parchman ultimately had a harmful effect, damaging Pop’s otherwise harmonious relationship with animals. The story about Richie being whipped is another reminder of the strong similarities between life at Parchman and life under slavery.
Themes
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
In the morning (in the present narrative), Jojo notices that the adults haven’t slept. They leave Al’s house and get back in the car to continue their journey. Before long, they are at Parchman and suddenly reunited with Michael, who embraces Leonie before anyone else. In the parking lot, Michael and Leonie kiss passionately while Kayla points out birds to Jojo. However, Jojo can’t see any. Jojo recalls Pop telling him that after Richie was whipped, he remained feverish, telling Pop that he dreamed of eating dirt. He then told Pop: “I’m going home.” Kayla tells Jojo that the birds “go bye,” then tells him that her stomach hurts.
The pain and trauma of being whipped seems to have had a transformative effect on Richie. Whereas before he attempted to survive life in Parchman, after being whipped he was determined to go home. Indeed, Pop’s tale of Richie’s delirium and confusing speech are directly reminiscent of Kayla, who––after being sick—begins talking about birds that Jojo can’t see. The connection between these stories evokes a unity between past and present.
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
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Michael greets the kids, introducing himself to Kayla, and Jojo feels tense. Back in the car, Leonie takes out sandwiches that she must have made at Al’s, and Jojo eats his so fast that he gets the hiccups. He thinks about Richie’s dreams about eating dirt. Kayla still has a fever; Leonie says she looks better and that the blackberry must have helped, but Jojo knows she is lying. Suddenly Kayla throws up, and at that moment Jojo sees a skinny boy appear at the side of the car. Kayla points at him and shouts, “the bird,” and the boy says: “I’m going home.”
The contrast between the sandwiches and Kayla’s repeated vomiting suggests that the family’s efforts to heal together are doomed. Even though they are now reunited, everything is not as it should be. The boy who appears to Jojo and Kayla seems to be Richie. His claim to be going home connects him with the family’s present journey back home from Parchman.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon