Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Jojo is the main character in the novel, which begins on his thirteenth birthday. The biracial son of Leonie and Michael, Jojo is unusually serious and mature for his age, partly because Leonie’s irresponsibility means that he has effectively taken over as the parent of his three-year-old sister, Kayla. On the other hand, in some ways Jojo is like any other boy his age; for example, he is entranced by Misty, and simultaneously curious and embarrassed by the idea of sex. Jojo is intelligent but admits that he doesn’t understand Leonie, with whom he has a strained and painful relationship. On the other hand, Jojo adores his grandparents; he idolizes Pop and is devastated by the death of Mam at the end of the novel. Although Jojo has a remarkably difficult life, he is shown to have certain important advantages in comparison with Richie, whose ghost appears to Jojo, urging him to help Richie communicate with Pop (who Richie calls by his first name, River). Jojo’s full name is Joseph, which is ironic considering his namesake, Big Joseph, despises him and refuses to acknowledge him. Despite the trauma of being neglected by his parents and shunned by his racist white grandparents, Jojo is deeply loved by Mam and Pop, as well as Kayla. Indeed, it is this love that gives Jojo strength and protection as he navigates the harsh world around him. It also makes him more “innocent” than Richie was at Jojo’s age.

Jojo Quotes in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The Sing, Unburied, Sing quotes below are all either spoken by Jojo or refer to Jojo . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Sing, Unburied, Sing published in 2017.
Chapter 1: Jojo Quotes

It's the smell of death, the rot coming from something just alive, something hot with blood and life. I grimace, wanting to make Kayla's stink face, the face she makes when she's angry or impatient; to everyone else, it looks like she's smelled something nasty: her green eyes squinting, her nose a mushroom, her twelve tiny toddler teeth showing through her open mouth. I want to make that face because something about scrunching up my nose and squeezing the smell away might lessen it, might cut off that stink of death. I know it's the stomach and intestines, but all I can see is Kayla's stink face and the soft eye of the goat and then I can't hold myself still and watch no more, then I'm out the door of the shed and I'm throwing up in the grass outside.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

His maman and daddy avoided them census takes, never answered their questions right, changed the number of kids they had, never registered none of their births. Said them people came around, sniffing out that information to control them, to cage them like livestock.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Pop (River)
Page Number: 17-18
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3: Jojo Quotes

The only animal I saw in front of me was Pop, Pop with his straight shoulders and his tall back, his pleading eyes the only thing that spoke to me in that moment and told me what he said without words: I love you, boy. I love you.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Pop (River)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5: Jojo Quotes

She ain't Mam. She ain't Pop. She ain't never healed nothing or grown nothing in her life, and she don't know.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Pop (River), Mam, Leonie
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

I lay there until I can't no more, and then I carry Kayla into the bathroom and stick my finger down her throat and make her throw up. She fights me, hitting at my arms, crying against my hand, sobbing but not making no words, but I do it three times, make her vomit over my hand, hot as her little body, three times, all of it red and smelling sweet, until I'm crying and she's shrieking. I turn off the light and go back into the room and wipe her with my shirt and lay in the bed with her, scared that Leonie's going to walk in and find all that red throw-up in the bathroom, find out I made Kayla throw up Leonie's potion. But nobody comes.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Kayla (Michaela), Leonie
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

“All the birds go bye,” Kayla says, and then she leans forward and rubs my face with both hands, and for a second I think she's going to tell me something amazing, some secret, something come from God Himself.

Related Characters: Kayla (Michaela) (speaker), Jojo
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7: Leonie Quotes

It feels good to be mean, to speak past the baby I can't hit and let that anger touch another. The one I'm never good enough for. Never Mama for. Just Leonie, a name wrapped around the same disappointed syllables I've heard from Mama, from Pop, even from Given, my whole fucking life.

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Jojo , Pop (River), Mam, Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9: Richie Quotes

I know Jojo is innocent because I can read it in the unmarked swell of him: his smooth face, ripe with baby fat; his round, full stomach; his hands and feet soft as his younger sister's. He looks even younger when he falls asleep. His baby sister has flung herself across him, and both of them slumber like young feral cats: open mouths, splayed arms and legs, exposed throats. When I was thirteen, I knew much more than him. I knew that metal shackles could grow into the skin. I knew that leather could split flesh like butter. I knew that hunger could hurt, could scoop me hollow as a gourd, and that seeing my siblings starving could hollow out a different part of me, too.

