By Sophie Blackall
If you walk down a certain road in a certain city in old China, past the pet market with its yellow-and-green ricebirds in their bamboo cages and the goldfish in their porcelain bowls, you will find a little girl named Ruby. Ruby is unlike most girls of her time. Instead of getting married, Ruby is determined to attend university when she grows up, just like the boys in her family.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Ruby’s Wish comes from a time where China was slowly opening to the Western world and Western ideals. Since there is a difference between Western and Eastern culture children can compare and contrast to what is seen as different and can ask why they are so different. The comparison and contrast of different cultures can bring up discussions on why people (in the other culture) do the things they do as well as what they consider right or wrong.
The first way this book can be discussed is by looking at the implications that the story has on the idea of relativism. Is Ruby lucky because she has all the privileges that come with her being born into a rich family? Is she unlucky because she was born a girl into a traditional Chinese family? The conflict in how Ruby sees her situation, how her family sees her situation, and potentially how the reader sees her situation brings up some interesting concepts. Why does Ruby have opinion A, while you have opinion B? Are one or more of those opinions right, or Is it just a matter of personal experience, viewpoint, and/or preferences? This then leads to some questions about the nature of truth, about whether or not there is a right answer to the question, maybe there isn’t one. Or perhaps everyone else is just wrong.
The next set of philosophical issues this story brings up, tied in with the first, is whether or not we should consider wants and needs individually, or as society as a whole. Ruby wants to get an education, while her society and most of her family want her to get married and take care of the house, a classic example of conflict between the wants and needs of the individual versus that of the group. The idea of whether or not to put emphasis on the individual or society as a whole completely changes how the story is read, the former would see Ruby's initial situation as rather tragic, the latter not nearly as much. Should we really be emphasizing with Ruby, or her parents for having such a rebellious daughter?
The last set of questions brought up is the issue of morality. Many of the adult readers would see something wrong with Ruby and the other girls not normally being given the chance to go get an education, but it might not be immediately obvious to some of the kids why you think there's a problem with that; it certainly isn't obvious to Ruby's mother. How do you explain why you think there's a problem in terms that don't rely on your own society's mindset and rules? How do you explain Ruby's mother's opinion? What if it would really make Ruby happier if she didn't go get an education, would it still be wrong? Are some things always wrong, or is it all a matter of the end result?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Alas, bad luck to be born a girl; worse luck to be born into this house where only boys are cared for.
The girls had to learn about cooking and keeping house. In fact, as far as their mothers were concerned these were the only things girls has to learn.
Don't you want to be married?" asked her grandfather. "You know, you are very lucky. A daughter of this house can marry any man.