Small Great Things

Small Great Things

Small Great Things Chapter 8, Kennedy Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Kennedy gets to work, her colleague Ed Gourakis is going on at length about the new hire, Howard. Kennedy hasn't met him yet and tells Ed this. Ed says that he was just hired to meet a diversity target and is inexperienced. Kennedy cuts Ed short and he stomps off. A minute later, a young black man stands up in the cubicle next to Kennedy's and introduces himself as Howard. Kennedy introduces herself warmly, offers to take Howard to lunch, and assures him that not everyone is as rude as Ed. She says that it's great that Howard is giving back to his community, and she feels stupid when he says he's from Darien, a wealthy town.
Though Kennedy's warmth towards Howard is commendable, she reveals her own prejudices when she assumes that he's from one of the low-income neighborhoods in Connecticut. While Kennedy will later go on to say she's not racist and doesn't hold biases against black people, she absolutely does. In making this mistake with Howard, Kennedy told him that she doesn't expect that a young black man could come from an affluent family.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Kennedy briefly explains her job on arraignment day, which is when defendants are expected to enter a plea. She represents people who don't have a lawyer but need one, and she usually meets them at the defense table and has seconds to try to get them out on bail. Her third client of the day is an eighteen-year-old charged with drug trafficking. He's from a wealthy neighborhood and looks terrified. After a moment of conversation, Kennedy asks the judge to release her client. The prosecutor, Odette Lawton, insists he must be released with bail.
The way that Kennedy describes her job on arraignment day suggests that she understands that the most powerful thing she can do is get to know her clients and appeal to the judge's sense of humanity. Her description of dealing with this white young man provides a counterpoint to Ruth's hearing, which follows.
Themes
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
Kennedy's next client is Ruth. The police lead her in still wearing her nightgown, and Kennedy realizes the gallery is strangely packed. As Ruth states her name, a woman begins yelling "murderer" and Kennedy sees Ruth flinch—someone has spit on her face. The bailiffs drag Turk out. The clerk reads that Ruth is being charged with murder and negligent homicide, and Odette says that Ruth acted intentionally and killed a three-day-old baby. Ruth explodes and says that this is crazy, but Kennedy leads her to the defense table.
The fact that Ruth is in her nightgown still speaks to the court's desire to dehumanize Ruth and put her at even more of a disadvantage—it's harder to take someone seriously when they're not appropriately dressed for court. This shows how the justice system is unfairly stacked against people like Ruth who have the misfortune of being arrested in a compromised state.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Kennedy starts asking Ruth her usual questions, but Ruth spits that they put her in chains and handcuffed her son. Kennedy watches as Odette, a sleek black woman who looks worlds apart from Ruth, says that Ruth should be held without bail. Because she has nothing to work with, Kennedy asks the judge to set bail at $25,000. Ruth quietly points to Edison and asks Kennedy if she has kids. Kennedy thinks of Violet and tells the judge she'd like to retract her statement and have more time to speak to her client. The judge agrees that they can speak during recess.
When Ruth is able to convince Kennedy to reconsider after pointing to Edison, it reinforces Ruth's earlier assertion that parenthood and family is a common denominator among all people. This allows Kennedy to humanize Ruth in a way that will hopefully allow her to provide Ruth with proper help later.
Themes
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
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During her break, Kennedy rushes to Ruth's holding cell, where Ruth explains she's a nurse. When Kennedy tells Ruth they need to work together if Ruth wants to get out, Ruth sizes her up uncomfortably and then answers Kennedy's questions about her job, her home, and about Edison. Kennedy is surprised that Ruth lives in her neighborhood, that Adisa lives in a difficult neighborhood, and that Ruth’s Mama is a maid. She briefly scans Ruth's indictment as Ruth tells her how Davis died. Kennedy says she can get Ruth out and promises to tell Edison. For a minute, Kennedy feels like they're nothing more than two mothers.
