Karen Russell’s story, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” deals with the idea of conformity and formation of identity. Collision often leads to situations of having to adapt to a new culture. This comes with some sort of needing to change, along with a difficult, and very unpleasant experience, that can be hard to endure in order to form our own new identity. In the short story, the wolf girls are sent away from their home to a church so that they can be civilized and adjust into human culture with the help of nuns there. Through the story Russell mentioned that change doesn’t happen immediately, it happens over a period of time slowly and there are different stages to get through it along with all the many hardships that have no shortcuts. It’s like a path with many obstacles that must be passed in order to finally reach the goal. The collision of cultures can make it hard for an individual to adapt to the new culture. This culture shock leads to a struggle of identity.
Transitioning into a new environment or culture is never easy. Karen Russell uses diction or specific word choices to describe the idea of conformity throughout the story. In the story even after the other girls were in the third stage, Mirabella couldn’t make any changes to herself, she couldn’t talk, stand on her two feet or walk. The author shows that Mirabella is having trouble adapting to human expectations and culture through the following statement, ‘Does Mirabella even know how to say the word walnut? Has she learned to say anything besides a sinful ‘HraaHa!”. Through this statement, it is understood that Mirabella is unable to fit in with the rest of the girls at St. Lucy’s, who were far in front of her in terms of succeeding in changing themselves. For the time being, change can also seem “disorienting” or confusing. There can be times when people don’t know where they actually belong. This is a feeling when they may find themselves somewhere in between the two cultures, not completely fitting into one. With this comes the idea of being afraid of being “ostracized” or getting banished or excluded from a group as well as “shunned” by both culture meaning being rejected and avoided by both cultures, making people wander and unsure of what there identity actually is. “Dislocation” or the state of being out of place is also one of the outcomes of going through the stages of conformity or change to adapt to a new environment.
The nervousness, confusion and doubt caused by being in a foreign place mostly leads to struggle in finding one’s identity. Different internal and external conflicts used in the short story explores the theme of the formation of identity along with social expectations included in it. The girls are forced to erase their originality or true self, but things don’t always go as smoothly as desired. In order to adapt to the change, the girls have to get out of their comfort zone. “‘The time has come to do the Sausalito’, Sister Maria announced…All of a sudden the only thing my body could remember how to do was pump and pump. In a flash of white-hot light, my months at St. Lucy’s had vanished, I was just a terrified animal again.” The speaker Claudette had gone through four stages for changing already and still couldn’t hide some of her wolf instincts. Although she could stand on her own two feet, she could fairly understand and talk in english, and she learned to dance, in that moment she couldn’t step forward and dance because her true inner wolf self was taking over. Although she had turned more humanely in many ways, she still showed she had instincts of her original wolf self making her seem somewhere in between human and wolf culture. There are many societal expectations as an obstacle blocking the girls way from adjusting in the human culture. The nuns forcing the girls to act like humans, teaching them to eat properly is one of the examples. “‘Lick your own wounds’, I said unkindly. It was what nuns had instructed us to say…etiquette was confounding in this country.”, this quote from the story states about how adapting in human society included following different morals and acting in an expected manner by leaving their original instincts and culture. It describes the idea of external conflict through the girls’ fight with society. It explains how they fight for their identity and how the end mostly results in being comfortable interacting with both cultures in case of success in adapting or adjusting.
When two cultures combine, most people often feel uncomfortable being in a new culture and find it hard to adjust to the new environment. They get to a point where they question themselves about where they actually belong. They are left confused between the two cultures making them wonder which one makes their identity and how. The diction and conflicts in “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” are used to deepen the understanding of culture shock and its effect on one’s identity. Over time, people adapt and possibly feel comfortable interacting with both cultures and many even accept both cultures as a part of their identity. This struggle of adapting to a new place along with trying to find out what or who we think we are is getting very common nowadays as people migrate from one city, state or country to another for various reasons. Everyone among these people at some point, after moving somewhere else have these experiences just like the girls in the short story by Karen Russell.