Small Great Things

Small Great Things

by

Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things: Chapter 22, Ruth Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ruth can feel the stares of everyone behind her as she sits at the defense table. Judge Thunder fortunately has a zero tolerance rule for interruptions, and many people sitting in the gallery are the church ladies from Mama's funeral. Minutes later, Odette begins her opening statement. She tells the story of Turk and Brit's experience at the hospital, and their "personal preferences" that led them to ask for Ruth to be taken off of Davis's case. Odette deems this a slight that Ruth couldn't stomach. She explains how Davis died, saying that Ruth just stood there. She calls Ruth a murderer and suggests that Ruth killed Davis to get back at Turk.
Odette's opening statement casts the Bauers' racism as a simple matter of patients' rights—in other words, she's playing by the rules of the courtroom and refusing to bring up race as it pertains to Turk and Brit. However, when she says that Ruth couldn't stomach the slight and accuses Ruth of murder, she turns this around to her advantage by essentially accusing Ruth of being a racist.
Themes
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Kennedy rises to make her statement. She says that Turk blamed Ruth for Davis's death, but the evidence will show that it wouldn't have made any difference who was with Davis when he died—he had a medical condition that left him susceptible anyway. She implores the jury to not make Ruth a second innocent victim.
Kennedy also plays by the court's rules, but to an even greater extent than Odette did. Given Kennedy's explanations of how race functions in the courtroom, this suggests that at this point, Kennedy and Ruth have the advantage.
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Corinne takes the stand. Ruth thinks that a year ago, she would've said that she and Corinne were close. Now, she realizes they were just default acquaintances. Odette asks Corinne about her job and about the morning that she was asked to take over Davis's care from Ruth. She says that Ruth was angry and stormed off, which isn't how Ruth remembers it. Corinne talks about how Davis seemed reasonably healthy but did have some trouble breastfeeding. She explains how she left Ruth with Davis while she was called away to a C-section, and Davis was dead when she returned. She does say that Ruth is a great nurse.
Ruth's realization that she and Corinne weren't actually friends shows that, in the few months since Davis has died, she's learned that true friends stick around. It's telling that neither Marie nor Corinne, nor any of Ruth's neighbors came to her aid. Taken together, this suggests that Ruth was trying hard to look like a part of the community, when the community didn't really want anything to do with her except on a surface level.
Themes
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Kennedy takes over questioning. She brings up Marie's note in Davis's file that barred Ruth from caring for Davis and suggests that Corinne actually messed up twice over: she left Davis in the care of a nurse who couldn't care for him, and she wasn't there to save Davis when he stopped breathing. Ruth thinks of a dream she had last night. She was at Mama's funeral, but the coffin was full of dead babies.
By pinning blame on Corinne and Marie, Kennedy is able to bring up racism without saying the word—essentially, she's calling out the ridiculousness of blaming Ruth, the only black caregiver in the labor and delivery unit, when there were a number of other caregivers who also messed up.
Themes
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Ruth explains that when Marie was hired, they were both nurses. They both applied for the charge nurse position and Ruth wasn't upset that Marie got it. On the stand, Marie talks about her conversation with Turk about taking Ruth off the case. She says that Ruth was offended but she didn't see Ruth again until two days later, when Ruth was left alone with Davis in the nursery. As Marie talks about Turk trying to save Davis himself, Ruth flashes back to the moment and feels like she's sinking.
Talking about Turk pulling the Ambu bag out of the trash encourages the jury to identify with Turk and focus on the horror of losing a baby, rather than the other valid questions that Kennedy has raised thus far. Ruth's feeling of sinking continues to show that even though she dislikes the Bauers, she still grieves for the loss of their son.
Themes
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Kennedy questions Marie about the kind of care Ruth gave to patients, and asked if she'd thought of the possibility that Ruth might have been forced to supervise Davis but not touch him. Kennedy points out that Marie never specified that Ruth was allowed to touch Davis in an emergency.
Again, Kennedy makes valid points about Marie's directive, showing that Ruth wasn't the one solely responsible for Davis's death—she's just the one taking the fall for a number of employees, all of whom happen to be white.
Themes
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At the break, Kennedy offers to buy Ruth and Edison lunch. When Ruth refuses, Kennedy assures her that this was a good start. After Kennedy leaves, Edison and Ruth go get pizza. Ruth muses that a trial is just a mind game designed to make her wonder if she actually wanted to hurt Davis. Edison asks Ruth if Davis died like Marie said he did. Ruth says it was worse.
Edison's question and Ruth's answer again bring to the forefront that Edison is growing up, and his relationship with his mother is changing. Now that Edison is more of an adult, Ruth feels compelled to be more truthful with him.
