Small Great Things

Small Great Things

by

Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things: Chapter 11, Kennedy Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Kennedy dreams about Ruth for two nights straight, she knows she's in trouble. In the first dream, Ruth speaks a language Kennedy doesn't understand and in the second, they feast together in a prison cell. Kennedy snaps awake, gets a drink of water, and when she gets back to bed, Micah starts kissing her. She asks him what he'd do if she went to jail, but he asks if they can have sex first.
In particular, Kennedy's dream that she and Ruth don't speak the same language echoes a comment that Ruth will make later: that people often don't speak about race because there's no common language. The dream implies that Kennedy instinctively knows this, but is hopefully at least ready to learn.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
In the morning, Kennedy tells Micah that she's going to see if her boss will give her a felony case. Micah is sarcastic; this will take even more of Kennedy's time. Kennedy admits that it's Ruth's case and she probably won't get it. Violet races into the bathroom, excited because she's dressed like Minnie Mouse.
By showing how Kennedy's work intersects with her home life, the novel makes the case that the work she'll do on this case will carry over into her family. As she learns to be less implicitly biased, she can teach her family the same thing.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
That morning at the office, Ed and Kennedy watch Good Morning America and discuss Ed's insufferable in-laws. Their boss, Harry, bursts in and heads to his office. Kennedy follows him and asks if she can take Ruth's case. Harry initially tells her that she has to let Ed help her, but he finally agrees to let her take it herself. Kennedy is thrilled. Hours later, she drives to the women's prison. She feels extremely stupid when the guard says that Ruth was released days ago.
Harry's attempts to make Kennedy work with Ed show that Kennedy experiences sexism in the workplace. This means that she'll have at least one touchstone to use to connect with Ruth, who, as a woman, experiences sexism as well.
Themes
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Kennedy sends a formal letter to Ruth's house and a few days later, Ruth arrives at her office. They go to the nearby Panera, where Kennedy buys Ruth lunch. Kennedy takes a bite just as Ruth starts to pray, and Kennedy says that Ruth's religion will help the jury like her. Kennedy assures Ruth that nothing she says can be used against her. Her first question is if Ruth prefers the term black, African American, or people of color. Ruth purses her lips as she says people of color. She answers basic questions about her background, but stops short when Kennedy explains that she has experience with "people like her"—people accused of crimes.
Kennedy doesn't understand that when she uses phrases like "people like her," she tells Ruth that she's already judging her based on what she can see. Similarly, questioning Ruth about what term she prefers is a good-faith attempt to listen, but still comes off as tone-deaf and rude. This shows how, for someone like Kennedy who doesn't think she's racist, it's actually very easy to inadvertently uphold racist systems simply by tiptoeing around the issue.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
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When Ruth insists that the issue is that Turk didn't want her near Davis, Kennedy pushes back. She says that the state doesn't care what color Ruth is; she still neglected a patient in her care and they'll convict her for whatever they can get. When Ruth asks if they'd still be here if she were white, Kennedy knows the answer is no, but tells the reader that justice isn't actually blind. It's impossible in a trial to bring up race, as that's the easiest way to lose a case. Kennedy tells Ruth that this isn't the place to address discrimination and tells her how to file a civil lawsuit, but says she needs to wait until after this case is over—if she's found guilty in the civil suit, she'd definitely lose this criminal one.
Kennedy's explanation of how the legal system handles race shows that she's very aware that racism exists and affects all sorts of cases, but she also knows that in order to succeed, she can't talk about it. However, this means that no one will ever change this system so long as they’re only interested in staying quiet and winning their own personal cases. In other words, the novel draws a direct link between the silence of the courts and the way they promote racism.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
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