For Kennedy, it's shocking to learn that Ruth lives in her neighborhood—it means that they have more in common than Kennedy thought was possible. Again, when Kennedy feels like they're just two mothers, she reaffirms the novel's insistence that family brings out the shared humanity in all people, and that being willing to look for a person's humanity makes one more willing to go above and beyond.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Family and Shared Humanity Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Back in the courtroom, Kennedy notices white onlookers that she suspects are white supremacists, and thinks that being white means that few people will question their intentions. She walks up to Edison, who is nervous and polite, and Adisa, who seems angry, and tells them that she can get Ruth out. Minutes later, the judge calls Ruth again. Kennedy paints Ruth as an upstanding citizen with a defendable case, and the judge accepts Ruth's house as bail.
Kennedy's observation of the white people in the gallery shows that one conversation with Ruth was enough to make her see that racism is everywhere, if only she knows where to look. This begins Kennedy's process of learning about institutional racism and how black lives are affected by it daily.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
The white supremacists start booing and as they're herded out, Kennedy tells a panicked Ruth that it'll take a few days before she's released. She runs to Edison and Adisa and begins telling them what documents they need for the house. She gives Edison her card but explains that she won't actually be on Ruth's case. At this, Adisa snaps that Kennedy must believe that Ruth did it since she's black. Kennedy finds this ridiculous, as most of her clients are black.
Adisa's rudeness isn't entirely unfounded; it'll be revealed later that Adisa has had an experience with the justice system and likely experienced prejudice at the hands of white people because of her race. The suggestion that Kennedy isn't racist because she works with black clients shows how easy it can be for a white person to ignore microaggressions and institutional racism.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
When Kennedy gets home, Ava is on the couch with a glass of wine watching Disney Junior, Violet asleep next to her. Ava explains that there was an incident at dinner: Violet is no longer obsessed with The Little Mermaid; she's decided she wants to be Tiana from The Princess and the Frog for Halloween. Kennedy is relieved as this means the costume will be warmer, but Ava suggests that Violet be Cinderella, Rapunzel, or Elsa instead. Thinking of Ruth, Kennedy asks if this is because Tiana is black. Ava, offended, agrees to sew the costume.
Ava's suggestion that Violet choose another princess shows that Ava also holds racist assumptions, even if she wouldn't use the word to describe herself. Violet's desire to be Tiana, on the other hand, speaks to children's ability to identify with anyone, regardless of color—though Violet, as a white child, has a number of television role models that look like her, while black children have comparatively few.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Belonging and Community Theme Icon
Ava insists she isn't prejudiced; she says she loved her childhood nanny, Beattie, like she was family. Kennedy sighs, but Ava softly recounts how, as a child, she snuck away to drink from the colored water fountain and was surprised that it was no different. Ava makes one more plea to force Violet to choose another princess but finally gives in.
The story of drinking from the water fountain speaks to how senseless racism and prejudice is—but Ava's surprise to find that the fountains are the same shows that what she'd been taught to believe (that black people were fundamentally different) was also very powerful.
Themes
Racism: Hate, Fear, and Grief Theme Icon
Kennedy falls asleep on the couch with Violet and wakes up in time to see Mufasa's death scene in The Lion King. Micah gets home and they talk briefly about their days. He's very interested in hearing about Ruth's case and the skinheads and asks if they all were wearing combat boots. Kennedy replies that, even more terrifying, the skinheads looked normal. As Micah puts Violet to bed, Kennedy notes that Ruth lives in their neighborhood and mentions that the hyenas in The Lion King all speak in black or Latino slang. When Micah accuses her of overthinking, Kennedy vows to do anything to get Ruth's case.
Kennedy's observation about the hyenas in The Lion King shows that racism is baked into society in every way imaginable: even though the hyenas don't look black or Latino, viewers will still associate the dialect with the villains in the movie. By making these casting decisions, companies like Disney can reinforce stereotypes in a way that many won't even notice (like Micah) but that are glaring once they’re pointed out.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon