Small Great Things

Small Great Things

by

Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things: Chapter 2, Ruth Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ruth says that the most beautiful baby she's ever seen was born without a face. The student nurse shadowing Ruth screamed, so Ruth sent her away. The doctor explained to the parents that there was something seriously wrong while Ruth cleaned and swaddled the newborn. The mother cried as she held her baby while the father bolted. Ruth went after him and convinced the father to return and hold his baby.
By introducing the reader to her work in this way, Ruth demonstrates that she's remarkably open when it comes to race and difference. What she sees is love, which suggests that she's optimistic, willing to see the good in others, and likely tries to ignore racism.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Ruth explains that she knew that if the father didn't acknowledge what had happened, he'd slowly become hollow. The parents held their son for ten hours before he died, and Ruth was struck by the remarkable amount of love in the room. Ruth even brought the nursing student back in to make her see that love doesn't have anything to do with looks. Two years later, the couple had a healthy daughter.
The fact that this couple returns and has another baby speaks to the resilience of the couple, as well as the enduring desire to have children and a family. In this way, Ruth provides a compelling example of the power of love and family to see a tragic situation in a positive light.
Themes
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Ruth says that when she had her son Edison, she was mostly worried about her hair. She says that it's perfectly normal for new mothers to worry about their appearance. Because of this, when she arrives for her shift at 6:40 am, she heads right for the room of her patient, Jessie. Jessie came to the hospital with her hair and makeup done, as well as stylish maternity clothes. She delivered a baby girl overnight. Jessie stirs and Ruth motions for her to be quiet as she offers her a mirror and lipstick. Last night, Jessie confessed to Ruth that her husband has never seen her without mascara. Jessie thanks Ruth and accepts the lipstick.
Offering Jessie the lipstick shows that Ruth is an exceptional nurse who is willing to go above and beyond for her patients. The fact that Jessie shared her insecurities with Ruth speaks to the power of the bond between nurse and laboring women in Ruth's profession; just as with Mama and Ms. Mina, women like Jessie have little choice but to trust the people around them to get them safely through the experience.
Themes
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Ruth notes that there are three occupied rooms in the birthing pavilion. She meets Marie, the charge nurse, for their morning meeting and the two take bets on why Corinne, the second nurse, will be late today. They discuss their children and Ruth modestly refuses to take credit for Edison's good grades. She ignores Marie's comment that Ruth should be proud that "a boy like Edison" is doing so well, which Ruth knows refers to the fact that Edison is black. Corinne bursts in and explains that her tire had a slow leak. Ruth laughs as Marie throws a dollar at her. Then, Marie assigns patients: Corinne takes a woman in active labor, while Ruth gets Jessie and Brit Bauer, who delivered a boy earlier in the morning.
Marie's comment about Edison is a microaggression, which is commonly defined as daily behaviors or speech, intentional or not, that communicates prejudice. In this case, Marie's comment suggests that she doesn't believe that a black boy like Edison is capable of doing so well; in other words, he's the exception, not the rule. When Ruth brushes off the comment, it again speaks to her desire to see the best in people.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
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Ruth finds Lucille, the nurse who was with Brit Bauer during labor, in the staff restroom. Lucille gives Ruth the rundown on Brit and the baby, Davis, who has low blood sugar due to his mother's gestational diabetes. She then warns Ruth that there's something off about the dad, Turk.
Lucille's warning indicates that there's a sense of camaraderie and community among the nurses. Lucille doesn't want Ruth to go into the room blind and instead, wants to prepare her for whatever she'll find.
Themes
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
As Ruth walks into the room, she introduces herself to Brit and asks the baby's name to start a conversation. Turk is hulking and seems on edge, and Brit looks to him before she answers Ruth's question. Ruth notices that Brit looks almost afraid as Ruth listens to Davis's lungs and heart. Turk stands up and towers over Ruth as she delicately explains that Davis might have a heart murmur. She checks his blood sugar, which has improved, and then scoops him up to bathe him. As Ruth bathes Davis, she inspects his body for any abnormalities and Brit and Turk whisper fiercely. They're strangely silent by the time Ruth wraps Davis up and puts on his ID band and security bracelet.
Though Ruth is aware of both Brit and Turk's body language, it's telling that Ruth is more tuned in to how Brit reacts—her fear could suggest abuse. Notably, however, Ruth doesn't wonder if Turk might be upset with her. This shows that at this point, Ruth feels protected by her position as a nurse, which keeps her somewhat removed from her patients' lives and personal beliefs. In other words, she feels safe enough in her position to think only about others.
Themes
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Ruth makes sure to smile as she hands Davis back to Brit and tries to help her position Davis to nurse. Brit flinches while Turk tells Ruth to back off and that he'd like to speak to her boss. Ruth nervously goes to Marie and explains that she did nothing wrong. Back in the room, Turk tells Marie that he doesn't want "that nurse" or anyone who looks like her touching Brit or Davis. As he says this, he pushes up his sleeves, revealing a tattoo of a Confederate flag.
Turk's behavior shows Ruth immediately that there's nothing wrong between Brit and Turk—his issue is with her. At this point his tattoo marks him as a racist, but it's unclear if that's something that's personal or if Turk is part of organized white supremacy, which could mean that there are people to help him get his way.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon