“St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”, by Karen Russell is the story of a pack of human girls who were born of werewolves. They are taken from their families in the wilderness and brought to a St. Lucy’s. It was here that they were to be civilized. The process of civilization involved stripping them of their personal and cultural identities and retraining them in a manner that was acceptable to the human world. This is a close analogy to the Residential Schools of Cultural Assimilation for native Americans from 1887 to the early 1950’s.
The story follows three girls- Jeanette, the oldest in the pack, Claudette, the narrator and middle child, and the youngest, Mirabella- as they go through the various stages of becoming civilized people. Each girl is an example of the different reactions to being placed in an unfamiliar environment and retrained. Jeanette adapts quickly, becoming the first in the pack to assimilate to the new way of life. She accepts her education and rejects her previous life with few relapses. Claudette understands the education being presented to her but resists adapting fully, her hatred turning into apathy as she quietly accepts her fate. Mirabella either does not comprehend her education, or fully ignores it, as she continually breaks the rules and boundaries set around her, eventually resulting in her removal from the school.
The Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 brought about the policy of Cultural Assimilation for the Native American peoples. Headed by Richard Henry Pratt, it founded several Residential Schools for the re-education and civilization of Native Americans. Children from various tribes and several reservations were removed from their families with the goal of being taught how to be civilized persons. The whole policy was summed up by Pratt with his phrase “Kill the indian, save the man.”
Pratt’s words are harsh, but they closely mirror the words and policy presented by the nuns of St. Lucy’s in their effort to remove the wolf from the girls. The character of Sister Maria La Guardia calls the girls barbaric (Russell 1074). While Sister Josephine calls them “backwoods.” ( Russell 1074)
The nuns replaced the girls birth names with new, Christian names. (Russell 1075). At one point Claudette is complaining about the things she hates the most about the school and mentions having to “...will our tongues to curl around our false new names.” (Russell 1076) Native American children during the period of cultural assimilation had their tribal names replaced with Christian names, and were often also assigned numbers, dehumanizing them while it removed them from their people. ( Unseen Tears). This literally removes them from the identity of their peoples, forcing them to acknowledge that they are no longer a part of their people each time they communicate with each other and their instructors.
The nuns suppressed the girls native language and forced them to speak english, admonishing or...