Rosa Guy Judith N. Mitchell - Essay

Judith N. Mitchell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Rosa Guy's Ruby hints at its quality through its title. It's a multi-faceted jewel of a novel, especially memorable for the unerring accuracy of its recreation of adolescent loneliness and commitment, and for the bitter-sweet quality of its resolution. The two girls who fall in love—Ruby, gentle, yielding, but with an inexorable impulse toward helping, and Daphne, bright, realistic, utterly pragmatic and more than occasionally unsympathetic, are complex, richly-detailed characters.

Bludgeoned by the loss of her mother and her father's absorption into his work, Ruby seeks in Daphne a solution to intolerable pain. Once she and Daphne have retreated, literally and figuratively to the sanctuary of Daphne's room with its warning red light, Ruby finds Daphne every bit as demanding as Calvin, her father. Under Daphne's tutelage, Ruby develops academic self-confidence, while managing to drive Daphne to irritation and beyond by her unflagging compassion. It is this friction which lies at the heart of the relationship and labels it most clearly as risk-prone, lacking in the very security which Ruby seeks. Neither girl seems, perhaps as a result, to be permanently and irretrievably lesbian in orientation. When Daphne cold-bloodedly ends their affair, she says she'll go straight. And, desolate after Daphne's withdrawal and exhausted by a scene of extraordinary cathartic power with Calvin, Ruby nevertheless beings to evince some resurgence of interest in Orlando, a boy whom she had found attractive at the beginning of the story.

If one had to sum up Guy's attitude toward homosexuality from this story, one would conclude from the internal evidence that she believes the need to love and be loved is paramount. To assuage that hunger, young people may fall in love within or outside of their own gender. What determines the success or failure of the relationship may have more to do with personality than with being male or female; a male Daphne would have moved beyond Ruby's sphere in precisely the same way. (p. 32)

Judith N. Mitchell, "Loving Girls," in The ALAN Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, Fall, 1982, pp. 32, 34.∗