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Later, Isaac Hager, the anesthesiologist, testifies. Odette asks him to describe the role of chest compressions in resuscitating an infant, and to talk about how Ruth performed them on Davis. Isaac notes that saving a life can look violent and says that Ruth was trying to save Davis's life.
Hager is correct; CPR can lead to broken ribs and bruising, but that doesn't mean it's any less necessary or valuable. He essentially encourages the jury to not judge Ruth on what it looks like for anyone to perform CPR.
Themes
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During recess, Kennedy and Ruth sit in a small room together. Ruth notes that if she's cleared, she's thinking about starting over. She starts to tell Kennedy her secret, but Kennedy talks over her and suggests going back to school. Softly, Kennedy says that if the worst comes to pass, she'll get Ruth's sentence as short as possible. She also points out that Odette will have a hard time keeping the jury from hating Turk. Ruth realizes that Kennedy's next goal will be to make the jury hate Turk.
As Ruth learns about how trials progress, she realizes that she and Kennedy actually have an advantage: it's likely that, because of his overt racism, Turk is less likeable than Ruth is. When Kennedy talks over Ruth, it shows that she still has a way to go before she truly takes Ruth seriously and listens properly.
Themes
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When Dr. Atkins takes the stand, she smiles at Ruth before turning to Odette. Dr. Atkins mentions the heart murmur, describes Davis's circumcision, and mentions Ruth's comment to sterilize Davis. When Kennedy takes over, she asks Dr. Atkins about how Ruth behaved during Davis's emergency and then asks about the newborn screening. Dr. Atkins notes that she hasn't seen Davis's results and they wouldn't have gotten them until Tuesday, since he was born on a Thursday. Then, Kennedy asks Dr. Atkins to describe MCADD and asks if fasting before a circumcision would’ve exacerbated the condition. It would have, he says, and Davis's blood sugar was dangerously low when they drew blood during his emergency. Kennedy enters Davis's newborn screening as evidence, and Dr. Atkins curses when she sees Davis's results.
Dr. Atkins's reaction to seeing Davis's newborn screening reinforces the fact that he didn't actually die because of anything anyone did or didn't do—he died because he was born on a Thursday and couldn't get help in time. Though this doesn't mean the case is over, it means that the medical evidence at least leans in Ruth's favor. However, this does mean that what the case will come down to is Ruth's character against Turk's, and which of them will stir up more bias or animosity in the jury.
Themes
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Kennedy is excited at the end of the day, but Ruth can't stop thinking about Dr. Atkins's face when she saw Davis's test results. Ruth thinks that she's on trial for something she didn't do, but a baby still died tragically. Ruth uses the restroom before she and Edison leave, and she runs into Odette. Odette compliments Ruth on Kennedy's day, but insists that they'll lose. Angrily, Ruth says that both she and Odette are smart, professional African American women and she doesn't understand why Odette is out to get her. When Odette says she's doing her job, Ruth points out that nobody's telling her she can't.
It's important to keep in mind that while Odette's comment is rude, it's her job to lead the jury in dehumanizing Ruth, which means that to a degree, she has to do the same thing herself. Ruth, on the other hand, sees that she and Odette have more in common than not, which is a result of her nurse's training that taught her to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
Themes
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The next morning, a snowstorm means that Ruth and Edison are five minutes late. Kennedy is upset, but Judge Thunder is late too since he got rear-ended. He crankily starts the day after complaining about his back. MacDougall testifies first. He tells Odette about knocking on Ruth's door. Ruth angrily starts to rise and tells Kennedy he's lying. MacDougall says that, afraid that Ruth was fleeing, his team broke down the door and was confronted by a "large black subject." He describes Ruth's interrogation and says it ended when Ruth didn't want to keep talking. He suggests that her silence meant it wasn't an accident. Judge Thunder strikes this comment from the record, but it worries Ruth.
Though it's possible to strike comments from the record, Ruth worries because that doesn't mean the jury doesn't hear them. This illustrates how these comments—that effectively don't exist—are able to sway the jury's opinion, just like their implicit biases that they don't believe they have. Additionally, MacDougall's choice to call Edison a "large black subject" points to the fact that he doesn't think highly of black people, which certainly spills over into his tone and is picked up by the jury.
Themes
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Institutional Racism Theme Icon
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Kennedy asks MacDougall why he showed up at Ruth's house at 3 am. He says it's normal and intended to disarm the suspect. He refuses to concede that Ruth may have been asleep and insists that they searched Ruth's home in case there was a weapon. When Kennedy asks about why they tackled Edison, he says that Edison looked large, angry, and black. Kennedy asks if he was also wearing a hoodie. At this, Judge Thunder calls Kennedy up to berate her and then adjourns court for the rest of the day.