Related Characters: Richie (speaker), Jojo , Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

I didn't understand time, either, when I was young. How could I know that after I died, Parchman would pull me from the sky? How could I imagine Parchman would pull me to it and refuse to let go? And how could I conceive that Parchman was past, present, and future all at once? That the history and sentiment that carved the place out of the wilderness would show me that time is a vast ocean, and that everything is happening at once?

Related Characters: Richie (speaker), Jojo , Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10: Leonie Quotes

We are all sinking, and there are manta rays gliding beneath us and sharks jostling us. I am trying to keep everyone above water, even as I struggle to stay afloat. I sink below the waves and push Jojo upward so he can stay above the waves and breathe, but then Michaela sinks and I push her up, and Michael sinks so I shove him to the air as I sink and struggle, but they won't stay up: they want to sink like stones. I thrust them up toward the surface, to the fractured sky so they can live, but they keep slipping from my hands. It is so real that I can feel their sodden clothes against my palms. I am failing them. We are all drowning.

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Jojo , Kayla (Michaela), Michael
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11: Jojo Quotes

I actually cried, Michael told the water. He seemed ashamed to say that, but he went on anyway. How the dolphins were dying off, how whole pods of them washed up on the beaches in Florida, in Louisiana, in Alabama and Mississippi: oil-burnt, sick with lesions, hollowed out from the insides. And then Michael said something I'll never forget: Some scientists for BP said this didn’t have nothing to do with the oil, that sometimes this what happens to animals: they die for unexpected reasons. Sometimes a lot of them. Sometimes all at once. And then Michael looked at me and said: And when that scientist said that, I thought about humans. Because humans is animals. And the way he looked at me that night told me he wasn't just thinking about any humans; he was thinking about me.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Michael (speaker)
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13: Jojo Quotes

I said: It's going to be all right, Richie. He said. I heeled the dogs. Held out my hands to him, right side out. Moved slow. Soothed him. Said: We gone get you out of this. We gone get you away from here. Touched his arm: he was burning up. I'm going home, Riv? he asked. I squatted down next to him, the dogs steady yipping, and I looked at him. He had baby hair on the edge of his scalp, Jojo. Little fine hair he'd had since he sucked at his mama's tit. Yes, Richie. I'm a take you home, I said. And then I took the shank I kept in my boot and I punched it one time into his neck. In the big vein on his right side. Held him till the blood stopped spurting. Him looking at me, mouth open. A child. Tears and snot all over his face. Shocked and scared, until he was still.

Related Characters: Pop (River) (speaker), Richie (speaker), Jojo
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

I washed my hands every day, Jojo. But that damn blood ain't never come out. Hold my hands up to my face, I can smell it under my skin. Smelled it when the warden and sergeant came up on us, the dogs yipping and licking blood from they muzzles. They'd torn his throat out, hamstringed him. Smelled it when the warden told me I'd done good. Smelled it the day they let me out on account I'd led the dogs that caught and killed Richie. Smelled it when I finally found his mama after weeks of searching, just so I could tell her Richie was dead and she could look at me with a stone face and shut the door on me.

Related Characters: Pop (River) (speaker), Jojo , Richie
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15: Jojo Quotes

And the branches are full. They are full with ghosts, two or three, all the way up to the top, to the feathered leaves. There are women and men and boys and girls. Some of them near to babies. They crouch, looking at me. Black and brown and the closest near baby, smoke white. None of them reveal their deaths, but I see it in their eyes, their great black eyes. They perch like birds, but look as people. They speak with their eyes: He raped me and suffocated me until I died I put my hands up and he shot me eight times she locked me in the shed and starved me to death while I listened to my babies playing with her in the yard they came in my cell in the middle of the night and they hung me they found I could read and they dragged me out to the barn and gouged my eyes before they beat me

