Song Analysis

Ruby Through the Looking-Glass

Friday 9 September 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

"Ruby Through the Looking-Glass" is one of the B-Sides on the bonus CD Scarlet’s Hidden Treasures. It happens somewhere along Scarlet’s journey and talks about the pregnancy of the character.

In the song, Scarlet seems to be in trouble with a male figure, probably the father of her born-to-be-daughter, Ruby, who watches her mother fight in utero ("through the looking-glass"). Perfectly aware that the baby feels her conflicted emotions, Scarlet is trying to deal with this threatening situation ("I wont let you put her through/what you put me through") in order to protect her child.

Tori declared sometime before the release of Scarlet’s Walk (it was uncertain at the time if "Ruby" would make the record or would fit as a B-Side on another release) that it was about a threatening situation she went into while pregnant with her daughter Tash (born in 2000) .

While she never mentioned what it was, we could also argue that the threatening situation Scarlet confronts isn’t strictly a physical one but might also be internal. Indeed, in the third verse, she sings : "through the looking glass, Ruby sees/things in you/things in me/she won’t wanna be/ just a little light turning the key/ at the root, what I missed she will carry" which is quite important for the full understanding of the song.

In a broad and deep sense, the song is about what is passed down to a child. Scarlet has to go deep within herself to confront what she was exposed to as a child, what she missed in order not to pass her frustations and traumas to her daughter. Tori confirmed this interpretation in Piece by Piece, her autobiography co-written with Ann Powers by making the following comment :

"Ruby is in utero, hearing her mother trying to protect her in the womb while her mother is clearly in a fight. Not only is the mother having to defend herself, but by addressing certain things that were done to her as a child, she makes a decision. She at all costs makes a vow to Ruby to be aware as a mother, and promises her a different way of communicating, instead of fighting.”

We could argue this comment resonates with what Tori said over the past years about how she felt the need to introspect as not to pass down to her daughter the Christian guilt her paternal grandmother inflicted on her. In the British TV show Faith & the Music on February 29, 2004, she thus said :

"I was pregnant with my daughter and I felt that I needed to rewire something so that my daughter wouldn’t take on board my damage that I had. Because I don’t have damage with Christianity, I have the damage from how it was misappropriated. When somebody begins to take authority over you as a soul, where they try to get you to doubt yourself or lose your voice, to not speak, you start to lose the essence of who you are."

To the light of this comment, we can argue that beyond the pure narrative context of the song, what Scarlet’s confronting isn’t merely a man but the patriarchy she has been subjugated to early on as a child. She has to depend upon herself and make sure her daughter isn’t exposed to a belief system which takes authority over women.

The much commented line "Doesn’t every boy smoke to cry" is a metaphor of how men are encouraged to show strong authority and act in a manly way. Smoking instead of crying conveys an image of helplessness. If we take it to a patriarcal level, we could say it means patriarchy ‘s subjugation of women is a proof of helplessness in the same way a physically abusive man resorts to violence because he’s insecure and can’t rely on words and discussion to solve a conflict.