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St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: Consequences for Colonization

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In ‘St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,’ Karen Russell utilizes a postcolonial lens to show the consequences of colonization. The story is about girls raised by wolves, who are learning how to conform to a different environment. The readers follow the uncomfortable transformations of Claudette and her pack as they venture into becoming more civilized through a convent called St. Lucy’s Home. Karen Russell uses a postcolonial lens to a great extent through the application of imagery, symbolism, and direct sentences to illustrate the identity crisis the girls experience.

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Firstly, imagery is utilized to convey how colonialism is a dominant, often toxic, force that alters not only the political prospects of the nations concerned but also the identities of colonized people. Through Karen Russell’s use of visual imagery, the readers can experience shared social practices, customs, and values that characterize the girls at St. Lucy’s. For instance, Claudette states, ‘We nosed each other midair, our bodies buckling in kinetic laughter’ (Russell 225). The phrases ‘we nosed each other’ and ‘kinetic laughter’ demonstrate the bond Claudette’s pack had. Their interdependency and protectiveness stem from the influence of their culture as they valued family in their packs. Their wolf instincts fostered spirit, loyalty, and unity. On the contrary, this sisterhood interaction is frowned upon by the nuns at St Lucy’s as it states, ‘The nuns watched us from the corner of the bedroom, their tiny faces pinched with displeasure’ (Russell 225). Through this interaction between the nuns and the werewolves, it illustrates that the girls are the ‘other.’ The ‘other’ being the outcast of society. The nuns’ ‘displeased faces’ convey how they view the girls as dramatically different from and lesser than them, introducing this colonialist ideology of superiority. This ideology is the system of expectations based on the colonizers’ presumption of their supremacy, causing the colonized to look inferior. Through this colonialist beliefs, the girls at St. Lucy experience a culture shock, which leads to feelings of insecurity and isolation. Rather than glorifying the nuns as the saviors, Russell critics their actions, painting them as the oppressors.

Furthermore, the conflict of ‘Man vs. Society’ is proposed within the story through symbolism. Throughout the story, the girls have to neglect their inner wolf instincts and adhere to societal norms in fear of being ostracized. Specifically, Claudette states, ‘Mirabella was in a dark corner, wearing a muzzle’ (Russell 242). Mirabella’s muzzle symbolizes the imprisonment the nuns have imposed on the girls. The nuns confine the girls by forcing them to behave more human, just like how Mirabella is unable to speak because of her muzzle. Mirabella was an innocent victim because she had no protection against a society that did not approve of her uniqueness and spirit. The nuns are silencing the girls’ identities. The muzzle also depicts the girls as wild savages needed to be tamed by someone civilized and superior, the nuns. Another example of symbolism is the statue of St. Lucy. Claudette states, ‘Her marble skin was colder than our mother’s nose, her pupil-less eyes heavenward’ (Russell 227). The statue of St. Lucy symbolizes the aftermath of the consistent imposition of one culture upon another. The nuns want the girls to be like St. Lucy, cold and distant, which causes the girls to lose the sisterhood they once had. It also reveals that the welcomed standards in society seem to alienate people rather than unifying them. In this process, the girls’ morals and appearance are devalued, which results in the loss of their pre-colonial culture.

Lastly, Karen Russell applies short, straight to the point sentences throughout the story to convey the tragedy of mimicry. Mimicry is the practice of the ‘other’ emulating the behavior and lifestyle of the colonizers, in an effort of the colonized obtaining acceptance. An occurrence would be when Mirabella was sent off, all Claudette said was ‘Best wishes!’ in a placard of St. Bolio (Russell 245). Through Claudette’s short and emotionless goodbye to Mirabella, the readers can recognize how withdrawn she has become from her pack. Claudette is willing to conform to the nuns’ orders in fear of being isolated from society like Mirabella was. Her self-awareness and ‘civilized’ role in society possess the potential for tragedy, which the readers can witness in the story’s ending. This tragedy of her identity crisis takes a toll as the social oppression causes her to be emotionally distressed. Ending the story, Claudette says, ‘So.. I’m home’ (Russell 246). Her direct and monotone speech represents her loss of identity from her wolf home. This colonialist system did not destroy Claudette’s wolf culture but had made it confined through the oppression of society. The nuns made it seem like the wolf culture was unpleasant, which made Claudette insecure and devalue her roots. She tries to escape from her old culture to resemble the nuns in hopes of being accepted. Her wolf side signified her psyche and bond with her pack, but she decided to let go of it. Claudette feels as if she does not belong with her family, showing how her mimicry of the nuns has led her to become cold, just like St. Lucy’s statue.

Through the use of imagery, symbolism, and direct sentences, Karen Russell successfully demonstrates how colonialism often leads to tragedy. Tragedy becomes inevitable when people are unable to free themselves from the struggle between who they are and who society wants them to be. Through the use of imagery, the readers can see how oppressive the nuns were towards the girls and their innocence, which paints society as the oppressors. This also transitions into the conflict of Man vs. Society, which can be seen from the use of symbolism throughout the story. Through this conflict, the readers can recognize how torn Claudette was between her old home and St. Lucy’s. However, through her short, direct sentences, the readers can recognize how Claudette slowly loses her pre-colonial culture. By the use of a postcolonial lens, Karen Russell illustrated the loss of one’s identity due to society’s harsh nature. 

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