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St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: the Role of Culture

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Karen Russell’s short story, “St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised by Wolves,” explores the idea that culture plays a major role in the formation of identity in each individual. Culture is a synthesis of a particular group’s values beliefs and practices. Since each person’s identity is different, there is a possibility that the society of an individual will not be fully accepting. Culture can pass judgment, which will, in turn, cause the individual to question their identity. The person will either use the judgment to form their identity in a different way or stren gthen their self-esteem. Whether negative or positive, a person’s culture influences his or her identity. In the short story, the girls, who were born as werewolves, adapted differently and changed their way of being to fit into their new culture of the human world. As an individual collides with another culture, they may experience cultural shock. However, if one is not adapted to their new culture, they will have difficulties fitting in.

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Culture can pass judgment, which will, in turn, cause the individual to question their identity. Culture plays a vital purpose in the development of one’s identity. Karen Russell takes the idea of the transformation of one culture to another and its impact on individuals. “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” by Karen Russell is a short story based on a group of girls who were born from werewolves and don’t seem to fit into their new culture. The nuns took the wolf girls away from their parents and brought them to St. Lucy’s, where they were to be civilized. The process of being civilized meant that the girls were deprived of their personal and cultural identities and were taught how to act more humanly to get rid of their wolf instincts. As the girls were being civilized in their new society, they experienced cultural shock, which changed their wolf instincts, except Mirabella’s. The girls were trying to change the way they acted but were struggling since they were in a new culture and felt uncomfortable overall. In the short story, it states, “I remember how disorienting it was to look down and see two-square-toed shoes instead of my own four feet…The whole pack was irritated, bewildered, depressed. We were all uncomfortable, and between languages. We had never wanted to run away so badly in our lives” (3). This acknowledges how the pack was trying their best to change to fit in because they were practicing how to act more humanly, but they were experiencing a strong sense of dislocation. This is how the girls felt as they were in the first stage trying to develop into their new culture. The girls felt uncomfortable in their new life and felt as if they wouldn’t be able to adapt because it was the complete opposite of the way they lived in their wolf life.

When people adapt to new cultures, they may feel left out and feel different from others, so they try to fit in by changing their way of being. In “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”, the transformation of appearance and apparel of the pack reveals the idea of fitting in. In the short story, it states, “all the promises we made to be civilized and ladylike, couth and kempt.” This text evidence acknowledges how the girls were notably unkempt and uncouth. At the beginning of the story, the girls weren’t well mannered nor were they neatly kept. This explains how in their wolf life, they weren’t taught how to act with manners and always used their wolf instincts. “We went knuckling along the wooden floor on the calloused pads of our fists, baring row after row of tiny wood-rotted teeth” (1). This acknowledges how the girls are developing into more civilized humans. They no longer walk on the floor using their fists, instead, they began using their two feet while standing up straight. The girls are now more comfortable in the eyes of civilized human beings because they have been learning to be used to human instincts.

When an individual collides with a new culture, some may adapt quicker or slower than others. The sister’s parents wanted them to change to become “normal” and change their wolf instincts. The three girls, Jeanette, who is the oldest in the pack, Claudette, who is the narrator and middle child, and Mirabella, who is the youngest, go through various stages of becoming civilized. Each girl had different reactions to being placed in an unfamiliar environment and retrained. Jeanette easily adapts and becomes the first to assimilate the new way of life. She accepts her education and with few recurrences rejects her previous life. Claudette understands the education she receives but resists fully adapting, and her hatred is becoming apathy as she discreetly accepts her destiny. Mirabella either does not understand or completely ignores her education as she consistently breaks the rules and boundaries set around her, ultimately leading to her expulsion from school. In the short story, it states: “Every Friday, the girls who had learned how to ride a bicycle celebrated by going on chaperoned trips into town” (8). This incorporates the idea of motivation to change because the girls’ hard work would pay off to fit in their new culture. The girls are starting to change the way they act and behave to fit into their new culture and get along with others. They want to be accepted by the human world and don’t want to be judged by how they acted at first, but Mirabella is struggling in developing and the girls don’t lie her at all and don’t want to be with her.

Culture can significantly impact a person’s identity, either in a positive or negative way. Each person has a different reaction to judgments and has different ways of adapting to a new culture. Culture may change a person’s beliefs, values, and practices, but it all depends on how the person adapts to a new culture, or society. The individual may change their way of being to fit in their new culture. For a person colliding into a new culture, they must be ready to face new challenges and experience changes. A person usually experiences cultural shock when transferring into a new culture. They may have difficulties but that’s part of coming into a new culture and getting to know their unique traditions, beliefs, and practices.  

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