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Ivan really looks up to Stella. So when he says, "Stella is a mountain. Next to her I am a rock," we have a feeling that he's not just referring to her size. According to Ivan, Stella has "eyes like black stars and knows more than I will ever know." Though they are both "huge and alone," Ivan knows there is something really special about Stella, and recognizes her wisdom.
As tempting as it is to call Stella the elephant queen of the Big Top Mall, it's more accurate to say she is the crone, the old wise woman with a big heart who dispenses sage advice at every turn. Stella operates as a spiritual guide for Ivan, steering him toward the truth; she likes to tell stories and remembers every detail of her past.
Ivan has survived a solitary existence by blocking out painful early memories, and letting parts of his past fade from his mind. When Ivan tells the others that he can't remember his childhood, Stella asks Ivan if he "can't remember" or "won't remember" (not sleepy.254), taking her usual gentle yet direct approach. She encourages him to be honest with himself about who he is without being all up in his face about it, facilitating a healthy conversation and nudging Ivan to face his demons.
It's clear that no one ever encouraged Stella to let her colors burst high and shoot across the sky, since despite her wisdom and gentle guidance, Stella tells Ivan she wouldn't have made a very good mother. Ivan doesn't buy this, though—he knows awesome when he sees it—and when Stella hears "a baby elephant crying for her mother" right before Ruby arrives, well, either those ears of hers are bionic, or Stella has an intuitive sense that she's not entirely owning.
Once Ruby arrives, Stella effortlessly steps into a sort of fairy godmother role for the young elephant, mothering and protecting her. When she does, we are certain Ivan is right that Stella would be a very good mother indeed. Which just makes her lonely life in captivity all the sadder.
Unfortunately, Stella has to die for change to occur in the book. While Ivan sacrifices plenty for the good of Ruby, Stella suffers quietly and without protest, until her passing becomes the impetus for Ivan to change the world for the better for Ruby. Her dying wish is that Ruby not lead the same miserable existence she has known, and she gets Ivan to promise to do whatever he can to make this happen which, in turn, inspires his sign making spree and culminates in these animals finally finding new homes in the zoo.