Small Great Things

Small Great Things

Small Great Things Chapter 3, Turk Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Turk tells the reader that the first black person he ever met killed his older brother, Tanner. Tanner died in a car accident two months after getting his driver's license, and the jury couldn't reach a decision, so the black man went free. Turk's mother shrieked and when the man offered condolences, she spit on him.
Though there's no indication that Turk's mother was a card-carrying white supremacist, her behavior shows that Turk has been taught to hate black people from a young age. Conveniently, he can also blame them for Tanner's death (though only based on the actions of one man, of course).
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
In the present, Turk drives Brit to the hospital. She's in labor and trying not to show that she's in pain. Turk comforts her that their baby will be a strong warrior, just like her—Turk believes that God needs soldiers to fight his race war. He tries to distract Brit with baby names, but she won't hear of naming the baby Thor.
Though the way that Turk tries to comfort Brit shows that he's a white supremacist, his behavior on the whole encourages the reader to see him also as a nervous father-to-be.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Stepping into the past again, Turk says that everything fell apart after Tanner died. Turk's father moved out and Turk's mother turned to alcohol. Not long after she lost her job, they moved in with Gramps. Gramps was a veteran who thought that Turk's parents were raising him to be soft, so he took it upon himself to toughen Turk up. He took Turk camping in six-degree weather one weekend. While Turk used the restroom, Gramps left without him. Turk spent the next five hours tracking Gramps's truck, growing angrier the entire time. When he finally found Gramps, Gramps encouraged Turk's anger and taught him how to throw a proper punch. Turk made Gramps's nose bleed.
Like Turk's mother, while Gramps likely isn't part of organized white supremacy, he still pushes Turk towards it by fueling his hate. Gramps understands that Turk's hate is powerful and if trained and pointed in the right direction, Turk will be able to use it to his advantage. However, this does mean that Turk will focus on the hate, rather than healing after Tanner's loss and learning more appropriate ways of channeling his emotions. This suggests that hate stunts one's emotional growth.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
After seven hours of labor, the nurse, Lucille, finally tells Brit it's time to push. Turk notices that Brit looks afraid for the first time and tries to ignore his own fears that the baby will change everything. After an hour of pushing, Lucille pages the doctor to deliver the baby. As the baby's head crowns, Turk starts to feel angry when he sees that it's blue--he thinks the hospital has lied to them, and the baby's dead. However, his son starts to cry immediately after birth, and Turk feels like they could run the world.
Again, Turk and Brit's fears are fears that Ruth talks about seeing many first-time parents deal with--in this situation, Turk and Brit are starting a family, just like anyone else, and their beliefs are less important. Turk's anger, however, shows that his hate is powerful and exists right below the surface. That it manifests as distrust suggests that Turk feels alone.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
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Gramps died suddenly when Turk was fifteen, so Turk turned to crime. While working at a coffeehouse during a short stint at Turk's father's house, Turk met Raine Tesco. Raine made Turk feel seen and gave him CDs of white power bands. Raine would talk about how the Jews were in charge of the news and were conspiring against white people. Eventually, Raine invited Turk to come with him to a festival. His friends all wore North American Death Squad (NADS) shirts, and Turk vowed to do whatever it took to become a part of the squad.
Turk's willingness to go along with Raine suggests that, as a lonely and angry teenager, Turk was susceptible and vulnerable to the draw of any kind of community, no matter how awful. More than anything, Turk wanted to be a part of a group and be accepted by his peers, which indicates that Turk is getting more out of his racism than just a sense of superiority.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The festival looked like a carnival, filled with families with young children. One man invited Turk to try his hand at shooting a target, so Turk surveyed his options: exaggerated Jewish or African-American profiles. Turk felt momentarily sick, but chose a black target and shot right through the target's forehead. Raine praised Turk and then led him to the stage, where a man was speaking about how a homeless black man killed a "White Anglo" and suffered no consequences. He also insisted that killing a black person is the equivalent of shooting game. The man was Francis Mitchum, one of the most powerful men in the movement.
