Julie of the Wolves – Cultural Studies

Inuit culture
Inuit people are also called “Eskimos” in some places, but this is an offensive term for a lot of Inuit (Gardiner 2007). Many people incorrectly think it originated from an Abenaki term and means eaters of raw meat. Although there is a new speculation by linguists who say the term might have originated from a Montagnais word and means lacing a snowshoe, it still stays undecided where it actually comes from (“Eskimo”).

Place of living:
Inuit communities live in the Arctic areas: in Alaska, but also in parts of Canada and Russia (Gardiner 2007). The area stretches from Chukchi Peninsula to Eastern Greenland. They live mainly in the outer parts on the islands that is in tundra (Kaiser 2006). The tundra is a high-latitude region with only little vegetation according to its frozen subsoil. There are no trees growing there (“Tundra”).
For a large part of the year during winter, some Inuit live in igloos. These are “round houses made from blocks of snow” (Gardiner 2007). When the snow melts, Inuit people build tents that are made of animal skins. Today, however, most people in Inuit communities live in houses made of other materials all the year round. But as there are no trees growing in the Arctic tundra, wood as a construction material has to be imported from other places (Gardiner 2007).

The traditional language spoken in Inuit cultures is Inuktitut. It is still spoken in many areas of the Arctic (Gardiner 2007).

Due to the lack of plants growing in the Arctic tundra, the traditional food of Inuit people was meat, such as from seals, whales and walruses, as well as fish (Gardiner 2007). The Inuit were seminomadic as they followed the animals to hunt but then turned back home for the winter to their settlements. Hunting was part of their culture. They hunted for seals during winter and spring. Their meat served as food to eat and the fat was used as oil for lamps. The hunting of the whales was done by several Inuit men together (Kaiser 2006). These seminomadic hunting traditions have changed with the increasing influence of Western society on Inuit communities. Today Inuit do not only rely solely on hunting but also from imported goods as their population has grown larger (Gardiner 2007).

Clothing and material possessions:
The Inuit people traditionally wore clothing that was made from leather and fur. For example, big hooded coats called ‘parkas’ were worn to keep warm outside. Today still parkas are worn, but they are made from different materials (Gardiner 2007).
The Inuit had only very few material possessions, as they lived a seminomadic lifestyle. Apart from clothes, women possessed whale oil lamps, cooking pots and an ulu, a half moon-sized knife. Men had their rifles, kayaks and dog sleds (Kaiser 2006). Because the Inuit have moved to permanent settlements, they are now also dependent on imported goods, which they often can hardly afford (“Inuit”).

Many traditions today are still the same as in the past. These include traditional storytelling, mythology and dancing (Gardiner 2007). Stories were told by the elders to the younger, in order to teach them lessons and to retain the history (“The Inuit”). The elders were treated with respect, and were honored for their wisdom (Kaiser 2006).
Shamans were seen as the real specialists for Inuit culture (Kaiser 2006). They had the power to assert control over the spirits by communicating with them through dances and charms. Moreover, they performed healing rituals for sick and injured people, in order to pacify the spirits who had got upset (“The Inuit”).

History and Western influence:
Western culture began to influence the Inuit culture at the end of World War II. The invention of airplanes made it possible for people from other cultures to get there and they started to build permanent settlements. In these settlements schools and health care centers were created too. The improving health care lead to population growth. Hence, the Inuit were too many to live from hunting only (Gardiner 2007).

The Arctic
A characteristic of the Arctic is the long polar nights with their famous polar lights. Long, harsh winters and cool summers defrost the ground only on the surface, but there are still enough plants to grow there. Animals that live there are polar bears, caribous, lemmings, wolverines, muskoxen, mountain hares, wolves, seals and whales. Also there are certain birds and fish such as cod, prawns and trout (Kaiser 2006).
The infrastructure is limited. There are only a few roads and railroad lines. Planes and ships are of more importance (Kaiser 2006).

The story’s settings stretch over a large part of Alaska.

Nash Harbor and the seal camp are the place where Miyax grows up with her father.
In Mekoryuk she lives with her aunt and from there she takes the plane to Barrow. The way from Barrow to Point Hope she makes on foot and is roughly 300 miles as the crow flies.


