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The Ruby in the Smoke Discussion Questions

The Ruby in the Smoke
By Philip Pullman
Published 1985

  1. As she seeks to unravel a mystery that will forever change her life, Sally Lockhart faces formidable enemies. Who is Mrs. Holland, and why does she view Sally as an obstacle to achieving her goals? What does Hendrik Van Eeden mean when he presents Sally with a chilling ultimatum? How does Mr. Hopkins foil Sally's plans to learn more about her complicated origins? Why does natural ally Matthew Bedwell unwittingly become one of Sally's greatest threats? What does Samuel Selby have to lose from Sally's tireless investigation?

  2. At the heart of The Ruby in the Smoke is one young woman's struggle to determine her own future. What barriers stand in Sally Lockhart's way? How do her guardians view her fearless independence? What opportunities are available to a girl of Sally's breeding? How do her natural talents fly in the face of what is socially accepted? Why does Sally's lawyer, Mr. Temple, resist her business instruction? How do Rosa and Frederick Garland show their faith in Sally's skill? How might Sally's prospects differ if the novel were set in England today? Does the film successfully portray Sally's struggle to reconcile her ambition to her place in Victorian society?

  3. Through Sally Lockhart's dedicated sleuthing, The Ruby in the Smoke charts the insidious nature of addiction. To what type of "smoke" does the title refer? How, according to Frederick Garland, does the British government profit from the drug's cultivation and sale? How does Mrs. Holland use narcotics to uncover Matthew Bedwell's secret? What happens to Sally when she visits the enigmatic Madame Chang? How do the novel's protagonists react when they encounter addiction? Do we look at it differently today? How is opium responsible for Mr. Lockhart's death? How is the drug both Sally's most horrifying challenge and her only hope to unlock the mysteries of her past?

  4. Discuss the role of family in The Ruby in the Smoke. When she takes leave of her only living relative, Mrs. Rees, Sally seeks out a community of her own. What role do Sally's new companions play in her personal and professional success? Why does her relationship with Frederick Garland simultaneously exhilarate her and leave her feeling like a child? What does she have in common with Trembler, the Garland's trusted associate? Is this handled similarly in the book and the film? Who is Major Marchbanks? What does Sally discover about her father? What does it mean to Sally to choose the people whom she loves?

  5. On the surface, The Ruby in the Smoke appears to be a classic tale of good versus evil. How does a closer read force us to reexamine this conclusion? What lies behind Mrs. Holland's single-minded obsession? Does her revelation toward the film's end inspire the viewer's sympathy? What distinguishes Mr. Berry from the ranks of the common criminal? How is Adelaide at once a tragic figure and complicit in Mrs. Holland's malevolence, both victim and victimizer? Why does Major Marchbanks evoke both pity and disgust? In trying to protect Sally, how does Mr. Lockhart leave her vulnerable to harm? Where is the line between intention and action in The Ruby in the Smoke?

  6. Consider the jewel at the heart of The Ruby in the Smoke. What does the majestic Ruby of Agrapur represent to its pursuers? How are its holders affected when they stare into its depths? Why does Sally tell Mrs. Holland that the only way to end the cycle of "death and unhappiness" is to put the ruby completely out of reach? What does Mrs. Holland do in response to Sally's disposal of the gem? Is this different in the novel and in the film? Why does Major Marchbanks sacrifice so much for the stone? What does the author seem to be saying about value and worth?

  7. Philip Pullman uses the geography of Victorian London to great effect in The Ruby in the Smoke. How do his descriptions of Wapping heighten our sense of impending doom? How does water isolate the city's inhabitants, not just physically, but psychologically? In what ways does the freedom of Burton Street contrast with the refined sensibility of Peveril Square? How does the city assist Sally and her friends in fulfilling their mission and, at the same time, block their progress at every turn?

© 2007 WGBH Educational Foundation

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