Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Singing Symbol Analysis

Singing Symbol Icon

Singing is everywhere in the world of the novel. Characters sing to one another and normal speech is often compared to song. As the book’s title indicates, singing also plays a powerful role as a symbol and metaphor. The song of the world represents the “spirit” that, according to Mam and Pop, resides in everything on Earth. This speaks both to the particular energy contained within plants and animals, and also to the spirits of the dead, those killed by acts of violence like Richie and Given who linger on Earth and haunt the living. Certain people, such as Leonie, have the gift of being able to hear the “songs” of these dead people. The phrase Sing, Unburied, Sing thus indicates that the spirits of dead people have their own songs to sing, and implies that these ghosts need to tell their stories to the living in order to be able to move on to the next world.

Singing also highlights the connection between humans and the animal world, as it is not just people who sing; animals such as birds do as well. Finally, singing is an important part of African-American history, as it was one way in which African culture was passed down by enslaved people and their descendants. Indeed, song traditions such as work songs and spirituals contain a blend of African and Euro-American influences, and are thus examples of the hybrid culture that is so important in the world of the novel.

Singing Quotes in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The Sing, Unburied, Sing quotes below all refer to the symbol of Singing. 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 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:
Chapter 13: Jojo Quotes

He ran so fast. Sometimes I had to follow him by sound. Him talking to hisself the whole time. Not hisself. His mama. Telling her he was coming home. That he wanted her to sing for him. Sing for your son, he said. Sing.

Related Characters: Richie (speaker), Blue
Related Symbols: Singing
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:
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Sing, Unburied, Sing PDF

Singing Symbol Timeline in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The timeline below shows where the symbol Singing 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
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...have any birthday cakes, and Jojo realizes she’s bought a baby shower cake. The family sings “Happy Birthday,” but it is really only Leonie singing; Kayla doesn’t know the song, Mam... (full context)
Chapter 2: Leonie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...“the Mothers.” She said she thought Leonie might be able to “hear what the world sings.”  (full context)
Chapter 8: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...about “whether the earth open up to you.” Richie says he is looking for a “song,” and that he (Richie) is going to be part of it. Jojo asks what else... (full context)
Chapter 11: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...the ability to see ghosts, even though she inherited other psychic powers. Richie then starts singing and Mam can hear it, though she doesn’t know what it is. Mam says it’s... (full context)
Chapter 12: Richie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...bear to look at them. He lies down in the dirt under the house and sings. While Richie is singing, he sees water and land dotted with trees and houses and... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...sees Mam look at Leonie “with so much understanding and love that I hear the song again.” The snake-bird flies in and sits on the windowsill. (full context)
Chapter 13: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Jojo could hear Richie when he was lying in the dirt and singing. In the morning, Jojo helps Pop destroy an animal pen that has been eaten up... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
...talked aloud to his mother, telling her he was coming home and urging her to sing for him. On the way, they ran into a white girl who Blue tried to... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...Pop, comforting him. Richie goes blacker and blacker and then disappears, and all the animals sing: “Thank you thank you thank you.”  (full context)
Chapter 15: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
...over and go home once he knew how he died. He says he hears “the song” that he wants to be part of, but he can’t get to it. He says... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
...tells the ghosts: “Go home.” They don’t go, but just stand there swaying. Kayla starts singing, and the ghosts start to cry. Kayla waves her arms, and the ghosts smile, and... (full context)