Ruby is both a role model and a friend for Ada. As a strong-willed, practical woman with keen insight, Ruby initially serves as a foil for the dreamy, intellectual Ada. (A foil is a character that reveals the distinctive traits of another character through contrast.) Ruby’s store of knowledge about the natural world teaches Ada to look outward from herself, and to interact with the surrounding environment. Ruby personifies many of the novel’s themes about living close to nature, moving at pace with its seasons, and establishing a close relationship with the land. However, Ruby’s role grows more substantial as Ada’s character matures. As Ada develops into a strong friend and co-worker, the women’s friendship becomes increasingly sisterly and profound. Just as Ada learns about practical life from Ruby, Ruby in turn learns from Ada, listening to the classic literature the older woman reads aloud and following her lead when it comes to expressing emotion (although emotional honesty does not come easily to Ada either). Resolutely levelheaded and self-sufficient, Ruby begins to let go of past resentment, particularly towards her father, and reclaims her faith in love.
Ruby’s development within the novel, though not as dramatic as Inman’s or Ada’s, is far-reaching and profound. Ruby evolves from a girl into a natural mother figure. The novel charts her transition from someone who could function successfully outside of society as a hermit (she is similar in many ways to the goat-woman) to a woman who appreciates having her whole family living and working beside her. She is a matriarchal figure who keeps her husband and father in check without being too domineering. Ruby becomes the tie that binds her family together.