Mama's favorite scarf—a red one that Ruth describes as being soft like a rabbit, and which Ruth and Adisa have coveted since childhood—initially acts as a symbol for Mama herself. Ruth often strokes the scarf when she visits her mother, as it makes her think of Mama and the warmth and support she gets from her. After Mama's death, the scarf begins to take on a broader meaning. When it disappears right after Mama's death, Ruth initially has to rely on Mama's church friends to give her the same sense of comfort and support that the scarf once brought her on its own. Later, during Ruth's trial, she begins to see the scarf (which Adisa finds) as a more wide-reaching representation of her black community and the support that the community is willing to provide: though it's unclear if the turnout of church ladies in the gallery influenced the jury or not, their presence—and Mama's symbolic presence, in the form of the scarf—impress upon Ruth that she's not alone and will always have a community to call on.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Mama's Scarf appears in Small Great Things. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 14, Ruth
...brought her to work and settled her on Sam Hallowell's couch with saltines and her scarf. Ruth was shocked when Mr. Hallowell himself came in and started asking Ruth about school,... (full context)
Chapter 17, Ruth
Chapter 25, Ruth
Chapter 27, Ruth
...that Kennedy is the only person who could've made the jury understand. She strokes Mama's scarf as Odette begins her closing argument. Odette says that, racial issues aside, Ruth didn't do... (full context)
Chapter 30, Ruth