The moment that Turk feels sick reinforces the novel's assertion that hate and prejudice are learned things, especially since his initial reaction acknowledges how awful the target shooting is. However, when Turk goes along with it, it suggests that he'll learn to push down these feelings that something is wrong in favor of becoming part of the group. Again, this speaks to the power of community, regardless of what the community stands for.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Brit and Turk decide to name their son Davis, after the Confederate president, and then Brit sends Turk to find her a milkshake. The woman at the cafeteria is unhelpful and out of ice cream, but suggests that Turk buy chocolate. Turk inspects the bar, notices the kosher symbol—the mark of the "Jewish mafia tax"—and settles for Skittles instead.
Turk's assessment of the kosher symbol shows that he sees prejudice against white people everywhere he goes. Because he believes that everyone in the world who looks different is out to get him, Turk is therefore unable to find friendship and camaraderie with those people.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Early in the morning, a new nurse enters the room, introduces herself as Ruth, and explains that she'll be caring for Brit and Davis. Turk works hard to keep himself from shoving Ruth away, and Brit shoots him a look—she doesn't want to talk to the nurse, but knows they have to blend in. Ruth inspects Davis like she's a "witch doctor" and then scoops him up, shocking both Brit and Turk. They whisper frantically about what to do as Ruth bathes Davis and puts on a tracking bracelet, which makes Turk think that Davis is already being punished. As Ruth hands Davis back and suggests that they see if he'll nurse, Turk tells Ruth to get away from Brit.
Notice the language that Turk uses to describe Ruth: though as far as the reader knows she looks like any other nurse, just black, he chooses to describe her habits as being those of a witch doctor. This draws on racist ideas that black people are primitive and lesser than white people, and shows how Turk has learned to ignore the evidence around him (in this case, that Ruth has a license and is a nurse) in favor of his racist and untrue beliefs.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
A year after the festival, Raine decided that Turk was ready to be inducted into NADS. One night when Turk was staying with his dad, Raine and two friends climbed in Turk's bedroom window and explained that they were going to "clean Vermont of its filth." They dressed Turk in black and drank in the car on the way to a gay bar. Outside the bar, Raine started tackling gay men. Turk recognized his own father coming out of the bar and finally understood that his dad was gay. Turk beat his father until Raine dragged him away. This turned Turk into a legend in the movement at the age of sixteen. His father had to be hospitalized.
The fact that Turk is so easily turned against his father just because of his father's sexuality speaks to the power of the community Turk is now a part of: it's stronger and more fulfilling than any of Turk's familial relationships. When Turk becomes a legend for beating his father, it also suggests that the white power movement is one that seeks to corrupt familial relationships and trades in hate rather than love.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
In the hospital, Turk tells Marie that he wants Lucille back. Marie insists that they can't discriminate against Ruth and says this is nothing like requesting a female doctor. Turk suggests that he could get angry and he towers over Marie, who he hates because she's a "race traitor." Marie murmurs that she'll put a note in Davis's file stating Turk's wishes. Turk gathers Davis in his arms and promises to protect him forever.
Though Marie is certainly put in a difficult position here, her choice to go along with Turk's wishes is an overt act of discrimination against Ruth. This shows how white people like Marie can be easily roped into racist behavior, as going along with it is easier and safer than standing up for what's right.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
A few years after Turk got involved in the White Power Movement, Turk's mother died. While going through her things, he found the transcripts from Tanner's trial. He read everything and discovered that Tanner had been high, and the black man had done everything to avoid hitting Tanner's car. Turk says that regardless, if that black man hadn't been driving that night, Tanner would be alive.
The transcripts suggest that Tanner was actually at fault, but Turk's unwillingness to accept that his brother made a mistake again speaks to the power of his racist beliefs. His indoctrination into the white supremacist community has robbed Turk of his critical thinking skills.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon