Small Great Things

Small Great Things

by

Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things: Chapter 1, Ruth Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ruth tells the reader that the "miracle" happened in the big brownstone where Mama worked for Sam Hallowell. It was a snow day, so Ruth and her big sister Rachel went with Mama to work instead of going to school. Mama never missed work for anything, so Ruth always reasoned that Ms. Mina (Sam Hallowell’s wife) and her daughter Christina just needed Mama more than she and Rachel did. Ruth and Rachel put their coats in the kitchen closet instead of in the entryway while Mama promised to make hot chocolate. Ruth began to draw as Rachel asked if they could play with Christina.
Ruth's description of Mama's workplace and in particular, where she and Rachel put their coats shows that even architecture can reinforce race and class differences. Ruth and Rachel put their coats in the kitchen because they're black; though they're guests in the house, they're not afforded the same privileges that a white guest would be given.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Suddenly a piercing scream rang through the house. Mama told Rachel and Ruth to stay in the kitchen, but they followed her to Ms. Mina's room anyway. Ms. Mina was on her bed and told Mama that it was too early for the baby to come. Mama assured Ms. Mina that the ambulance would arrive soon and told Rachel, Ruth, and Christina, all standing in the door, to go play. The girls, however, stayed rooted to the spot and watched Mama deliver Ms. Mina's baby. The doorbell rang right after, so Rachel went to go let the medics in. Christina, terrified, huddled next to Ruth.
Mama's willingness to jump right in—and Ms. Mina's willingness to let her—suggests that though the two women are primarily connected thanks to Mama's employment, there's also a degree of trust between them that makes Ms. Mina feel safe accepting Mama's help. This suggests that friendship can transcend race and class.
Themes
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
The experience of watching the birth affected everyone differently: Rachel had five children; Christina had one child via surrogate; and Ruth is now a labor and delivery nurse. The miracle she referred to, however, wasn't the birth. The miracle is that for a moment, race and class evaporated and as Mama helped Ms. Mina and Ruth held Christina's hand, there were only women helping women.
"The miracle" showed Ruth that the most powerful common denominator among all people is building families through having children. By becoming a labor and delivery nurse, Ruth sees every day that people aren't all that different: all babies, regardless of class or color, are born the same way.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
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