Kennedy's comment about whether Edison was wearing a hoodie is a reference to Trayvon Martin, whose killer was concerned about his "suspicious" hoodie. The comment effectively introduces race into the courtroom, which suggests that Kennedy is beginning to take Ruth more seriously, at least when confronted with MacDougall's obvious racism.
Themes
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The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
When Edison and Ruth get home, they see a black car with a driver in front of their house. Christina steps out and explains that she's been in court for the last two days, camouflaged in ratty clothes. Ruth sends Edison inside and, with tears in her eyes, Christina says that she's Ruth's friend and she had no idea that things had happened like this. Ruth points out that Christina will never have to know. Christina says that when she was in college, she picked up a black hitchhiker on crutches. When she got home she told Mama, and was shocked when Mama angrily told her to never do that again. She knows now that Mama wasn't trying to protect Christina; she was trying to protect the black man. Ruth realizes that she's spent her life misinterpreting Christina and invites her inside.
Christina's ability to make sense of Mama's anger years ago offers the possibility that even wealthy and privileged white people like Christina can change and learn to listen. Most importantly, hearing from white people how Ruth was treated is what it took for Christina to make these leaps and decide to reaffirm her friendship with Ruth. This is a reminder that it matters a great deal who says something, since Ruth has been speaking up for months now and the white people around her haven't listened.
Themes
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Related Quotes
The next day, Dr. Bill Binnie testifies. He's a medical examiner and explains the results of his autopsy. Davis had a heart murmur and low blood sugar, which is normal for a baby born to a mother with gestational diabetes. When asked if he can say how the baby died, Dr. Binnie says the question is complicated. Odette enters the autopsy photographs of Davis's bruised body and sets one up on an easel. Before she can ask questions, Brit shrieks that Ruth killed her baby. The bailiff shows Brit out and when the furor dies down, one juror bursts into tears. Kennedy curses.
The juror bursting into tears after Brit's outburst suggests that Brit is far more compelling than medical professionals: her grief is something that the jury can identify with, while it's much harder to follow the medical jargon that Dr. Binnie uses. This will hurt Ruth, as it draws sympathy away from her.
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Fifteen minutes later, Odette leads Dr. Binnie through all the photographs. Dr. Binnie explains that the cause of death was asphyxiation caused by low blood sugar. He also says he doesn't have enough information to say definitively whether the death was natural or a murder. When Kennedy takes over, she confirms that the bruising could've been the result of CPR. She then gives Dr. Binnie Davis's newborn screening results that show MCADD. He concedes that because of the undiagnosed MCADD and fasting before his circumcision, Davis was at a higher risk of death than a healthy baby.
Again, Kennedy's questioning seeks to make it clear to the jury that Davis was ill and would've died no matter what anyone did. Odette, on the other hand, is out to prove that Ruth had a motive, which means that she can use race to her advantage to garner sympathy for the Bauers. In other words, Kennedy and Ruth are at a disadvantage in part because they can't draw on emotional language to make their case.
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Odette questions Dr. Binnie again. She confirms that the newborn screening doesn't actually diagnose the disorder, and it's possible Davis might not have had it. She suggests that Kennedy is just trying to make it look like Ruth didn't neglect and then intentionally harm Davis. That night, Edison heads out almost as soon as he gets home. After waiting for hours, Ruth puts her head down and thinks about the Kangaroo Suite at the hospital. It's a secluded room where the staff put parents who have lost their babies. When one of Ruth's patients loses a baby, she always takes handprints and footprints in plaster and calls a photographer.
Ruth still misses her job for the connection and the community it allowed her to form with the patients. It's also worth noting that Turk's narration never mentioned that he and Brit took home hand and footprints; this suggests that their nurse, though white, didn't care for them as well as Ruth might have.
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Ruth's last patient to use the suite was Jiao. She had too much amniotic fluid throughout her pregnancy but wouldn't accept that there was a problem. Her baby was born via C-section and died soon after. Jiao refused to hold her baby, who was swollen and puffy from the fluid, for eight hours. Finally, Ruth helped her bathe the baby. Jiao held him and then gave him back to Ruth. Ruth cried all the way to the morgue.
Describing Jiao's experience again exposes the reader to the optimism of new parents—Ruth implies that it was Jiao's optimism that kept her from accepting that there was something wrong. By encouraging Jiao to hold her baby, Ruth helped Jiao find closure and accept what happened.
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Edison slips into the house and is surprised that Ruth is still awake. She tells him to be careful and that she might not be around much longer to care for him. She says that if she goes to jail, he needs to thrive. Edison slams into his bedroom, and Ruth thinks she knows why the Kangaroo suite is called that: a parent carries their child forever.
Though Edison is a teenager, Ruth still feels as close to him as she did when he was an infant or in utero. This in turn helps develop her insistence that most parents are the same in fundamental ways—they all want their children to grow up healthy and happy.
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