Social behaviour

In the wild wolves usually live in families comparable to human families, that is father, mother and their offspring, mostly six to ten animals (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2018). In Alaska, 20 -30 wolves in a pack are possible, too (Wolfwatcher 2018). They care for each other and make friends (Living with Wolves 2018). This is also explained by Kapugen, who says that “[w]olves are brotherly. […] They love each other, and if you learn to speak to them, they will love you too” (George 78). A wolf couple can also adopt cubs who have lost their own parents. In the novel Miyax is such an adopted “cub”. Usually the parents stay together their whole life. Sometimes one can find a male wolf and two females. As head of the pack they lead the family. Normally only they may mate, which takes place between February and March, and they make sure that no foreign wolf enters the pack (NABU 2018). However, in rare cases a young male, no older than three years, may live for some days or sometimes a year in this pack. When this young male leaves the pack again, he sometimes founds a family with another young female of the pack (Wikipedia 2018). Jello is also such a male which is allowed to stay with Amaroq’s family, though he is killed in the end.
The young wolves are taught hunting strategies and how to behave by the elder ones (Living with Wolves 2018). Kapu, for example, learns everything he needs from Amaroq.


Before the cubs are born the wolves either dig a den themselves or they use an old den which has been abandoned. They can also occupy holes like a hollow tree-trunk or a rock crevice or even just a pit under a conifer. After a gestation period of two months the wolf births 5 – 6 cubs on average (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2018). About one month later the pups are able to eat meat. This means that the pups lick the mouth of an adult wolf, which then regurgitates the meat (Wolfpark 2018). For example, Silver regurgitates some meat for Kapu as soon as he puts his nose into her mouth.
In their first year the cubs are completely dependent on their parents. The juveniles support their parents in raising their younger siblings and keeping an eye on them when the older wolves go hunting. In the novel Jello gets the task of babysitting the young wolves. At the earliest at the age of two, many wolves leave their pack to try to find a partner and their own territory, sometimes hundreds of miles away (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2018).


They defend their territory by howling, scent marking and attacking foreign wolves.
Wolves’ travelling depends on factors like the amount of prey which is available and the season.  When there are cups, the wolves live around the dens. In winter they move much more to different places.  (Kenyon College biology department 2018). So Miyax reflects that the wolves lead a “nomadic winter life” (George 42) and is worried when it comes into her mind that “they often ran fifty miles in a night and slept in different spots each day.” (George 42).


Wolves hunt in groups. In the novel, Amaroq, Silver and Nails hunt together. In Alaska they mainly eat meat like moose and caribou, but sometimes they also feed on smaller animals, for example squirrels, snowshoe hares, beaver, lemmings, birds and salmon. Moreover, they like carrion, fruit and vegetables (Alaska’s Predators: Their Ecology and Conservation 2018).


The wolves’ body language is highly sophisticated. They communicate, for instance, through the expression of their face, their body posture, the position of their tail, or by erecting their hair. For example, a wolf which submits to another one holds his body, ears and tail low. When Jello, who is at the bottom of the rank order, is frightened, he is also described as carrying his “head down and face down” (George 68). As Miyax also knows about their language she puts her hands on her head to imitate ears, thus being able to show for example fear or aggression (Living with Wolves 2018).

Another feature is their tactile language. They mainly use their snouts and their paws for social contact (Living with Wolves 2018). In the novel one can read for example, “[s]he had seen the wolves mouth Amaroq’s chin twice before and so she concluded that it was a ceremony, a sort of ‘Hail to the Chief’”(George 19). But they can also put their paw or their head on another wolf’s body to show their dominance or they even bite the other wolf’s nose (Medienwerkstatt Wissensarten 2018). For example Amaroq “bit[s] the top of [Nail’s] nose” (George 19) and Miyax bits Jello’s nose to show him that she is the boss.

One more means of communication is their howling, for example, to keep the pack together, which can be the case for and after hunting, to locate one another or to warn each other. Besides, they also utter other sounds like growling, whining and barking. Amaroq, for instance “howled the long note to assemble. Silver and Nails barked a brief ‘Coming’” (George 38). Wolves can hear these sounds over many miles (Wolfworlds 2018).

The wolves’ olfaction is extraordinary. This way they can for example recognize the mood of another wolf or that the female is ready to mate or of course smell other animals (Mech and Boitani 2003). The difference between a wolf’s and a human’s olfaction is described when the reader learns that Amaroq smells a herd of caribou, “Amaroq sniffed the wind. Miyax sniffed the wind and smelled nothing” (George 39).

Life expectancy

Wolves in the wild can live up to 13 years. However, many of them do not get older than 2 years. Natural causes of death are injuries, for instance by fighting, starvation or diseases. (PBS 2018). According to statistics, in Alaska about 1,200 wolves are killed every year by being trapped or hunted (Alaska Department of Fish and Game 2018), aerial gunning is allowed as well (Wolfwatcher 2018). The latter method was used to kill Amaroq.