Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing: Chapter 7: Leonie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jojo won’t let go of Kayla; both children sit in the car covered in vomit. Leonie can tell that something has happened to Jojo, though she doesn’t know what. They return to Al’s house, and Michael thanks Al for everything he has done to help him. Al replies that it’s his job and that he is “well compensated” for it. Leonie puts Kayla and Jojo’s clothes in Al’s washing machine and scrubs Kayla off in the bathtub, knowing that she is being too rough. Leonie wants to slap Kayla, who is wriggling, but knows that if she starts she won’t be able to stop, so she leaves the room and slams the door behind her. She goes into the living room with Al, Misty, and Michael, and they all get high.
Leonie is filled with anger at the world, and it is easy to take out that anger on her children, who are small and vulnerable. The fact that Leonie stops herself from hitting Kayla and instead leaves the room indicates that she does want to be a good mother and doesn’t actually hate her children, but her own suffering is so overwhelming that she is incapable of managing it. She must isolate herself from her children in order to avoid harming them. Ironically, this isolation is of course itself a form of harm.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Michael and Leonie have sex, which Leonie describes as a transcendent, sacred experience. After they are finished, Leonie sees Given sitting in the room, but she tries to ignore him. She expects Given to disappear, but as she and Michael start having sex again Given stays in the room. Given shakes his head. Eventually, he disappears and Leonie returns to focus on Michael. Later, Leonie gazes at her children, who are sleeping folded into each other “as one.” She wakes them up and they all get back in the car.
Leonie and Michael’s relationship is passionate, but not caring or healing in the way of other loving relationships in the novel. Instead, their union is all-consuming, out of control, and ultimately destructive. Although Leonie feels a kind of drug-like euphoria in Michael’s presence, her relationship with him further isolates her from the rest of the world, including the children they have together.
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
Related Quotes
Leonie got pregnant with Jojo when she was seventeen, a year after she and Michael got together. Ever since then the children have been “between” them, and they are only able to return to their former state by getting high. When Leonie was a teenager Mam told her that she was too obsessed with Michael and that she behaved like a “puppy dog” around him. When Leonie told Mam she was pregnant, Mam said she’d known for weeks. Mam offered to give Leonie an herbal abortion, but Leonie said she wanted the baby. Leonie reflects that if she’d answered differently, she and Michael might have moved to California together, a dream they’d discussed before the birth of Jojo.
The fact that Leonie became pregnant with Jojo at only 17 suggests that she, like Jojo, was compelled to assume the duties of a parent before she was ready to do so. Yet whereas Jojo has hardly experienced a life outside of his responsibility for Kayla, Leonie yearns to return to her life with Michael before the children were born. Her plan of going to California with Michael, while perhaps not entirely realistic, represents the possibilities that immediately disappeared when she became a mother to 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
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
Leonie falls asleep in the car and wakes up to Michael shaking her, telling her that the police are behind them. They quickly swap places, as Michael does not have a driver’s license. They desperately look for a baggie of meth Al gave them when they left. Leonie finds it and, panicking, swallows it whole. They pull over and the police officer tells Leonie to step out of the car with her license and insurance, asking if she realizes she was swerving. The officer questions her, and as soon as Leonie admits that they are coming from Parchman he handcuffs her. Shortly after he handcuffs Misty, too, and tries to do the same with Jojo.
This scene demonstrates the everyday violence that poor people in Mississippi––and particularly black people––are subjected to without cause. Despite Leonie swallowing the meth bag and thus hiding all evidence, she is still handcuffed as soon as the police officer learns that they are coming from Parchman, even though picking up Michael and taking him home is entirely legal. Indeed, this kind of arbitrary brutality is reminiscent of Pop’s story about being taken to Parchman when he was 15.
Themes
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
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When Jojo reaches into his pocket, the officer pulls a gun on him. Kayla wraps herself in front of Jojo to protect him. The officer searches the vehicle, and as he does so Leonie gets suddenly and violently high. Given appears, and Kayla vomits again. The officer finds nothing but Jojo’s gris-gris bag, which he hands back to Jojo rudely. He takes off the cuffs and tells them to go home. They drive away with Leonie doubled-over, delirious and moaning.  
The officer is so preoccupied with Jojo and the gris-gris bag that he doesn’t notice the fact that Leonie becomes deliriously high while he is searching the car. This highlights the irrationality of police brutality, which so often targets innocent people for no reason other than the fact that they might seem strange or different.
Themes
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon