“St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell begins with a pack of children being sent to homes by their werewolf parents. The girls get sent to St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and at first are wild. They find it difficult to break their old wolf tendencies, but the nuns are patient. They give them all new culture names, and the speaker is called Claudette. Eventually, they mostly all realized that they must adapt to the new culture, because if they went back they would have to face their angry and dissatisfied parents, who sent them away in the girls’ best interests. The youngest, Mirabella, resisted the new culture and had trouble learning. Jeanette, the oldest, thrived under the new culture and was hated by the other girls. Claudette says she could have been as good as Jeanette if she had wanted to. She gets paired up with Mirabella to feed the ducks and Mirabella won’t leave her alone, so Claudette has to return to her wolf side for a moment to scare her off. Claudette is separated from her sisters for a little while. They meet non-wolf raised girls who play games with the wolf girls and are frightened of them and let them win. The nuns decide to throw a dance with the boys home so that the girls would be incentivized to learn how to dance. Claudette finds Jeanette crying. When the dance arrives, Mirabella is still not adapting to human life. No one is prepared for the dance and everyone feels uncomfortable. Claudette talks to Kyle and the dance that she has tried hard to learn comes on, but she can’t remember the steps and Jeanette won’t help her. Mirabella, who was tied up in the corner, senses that her sister is in danger and breaks free to help her. Claudette, who is thankful for her sister, throws her under the bus and Mirabella is sent away. The rest of them graduate from the home. But before they graduate, Claudette is able to visit her parents and wolf family, where she feels uncomfortable and out of place.
Chronic tension: They were raised by wolves and aren’t “civilized”
Acute tension: They have to adapt to human culture
Something interesting and stealable is the sections of the stages set at the beginning of each section. They kind of prefaced the section and gave a sense of what the girls would be experiencing or what they were expected to experience.
The first thing that I noticed was the descriptions of the girls and how they are only described in terms of animalistic tendencies. Especially in the beginning of the story the choice of words, like “pads of fists” which give the image of paws, helps blur the line between the girls and wolves. The word choice was very deliberate and added to the idea that these girls identified as wolves. Throughout the story, Karen Russell continued to use animalistic description, especially the word “growled” for sentences that usually wouldn’t have been growled, like “‘My stars!’ I growled. ‘What lovely weather we’ve been having!’” Even as the girls progress through the stages, the descriptions like “my sisters panted, circling around us, eager to close ranks” remain, reminding the reader of where the girls came from and who they were before they came to St. Lucy’s.
Another aspect of the story that was really apparent to me, especially as the story progressed, was that the story served as a metaphor for the story of immigrants or the children of immigrants. There is a clear struggle between the old (wolf) culture and the new (human) culture. At first, they resist the new culture but eventually come to accept it. I thought the most interesting part was when they even began to denounce the wolf culture that they came from, with thoughts like “How can people live like they do?” right before Stage 3 even though they lived that way for most of their lives. They were taught to think that their old culture was barbaric and uncivilized. They come to almost resent the old culture, which is embodied by Mirabella. By not adapting and staying true to the old culture, she is a nuisance. Even when she saves Claudette and Claudette is thankful, she has to act annoyed so that the rest don’t turn on her. She betrays Mirabella and her old culture, proving how she has dedicated herself to the human life that she was thrown into.
But even as they become more civilized, they don’t quite fit in. Jeanette, although she is the top girl in the home, is said to have a “a harsh, inhuman, barking sound” as a laugh. They make a lot of progress, but still have trouble in the new culture. The ballroom to them, even after most of the stages, was “a very scary place. Purple and silver balloons started popping all around us. Black streamers swooped down from the eaves and got stuck in our hair like bats.” They will always struggle with human culture and will always have to repress the things that they learned as wolves.
This story could also be read as a coming of age story, about young girls being put into society for the first time and having to learn difficult customs. They are thrown a debutante, which are classically balls thrown for young girls emerging in society. The way they act before St. Lucy’s could be seen as them still being childlike, before they are taught they ways they are expected to be when they are older and in society.
- What did you think of the steps listed out before the passages? Were they helpful or did you not pay attention to them at all?
- What did you think of Mirabella and Jeanette? Why were they important? What about the main character?
- Did the motivations of the characters make sense? Were you able to suspend disbelief for parts where it was needed?