Small Great Things

Small Great Things

by

Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things: Chapter 16, Kennedy Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Micah and Kennedy wash dishes, Kennedy laments that Ruth hates her. Micah points out that Ruth is black, and white people have all the power in society. Kennedy insists that she works with black people all day and points out that she can't bring up race in a trial. She answers her phone when it rings; it's Wallace Mercy. He says that Ruth has signed a release allowing them to speak, which makes Kennedy angry—this means that Ruth will insist on bringing up race. She tells Mercy to leave them alone.
Micah acts as Kennedy's voice of reason here. He's able to make her listen to him (and by extension, Ruth) because he's white and a trusted person in her life—in other words, he can use his privileges to get through to her what Ruth couldn't. The fact that Ruth has contacted Mercy suggests that Kennedy will either have to actually engage with Ruth or lose her case.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Twenty minutes later, Kennedy is on Ruth's doorstep. Ruth lets her in, and Kennedy says that involving Wallace Mercy will cost Ruth: there will be angry mobs, her face on TV every night, and it'll drag Edison into the public eye. She'll become as famous as Trayvon Martin and never get her life back. Ruth points out that Martin didn't either. Kennedy makes one final plea to not involve Mercy, and Ruth agrees as long as Kennedy promises to let her testify.
While Wallace Mercy brought up Trayvon Martin to make a point about why Ruth shouldn't trust Kennedy, Kennedy's mention of Martin again shows that she's blind when it comes to issues of race and how race affects black people on an everyday basis.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
The next day, Kennedy interviews Jack DeNardi, a paper pusher at Ruth's hospital. She discovers that Ruth has only been promoted once in 20 years and is described as "prickly" and "uppity." Marie, on the other hand, has been at the hospital ten years but has been promoted above Ruth. Kennedy asks whether Ruth was being uppity or assertive, and if it was random that Ruth was thrown under the bus.
Kennedy understands that because Ruth is black, she's more likely to be described in terms that aren't flattering in a professional setting. Similarly, Ruth is also more likely to be passed over for promotion because of her skin color, even though there's no evidence she's a poor employee. This is an example of true “institutional racism”—the entire system, not just any one individual, is biased against black people.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
It rains that weekend. While Kennedy and Violet are coloring, Kennedy gets a call from Ruth to invite her to go shopping with her for a gift for Mama. Kennedy agrees. The two women talk about nothing but the weather as they park at T.J.Maxx. As they walk through the store, Ruth talks about Mama, Dalton, and how she met Wesley—a military wife was delivering twins while her husband was away. Wesley, who they presumed was the father, rushed in and fainted immediately. When he came to, he started hitting on Ruth. He turned out to be the father's friend.
This shopping trip allows Ruth and Kennedy to get to know each other outside of the work they do together for the case. Moving outside of the legal system will allow Kennedy to see how race affects Ruth in her everyday life without Ruth having to make a big deal out of it—she knows full well that she's bound to experience microaggressions, and that Kennedy is bound to notice.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
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Kennedy grabs a box of caramel corn, opens it, and starts eating. An employee interrupts them to ask Ruth if she needs help and then trails them at a distance. As the women dig through DVDs of TV shows, they discuss The Cosby Show. The employee trails them to the check stand, where Ruth is asked to show ID. As they leave, Ruth is the only one asked to show her receipt. Kennedy realizes that Ruth wanted her to see what it's like to be her. They run through the rain to Kennedy's car and when they're safe, Kennedy says she gets it. After a minute, Kennedy says her worst grade in college was in a black history course because she was afraid to speak. Ruth says they don't speak the same language about race, and both women admit they didn't like The Cosby Show.
Kennedy's ability to eat food in the store without paying for it speaks to her privilege as a white person—none of the employees appear afraid that she's going to steal it. Ruth, on the other hand, is treated like a suspect the entire time she's in the store, and Ruth has little power to push back on this discriminatory treatment. When Kennedy and Ruth at last speak openly and honestly with each other, it suggests that Kennedy is finally willing to listen to Ruth and take her concerns seriously.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Over the next month, Kennedy works hard on Ruth's case. When she has a spare few hours one afternoon, she heads out of the office and meets Ava and Violet at the park. She greets them and then lies down on the bench with her head in Ava's lap. They talk about being parents and then Kennedy asks why they never called out Uncle Leon, her racist uncle. At Ava's insistence that it was a different time, Kennedy points out that things might've changed had Ava or someone else called out the racism.
Now that Kennedy is listening to Ruth and more aware of how racism functions in society, she's seeing it everywhere, hence her questions about Uncle Leon. Though Ava's answer leaves a lot to be desired, the fact that Kennedy is asking the question shows that she understands that it's up to white people to accept that racism is real and call it out when they see it.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
After a few minutes, Ava says that when she was nine, the court ruled that five black children would come to her school. Her dad held a meeting where the adults planned to picket at the school. Beattie served lemonade and cakes and during the meeting, Ava found Beattie crying in the kitchen. Her son was one of the kids who would go to the school. Ava says that the kids were bullied mercilessly. Pointing to Violet playing with a black girl, she says that if she takes the long view, it's amazing how far they've come.
Ava implies that Beattie was relatively powerless when it came to this meeting—she presumably needed to keep her job and so couldn't push back on the racist rhetoric of her employers. This again illustrates how black people are prevented from standing up for themselves, either because of overt intimidation or for fear of losing their jobs.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
After New Year's, Kennedy checks to see what judge is assigned to Ruth's case. Her heart sinks; it's Judge Thunder, a tough judge with a vendetta against Kennedy after she, as a sick and demoralized clerk, was extremely rude to him. She's already lost two cases with him. As she leaves the courthouse, she finds a black protest singing gospel music. They carry posters with Ruth's face on them, led by Wallace Mercy and Adisa.
Kennedy's assessment of Ruth's chances shows that she's becoming better versed in all the ways that Ruth will be disadvantaged. While Judge Thunder's dislike of Kennedy has nothing to do with race, it helps Kennedy learn to identify all the myriad ways that Ruth is disadvantaged when it comes to the court system.
Themes
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon