Small Great Things

Small Great Things

by

Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things: Chapter 7, Ruth Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For Ruth, life proceeds as normal until Carla Luongo asks her to come talk, two weeks after Davis's death. Ruth has been reliving Davis's death the entire time, making sure that the story she believes is the story she's told others—that she didn't touch Davis. When she gets off the phone with Carla, Edison asks if she was talking to someone white, since she was speaking differently. When Ruth meets Carla, she can tell that Carla isn't on her side. Ruth recounts her story several times, insists she wasn't angry with Turk and Brit, and is shocked when Carla asks about Ruth's offhand sterilization comment.
Edison's comment about Ruth changing how she speaks introduces the idea of code switching, which is where a person speaks or behaves differently depending on who they're talking to. In this situation, it suggests that Ruth acts differently around her white colleagues, which in turn implies that she might not feel as comfortable or as accepted around them as she'd like the reader to believe.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Carla asks when Ruth touched Davis. Ruth knows that her answer can save her or damn her, and she says that she didn't touch him until instructed to by Marie. Ruth notes that the note in Davis's file could be construed as biased, but Carla smoothly threatens Ruth's career if she continues to threaten to sue for discrimination.
The exchange between Carla and Ruth shows that they both understand that the legal system and hospital protocol give them some power here: Ruth can file a discrimination lawsuit, while Carla can fire Ruth and (seemingly) make the problem go away.
Themes
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Ruth's shift begins with Marie assigning Virginia, a white nursing student, to shadow Ruth. Ruth leads Virginia to the room of their first patient, a woman in labor. Ruth leads the conversation, but the woman speaks to Virginia when she talks about her birth plan and her wishes for after the birth. As Ruth puts on gloves to examine the woman, the woman asks Virginia if this is a good idea. Ruth explains that Virginia is a nursing student, while she's an expert. The patient turns red and Ruth lets her frustration go.
This experience with Virginia shows the reader another way in which Ruth is treated differently on a daily basis because of the color of her skin, but not in a way that the patient presumably intends to be rude or racist. Now that Ruth has been exposed to Turk's overt racism, these smaller microaggressions are more difficult to handle.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Ruth tells the reader that Mama still works for Ms. Mina. Sam Hallowell is now dead, Christina lives nearby, and their son lives in London. Mama refuses to retire, even though she's older than Ms. Mina, and still works six days per week. Ruth usually has to visit her at Ms. Mina's and delights in using the front entrance instead of the servant's entrance. Today, Mama is thrilled to see Ruth. They sit in the dining room, where Mama is cleaning the strands of crystal from the chandeliers. Mama talks about Adisa and Edison as Ruth remembers how, as a child, Mama would bring her on Saturdays so that she could work. She framed it as a privilege, but Ruth felt she was being raised to be a maid. She realized later that Mama was actually teaching her to be self-sufficient.
Now that Ruth is an adult, she's able to dictate how she moves through the Hallowells' home more than she could as a child. Ruth isn't as much of a helpless victim of racism as she once was; she now has power and a voice to insist that some white people treat her well. The way that Ruth interpreted Mama bringing her to work shows that Ruth has always chafed in situations when she felt she was being unfairly pigeonholed because of her race or gender.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
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Ruth helps Mama hang the crystal back on the chandelier and finally, Mama asks what's wrong. Ruth leaves out the Davis debacle, but talks about Virginia. Mama suggests that Ruth is imagining things, and Ruth wonders if Mama's right. Ruth immediately hears Adisa's voice in her head and thinks that even if the microaggressions were unintentional, they still hurt.
When Mama suggests that Ruth is imagining things, it diminishes and discredits Ruth's lived experience. However, it also speaks to the fact that Mama likely tells herself the same thing, as her satisfaction with her job probably depends on not getting her feelings hurt daily.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Ms. Mina, Christina, and Christina's four-year-old get home. Christina throws her arms around Ruth as Ms. Mina greets her warmly, and then Christina leads Ruth upstairs. Ruth inspects one of the toys, a plastic pirate ship with action figures, and notices one action figure that looks like a slave.
The slave in the pirate ship suggests that racism and slavery are neutered and normalized when it comes to kids' toys. This in turn will allow kids to think this is normal when in reality, it isn't.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Christina interrupts Ruth to say that her husband, Larry, is going to run for Congress. Ruth asks how Christina feels about this, which thrills Christina--Ruth is the first person to acknowledge that, in theory, she has a say. Christina insists she can't say no to Larry, even though she wants to, and promises to bring Ruth on as chief of staff if Larry later becomes president. They head downstairs and Christina hugs Mama, thanking her for being part of their family. Ruth thinks that family doesn't get a paycheck.
The exchange between Ruth and Christina indicates that the two care for each other and acknowledge the other's humanity, despite their differences in class and skin color. Ruth in particular sees Christina as a person who in theory has agency and decision-making power, rather than flattening her to a politician's wife.
Themes
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
One day when Ruth was a child, she unwittingly ended up in Sam Hallowell's study, which was off limits. He was inside, feeding film through a projector. Sam mused that Ruth has grown up with TV. He invited Ruth to sit on the couch and watch as Donald Duck stirred paint until it made black, while the narrator said that at first, man was black and stupid. Ruth noted that Sam's breath was sour as he continued to talk about how he used to be the voice of the future, announcing that programs were broadcast in color. That night, Ruth had a nightmare that she was in a gray world. She screamed that her eyes weren't working, but in the dream Mama and Ms. Mina told her that it's just the way things are.
