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Not only is Ruby a baby elephant, she is also the new kid in town. And you know what new kids do? They ask a lot of questions about how things work. And in the case of Ivan, this questioning on her part makes it pretty darn hard for him to avoid the terribleness that is his life in captivity. He might prefer to keep his head down and focus on what's okay about his days, but Ruby just can't wrap her head around these new closed quarters she finds herself in.
To this end, Ruby is the first character to really stand up to Mack, delivering a hearty thwack to his mid-section with her trunk. And on the flipside, Mack's behavior toward her looks just that much worse since she's a confused little baby elephant, instead of a hardened and resigned one like Stella.
It is Ruby who inspires Stella to ask Ivan to guarantee a brighter future for her charge as she dies, and in this way, it is Ruby who contributes to Ivan's own fate changing. Ivan likes Ruby and her fondness for elephant jokes, and his regard for her coupled with his love for Stella inspires him to pull out all the stops to help get her out of the mall and into the zoo. As he does, Ruby isn't the only one whose life is changed for the better—Ivan's is, too.
In short, when you think of Ruby, think of her as the poster girl for animal rights. And an adorable, joke-cracking poster girl at that.