February 1, 2017 - mh9868a
Commonplace 2: Small Great Things
It just goes to show you: every baby is born beautiful.
It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.
-Jodi Picoult, Small Great Things
Jodi Picoult has been my favorite author for a very long time. She was my grandmother’s all time favorite author, and my grandmother had read all of Picoult’s books. I later fell in love with Picoult’s writing the first time I borrowed Songs of the Humpback Whale from my grandma. I have read over a dozen of Picoult’s books since then, and one of those books was Small Great Things.
Small Great Things is about a black nurse named Ruth who is dealing with the legal outcomes of the death of a baby from a white supremacist family. The book is all about blatant and implicit racism in today’s society. The quote above really stood out to me when I read this story because the message is so powerful. Babies are born pure. They are good people because they only know love. They love their parents, grandparents, and other family. Babies are born with love, but they learn hatred. Hatred is learned from parents, from peers, and from experience. Young children do not often have personal experiences with hate, and neither do their young peers. That leaves parents. Until children are old enough to go to school, they learn mostly everything from their parents. If the parents are racist, like the patient’s family, then that child will grow up to be just as racist as his parents. What we learn as children often stays with us into adulthood.
In this quote, Ruth is acknowledging the idea that nobody is born racist. Babies are born good and pure and beautiful. They do not become ugly until they are taught to be ugly. Teaching a child to act in such an ugly manner, such as being racist, makes that formerly beautiful child ugly. Picoult manages to sum up this complex societal issue into two basic sentences. It is interesting that Picoult chose to use the word “project,” which seems to have an intense, almost derogatory, denotation. When you think of having something projected onto you, you think that something was put onto you without your consent or your choice, almost like something such a racism was forced upon you. I also found it interesting that she used the words “beautiful” and “ugly.” These descriptive words are usually associated with appearances, but in this case Picoult was alluding to personalities. Beautiful personalities are killed with love and acceptance, while ugly personalities are plagued with hate. It is alarming to hear that somebody has an ugly, hateful personality, especially when that somebody is a child. Jodi Picoult’s use of diction when commenting on a societal race issue truly demonstrates her view of society’s racism today.