Richie can see that Jojo is “innocent.” When Richie was his age, he knew more about the world than Jojo. Now that Richie is dead, he falls asleep and wakes up at different points in time; sometimes in the present and sometimes in the past, even before the arrival of white settlers. Luckily, Richie never wakes up in the time he and River were at Parchman. Back then, River “had a woman,” a prostitute nicknamed the Sunshine Woman because she wore yellow. River said he liked her but didn’t love her. Richie recalls a time when the Sunshine Woman told him and River about a man who was lynched because he didn’t step aside when a white woman passed him on the sidewalk. The mob tortured and killed the man and his wife. River had told the Sunshine Woman that Richie was too young to hear that.
This passage reveals that Pop did everything he could to keep Richie innocent in spite of the horrific conditions the two of them were living in. Despite the violence that they witnessed every day at Parchman, Pop still objected to the Sunshine Woman telling Richie about a local lynching. This shows that Pop refused to give up on Richie or cease hoping for him to have a better future. The fact that Jojo appears “innocent” to Richie also suggests that Pop was at least partially able to shield Jojo from the horrors of the world—in a way he couldn’t with Richie. Finally, this passage illuminates the nature of time as it exists in the world of the novel. Time seems to be eternal and circular, rather than linear, such that past and future events are always happening simultaneously with the present.
Before Richie was sent to Parchman, he and his siblings had once found the remains of a man who had been lynched. After the Sunshine Woman told him that story, Richie decided to try and escape the prison and flee north. Richie came to understand what love and home meant through his relationship with River. When Jojo and his family arrived at Parchman, Richie heard the white snake-bird telling him to follow Jojo back to River. Richie agreed, saying: “I’m coming home.”
This passage establishes a parallel between Richie’s decision to flee Parchman and his desire, as a ghost, to go “home.” Is there a connection between the home Richie sought as he was running away from Parchman and the final resting place he seeks as a ghost? Richie’s idea of home seems to orbit around Pop, and thus it is unclear where he was headed when he originally fled Parchman.