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker)
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jojo Character Timeline in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The timeline below shows where the character Jojo appears in Sing, Unburied, Sing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Jojo
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Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
It is Jojo’s 13th birthday, and his grandfather, Pop, has asked him to help him kill a goat.... (full context)
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After Jojo vomits, Pop tells him that he heard Kayla crying, so Jojo goes back inside, but... (full context)
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Jojo remembers a time after Mam was first diagnosed with cancer, when Pop left him alone... (full context)
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Back in the present, Jojo asks Pop to tell him about Parchman. Pop explains that he and Stag had the... (full context)
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Jojo confesses that he does not understand his mother, and notes that Leonie hates the fact... (full context)
Chapter 2: Leonie
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...is happy that Michael is coming home. Leonie had been thrilled at first, but later Jojo’s look of disappointment when she was leaving had reminded her of her failings as a... (full context)
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Leonie throws Jojo’s day-old birthday cake in the trash. Pop says Leonie has to tell Mam if she’s... (full context)
Chapter 3: Jojo
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The next morning Leonie wakes Jojo and Kayla early and hurries them out the door. Misty is already waiting in the... (full context)
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Back in the present, Jojo discovers a gris-gris bag that has been placed alongside the things he packed for the... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 4: Leonie
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Leonie looks at Jojo in the backseat and thinks that he looks like Given, but more serious. Misty wants... (full context)
Chapter 5: Jojo
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Jojo can see that Kayla needs to eat something and that she is suffering from intense... (full context)
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The man, Al, is friendly and polite, and Jojo likes him already, although he notices that he smells a little strange. The adults listen... (full context)
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Jojo tries to fall asleep, but can’t stop thinking. When he was younger, he wanted a... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 6: Richie
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Richie knows immediately that Jojo is River’s (Pop’s) child. He can tell from the way that Jojo tries to protect... (full context)
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...a “killer” who had escaped Parchman once but was brought back. Richie wants to tell Jojo how River tried to save him “again and again.” But Richie doesn’t say anything; he... (full context)
Chapter 7: Leonie
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Jojo won’t let go of Kayla; both children sit in the car covered in vomit. Leonie... (full context)
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Leonie got pregnant with Jojo when she was seventeen, a year after she and Michael got together. Ever since then... (full context)
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...handcuffs her. Shortly after he handcuffs Misty, too, and tries to do the same with Jojo. (full context)
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When Jojo reaches into his pocket, the officer pulls a gun on him. Kayla wraps herself in... (full context)
Chapter 8: Jojo
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...police pull them over, Richie (who is sitting on the floor of the car) tells Jojo: “They going to chain you.” The officer tells Jojo to get out of the car,... (full context)
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...the group stops at a gas station. Leonie is still bent over, and Michael gives Jojo money to buy milk and charcoal for Leonie’s stomach. At first Jojo refuses, and Michael... (full context)
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Richie asks if Leonie is Jojo’s mother, and Jojo replies “No.” Richie says that he knows he (Richie) tried to escape... (full context)
Chapter 9: Richie
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Richie can see that Jojo is “innocent.” When Richie was his age, he knew more about the world than Jojo.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 10: Leonie
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...goes back to sleep, and dreams that she is in a sinking raft with Michael, Jojo, and Kayla, trying to keep them afloat. When she awakes again, Michael suggests that they... (full context)
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Reluctantly, Leonie gives Kayla back to Jojo, unable to look at either of them. They drive to Michael’s parents’ house in silence.... (full context)
Chapter 11: Jojo
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When Jojo arrives back home and sees Pop again, it takes a concerted effort for him not... (full context)
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In the morning, Kayla wakes Jojo up, saying “eat-eat.” Michael is cooking bacon in the kitchen, wearing one of Jojo’s t-shirts.... (full context)
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Outside, Richie asks why Pop can’t hear him, and Jojo admits he doesn’t know. Richie insists that Jojo gets Pop to tell him the story... (full context)
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Jojo wants to tell Mam about Richie, but instead he asks her where she will go... (full context)
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Mam asks if Jojo has ever seen a ghost, and Jojo replies he hasn’t. Mam admits that she does... (full context)
Chapter 12: Richie
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Richie watches River make Jojo and Kayla breakfast, and take them outside to pick berries. Richie begs Jojo to tell... (full context)
Chapter 13: Jojo
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Jojo could hear Richie when he was lying in the dirt and singing. In the morning,... (full context)
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...of his life. The smell drove him so crazy that at times he couldn’t speak. Jojo holds Pop, comforting him. Richie goes blacker and blacker and then disappears, and all the... (full context)
Chapter 14: Leonie
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Jojo and Pop run in, and Leonie says the litany, asking Maman Brigitte to accept their... (full context)
Chapter 15: Jojo
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...days in each week. They are both “fish-thin,” and sleep on the sofa together. Sometimes Jojo hears Pop talking to Mam at night, calling her by her first name, Philomène. Sometimes... (full context)
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Jojo finds Pop, who is holding Kayla. Kayla asks to be put down, and she walks... (full context)