Throughout the novel, films and cartoons illustrate how racist visual media has been—this cartoon is likely from the mid-20th century—and how racist it still is, as when Kennedy later watches The Lion King. By using visual media like this, the novel illustrates how swamped contemporary society is in racism that often goes unexamined unless something happens to force further consideration.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
When Ruth gets home, Edison is doing homework. She's going to be late for her shift, but talks to Edison about his homework assignment: a profile on an American hero. Edison wants his to be black and he notes that it's hard finding information. Ruth feels like he's pressing on a splinter as she leaves for work. When she arrives, Marie tells Ruth she can't work; Ruth's license has been suspended. Security escorts Ruth to clear out her locker. She calls the union lawyer from the car, tells him about Turk Bauer, and then gets a call from Corinne.
The choice to immediately involve the union lawyer shows that at this point, Ruth still trusts the systems she's a part of to help and protect her. Edison's difficulty finding information on a black American hero speaks to the way in which black history isn't taught in schools in the same normalized way that white history is; he has to do way more work than his classmates because of his desire to showcase someone black.
Themes
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Ruth tells her about meeting with Carla Luongo and says that the hospital is sacrificing her, but Corinne says that it probably wasn't intentional. Ruth thinks back to her time at Dalton, where she felt like she didn't fit in at the table of black kids and felt like she could blend if she sat with white kids. Ruth wants to ask Corinne how she has the right to say that, but instead hangs up and drives to Adisa's house.
Again, when Corinne suggests that Marie wasn't trying to be racist, she tells Ruth that she doesn't actually care to listen to Ruth when she says she's being discriminated against. The choice to drive to Adisa's house shows that Ruth is now ready to accept that she's experiencing discrimination.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Adisa insists that this was bound to happen. She says that Ruth should just tell Edison the truth and get a lawyer to sue the hospital. Groaning, Ruth says she wants it to go away and then starts to panic. She can't lose her house or use Edison's college fund. Adisa takes Ruth's hand and reminds her that sisters are forever.
Because Ruth doesn't have wealth like the Hallowells do, bringing a lawsuit against the hospital isn't an easy decision. In this way, Ruth is disadvantaged because of her skin color as well as her socioeconomic status.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
A few hours later, Ruth returns home. Edison is concerned, but Ruth lies that shifts got mixed up, so she and Corinne went out for dinner. Edison's school project is going okay; he's decided to write about Anthony Johnson, the first black landowner, but is struggling to figure out how to deal with the fact that Johnson owned slaves. After Edison goes to bed, Ruth goes through the mail and finds the notification that her license is suspended. Not long after, the union lawyer calls back with the news that the state is holding Ruth responsible for Davis's death; they've filed criminal charges against her. The lawyer says they're targeting her because she failed as a nurse; Ruth insists they're targeting her because she's black.
The union lawyer's assessment of why the state is filing charges against Ruth shows that, like Corinne, he isn't willing to trust Ruth when she tells him about her lived experience. Though Ruth never mentions the lawyer's race, it's reasonable to assume that he's white given his reaction. Because of his race, he likely doesn't have to think about this sort of thing with any regularity, which makes it harder for him to empathize with Ruth and effectively help her.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Somehow, Ruth manages to fall asleep. She wakes up at 3 am to the sound of a jackhammer in her dream. It doesn't stop and suddenly, police break down Ruth's door and swarm into the living room, guns drawn. One officer pushes Ruth to the floor to handcuff her, while others overturn furniture. Edison calls out and Ruth screams as the police attack and handcuff him. She yells for Edison to call Adisa as the policeman drags Ruth upright and out of her house. She wonders if her neighbors, on their porches watching, will ever ask themselves why they didn't ask if they could help.
It's telling that, while Ruth has said that she feels like an accepted part of her community, she doesn't name any of her neighbors—this implies that she's not as close to them as she initially let on. Ruth tries to believe she's a valued member of the community so that it's easier to ignore that her neighbors aren't interested in helping her when push comes to shove.
Themes
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Ruth has been to the police station several times, but never like this. Officers check her in, take fingerprints, and take mug shots. A young cop leads her to a holding cell. Ruth sits and wonders if Edison has called Adisa and realizes that the Hallowells will be able to get her out. She thinks that her blackness is, in this case, more powerful—and more dangerous—than her education or her professional success. 
Ruth understands that because she's black, the fact that she's an educated nurse doesn't mean much. What the officers see is an angry black woman who didn't come to the door in a timely manner, which means that she's going to have to work harder to get them to take her seriously.
Themes
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Finally, the young officer returns for Ruth. She flatters him and he decides she doesn't need handcuffs to walk to a room for interrogation. A hulking man enters, introduces himself as Detective MacDougall, and introduces his associate, Detective Leong. Detective Leong is Asian American, and Ruth thinks they might have something in common. Ruth agrees to tell her story, insists that CPR isn't physical abuse, and says she doesn't hate white people. MacDougall leaves the room to make a phone call and Detective Leong starts talking to Ruth. Ruth suspects she has ulterior motives, but goes along with it. Detective Leong tells Ruth that she needs to say now if this was an accident caused by her hurt feelings, but Ruth says she wants a lawyer.
Detective Leong, as an Asian American police officer, shows that even when minorities climb the ladder and manage to do well in their jobs, it doesn't mean that they have the power to change the system. Instead, Detective Leong's livelihood likely depends on playing by the rules set out by her job, which means that she's forced into complicity with the racist policies and practices of the police (and perhaps even buys in to these policies and practices).
Themes
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