When Ava attends Mama's funeral with Kennedy, she offers Ruth a photograph of her as a child with her black maid, Beattie. Ruth spends much of the novel bitter and angry at the way the Hallowells speak about Mama like she's family, while they, in her estimation, continue to abuse her willingness to work until her death. The photograph, however—which shows Ava tenderly putting her hand on Beattie's cheek—very clearly indicates that while one's definition of family may differ, love can transcend skin color or employment status, and can exist in spite of all manner of boundaries. In this way, the photograph represents the possibility for love and familial relationships to flourish even in unexpected places.
The Photograph Quotes in Small Great Things
It is a picture of a Black woman wearing a maid's uniform, holding a little girl in her arms. The girl has hair as light as snow, and her hand is pressed against her caregiver's cheek in shocking contrast. There's more than just duty between them. There's pride. There's love. "I didn't know your mother. But, Ruth—she didn't waste her life."