Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Mam is Jojo’s maternal grandmother. Like many women in her family, Mam has healing powers, psychic foresight, and the gift of being able to communicate with the spirits of dead people. She tries to pass on this knowledge to Leonie, but––as Jojo argues––Mam’s instinct for healing and care is not present in her daughter. When the novel begins, Mam is very sick with cancer; after her diagnosis, she’d vowed to cure herself, but this did not happen. Even after many years of marriage Mam and Pop remain deeply in love. Her death at the end of the novel has a profound impact on everyone in the family.

Mam Quotes in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The Sing, Unburied, Sing quotes below are all either spoken by Mam or refer to Mam. 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 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:
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 11: Jojo Quotes

I ain't never have the talent for it. Seeing the dead. I could read people, read the future or the past in they bodies. Know what was wrong or needed by their songs: in the plants, in the animals, too. But never saw the dead. Wanted it so bad after Given died––

Related Characters: Mam (speaker), Given
Related Symbols: Singing
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sing, Unburied, Sing LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sing, Unburied, Sing PDF

Mam Character Timeline in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The timeline below shows where the character Mam appears in Sing, Unburied, Sing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
...goat. As Jojo’s narrative begins, his sister Kayla is still asleep, as is Jojo’s grandmother, Mam, who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Jojo and Pop go outside to the shed and... (full context)
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Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
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Jojo remembers a time after Mam was first diagnosed with cancer, when Pop left him alone with Leonie, who then drove... (full context)
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Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...sings “Happy Birthday,” but it is really only Leonie singing; Kayla doesn’t know the song, Mam is too sick to sing, and Pop only mouths the words. The phone rings, and... (full context)
Chapter 2: Leonie
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Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
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...to pick Michael up from Parchman. When Leonie got her period for the first time, Mam told her that some women in their family have the gift of supernatural intuition. This... (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 going to take the kids to pick up Michael. When Leonie tells her,... (full context)
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...them it was a hunting accident. Michael’s cousin was sentenced to three years in Parchman. Mam now plants a tree every year on the anniversary of Given’s death. (full context)
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Mam explains that some women with the “gift” can see dead people, but that Mam can... (full context)
Chapter 3: Jojo
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Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...in the car, Jojo catches Misty’s eye in the mirror and she winks at him. Mam taught Jojo about sex when he was eleven. Jojo was painfully embarrassed, but Mam forced... (full context)
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...rock, and a piece of paper that reads: “Keep this close.” It could be either Mam or Pop’s handwriting. Jojo starts thinking about Parchman again. Pop describes Parchman as “mass murder.”... (full context)
Chapter 4: Leonie
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 7: Leonie
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 10: Leonie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
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Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...them afloat. When she awakes again, Michael suggests that they drop the kids off at Mam and Pop’s house and go get something to eat. Leonie feels irrationally disappointed, fantasizing about... (full context)
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They arrive back home to find Mam and Pop gone, and Michael decides to drive them over to visit his parents. Leonie... (full context)
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...that Michael is a little hesitant. Pop tells Leonie that she should go and see Mam. Inside, Leonie is relieved to find that Mam is still breathing; she gives Mam some... (full context)
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Mam asks Leonie to gather rocks from the cemetery, cotton, cornmeal, and rum. Leonie cries and... (full context)
Chapter 11: Jojo
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...was the only way he could send some part of himself with them, considering that Mam was sick and Pop could never go back to Parchman. Richie tells Pop he sees... (full context)
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...Kayla back inside and makes them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He brings water to Mam and tells her that Michael hit Kayla. Mam sighs and says that Leonie “ain’t got... (full context)
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Jojo wants to tell Mam about Richie, but instead he asks her where she will go when she dies. Mam... (full context)
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Mam asks if Jojo has ever seen a ghost, and Jojo replies he hasn’t. Mam admits... (full context)
Chapter 12: Richie
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...watches Leonie walk to Given’s grave and ask him if he would gather the things Mam has requested. She begins to cry and admits: “Maybe I’m too selfish.” Eventually, Leonie gathers... (full context)
Chapter 14: Leonie
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After bringing Mam the rocks from the cemetery, Leonie goes to find Given. She sees him and he... (full context)
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...half-dreaming, and tells her to go back to sleep. Kayla shouts that the boy wants Mam. Leonie opens the door and shows Kayla that Mam is still lying in bed. Mam’s... (full context)
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Jojo and Pop run in, and Leonie says the litany, asking Maman Brigitte to accept their offerings. Jojo tells someone that he got what he came for,... (full context)
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Later, Michael finds Leonie on the porch. She tells him that Mam is dead and that she wants to go to Al’s. She wants to get high... (full context)
Chapter 15: Jojo
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...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 at night Jojo thinks he... (full context)