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Feeling Feral

In: English and Literature

Submitted By katiwall
Words 916
Pages 4
Kati Wall
Greenbaum
English 1102
24 September 2014
Feeling Feral Upon reading “St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves” by Karen Russell one might take the story at face value and say that this is simply a fantastic story of young werewolves, but the observant reader might find themselves begging the question “Are these young girls, or are they young wolves?”. The answer lies in a reader’s perception. In the story we meet a group of sisters whose parents are werewolves. The girls behave as wild animals initially, like biting, digging, growling, barking, scratching, flea bitten wolves! They come to live with nuns and begin the process of learning to behave like socially acceptable young women. To this reader it seems that the question is not “girls or wolves”, but “What is it that Karen Russell wants a reader to feel when they are immersed in this story?” I am of the opinion that the wolves are metaphoric, and that there is a deeper message being conveyed. When reading this story we are supposed to feel the sensation of being dropped into a strange culture: overwhelming otherness, fear, desperation, and isolation. Think back to what your life was like as a child. Imagine being taken from your family, friends, home, and everything you have ever known and sent to another country with an entirely different culture, (Think India, Russia, China, etc…) I think you would feel similarly to Claudette and her sisters. Near the beginning of the story, in stage 2, Claudette’s thoughts tell us a lot about what this might be like, “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…As soon as we realized that someone higher up the food chain was watching us, we wanted only to be pleasing in their sight” (Russell 240). This screams of the desperation they felt to fit in and to overcome the culture that the nuns view as animalistic and strange. A person doesn’t have to be a werewolf to have their culture viewed in this manner. There are tribes in Africa where the women elongate their necks with metal rings, and others where men insert discs into their bottom lips to stretch them. In certain Amazonian tribes, a boy becomes a man when he licks a red hot stick, or sticks his arm into a bed of ants with hallucinogenic venom. To the western world, these are archaic practices, but to the tribes that perform these rituals, it is a normal facet of their culture. As baffled as an American might be by these tribal practices, the nuns were equally baffled by the girls “wolf like” mannerisms. ““Ay carumba,” Sister Maria de la Guardia sighed. “Que Barbaridad” She made the Sign Of The Cross…”The girls at our facility are backwoods” Sister Josephine whispered” (Russell 238). The nuns see these girls as barbarians, much like we might look at the commonplace practices of other cultures. Karen Russell’s choice to use wolves to illustrate this idea of culture shock was something that I have pondered quite extensively. There is much conjecture amongst cryptozoology enthusiasts about the origin of werewolf mythology. It has been theorized that the mythology developed around a feral child who was actually raised by wolves. One can’t help but consider the possibility that Karen Russell is versed in these legends, and perhaps based her metaphor on this idea. It is an interesting idea to consider that these children could be feral, and that their parents could be wolves, or adults who grew up as feral children. This thought goes back to the “wolves or girls?” question I posed earlier. Given the nature of the narration, (from Claudette’s perspective) it is impossible to know for certain if the girls are truly werewolves, or if they are feral children who perceive themselves to be wolves. This then blurs the lines of the stories genre, is it a fantasy tale about werewolves? Or, is in in fact the memoir of a feral child? Claudette describes her first day at St. Lucy’s as a frantic investigation of all that the home possessed, “We tore the through the austere rooms, overturning dresser drawers, pawing through the neat piles of the Stage 3 girls’ starched underwear, smashing light bulbs with our bare fists. Things felt less foreign in the dark” (Russell 238). The behavior exhibited here and throughout the story, certainly lends credence to the possibility that these children were simply feral children. Yet, it also still fits in with the idea that the girls are in fact wolves. Either way, you still are left with the overwhelming feeling of culture shock that permeates the entire story. In the end, Claudette manages to graduate from the St. Lucy’s program and goes home to visit her parents. The last line of the story is “”So,” I said, telling my first human lie.”I’m home”” (Russell 248). This line alone tells us that Claudette no longer feels comfortable in her old culture, and leaves you to wonder if she feels comfortable in her new one. It is likely that she will never feel completely “wolf” or completely “girl”, as I’m sure is the case in real life instances of cultural transplantation. This author does a wonderful job of showing the reader what it might feel like to be in a new culture, and leaves you somewhat bewildered with much to think about.

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