Small Great Things

Small Great Things

by

Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things: Chapter 12, Ruth Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the morning after Ruth gets out of jail, she wakes up, starts coffee, and heads to Edison's room. Edison finally wakes and says he needs to get ready for school. Ruth knows that he missed class yesterday to post her bail, so she offers to call the secretary. She knows, however, that there's a difference between explaining the flu and explaining what happened to her. Edison tells Ruth that she doesn't have to do that as she starts crying. He comforts her and Ruth feels a seismic shift as, suddenly, Edison becomes an adult.
Ruth is aware that because she's black, the administration at Edison's school will look at her night in jail and not treat her with the same kind of compassion that they might another parent. Just as the courts refuse to speak about racism, Ruth is also kept silent in this situation—which means that the school system also won't change.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Later, Ruth dresses carefully and heads to Kennedy's office. Kennedy greets Ruth warmly and starts talking quickly, and Ruth thinks of how, on TV, people with public defenders usually lose their cases. Kennedy leads Ruth to Panera and Ruth lets her pay, wondering if Kennedy is just trying to build rapport. Kennedy comments when Ruth prays and when she asks what term Ruth prefers (black, African American, or people of color), Ruth thinks she'd like to be called by her name. As Kennedy insists she doesn't see color, Ruth thinks it's easy to say that when you're not the one getting hurt because of your skin color.
Here the book shows the same scene from Ruth’s perspectiv, instead of Kennedy’s. Ruth's desire to be called by her name is essentially a desire to be recognized as a human being, not just as a black person or representative of an entire demographic. Similarly, when Kennedy says she doesn't see color, it shows Ruth that Kennedy actually sees a lot of color and doesn't want to get it wrong—but in choosing to take that route, she also shuts herself off from listening to Ruth’s lived experience of discrimination.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Ruth feels like she's taking a test as she answers Kennedy's questions. She thinks of Edison and says she can't go back to jail, but bristles when Kennedy says she's experienced in working with people like Ruth. When Ruth reminds Kennedy of Turk, she's flabbergasted at Kennedy's response: he has nothing to do with her case. As Kennedy explains that the state doesn't care about race and that it's too risky to bring up in court, Ruth realizes she doesn't stand a chance. She also thinks it seems dishonest to not talk about race. After Kennedy tells Ruth how to file her civil lawsuit, says that it might net her a generous payout, but says she needs to wait, Ruth starts to wonder if Kennedy is right and knows what they need to do to win.
It is true that as a lawyer, Kennedy possesses an understanding of the legal system that Ruth can only begin to grasp. However, it's important to keep in mind that Kennedy's understanding of the legal system has a distinctly white perspective—in other words, she understands how to navigate the system as a white person, and therefore doesn't understand what it's like to come up against it as a black person. This means that she's blind to the struggles and barriers that black people face when it comes to the American justice system.
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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