Literary Analysis “The Whore’s Child”

There are at times things in a person’s life that they never want to believe, or accept. Many people will look past certain parts of their life with a blank stare, trying to keep reality from settling in. In Richard Russo’s “The Whore’s Child” we come acquainted with an elderly nun, named Sister Ursula, who needs help coming to terms with the fact that she has been living a lie her whole life. Sister Ursula joins a college seminar class focusing on the writing of fictional stories. The teacher, being her neighbor, can’t seem to make her leave the class of which she was not registered, now was she enrolled in the college. The story that Sister Ursula presents to the class is a memoir, seeming at no point to shift towards the assignment of a fictional story. “The Whore’s Child” causes the reader to realize that at times people need assistance in believing things that they wish to shut out. We feel for Sister Ursula and her story, and we too wish she had not been living a lie her whole life.

Richard Russo symbolizes Sister Ursula’s faith by bringing to light her faith in both God and her father. As a young girl Sister Ursula was left at a convent. Having a prostitute as a mother, she was known as “the whore’s child” by not only her peers but by the nuns as well. The others in the convent stated that she had no father, but this was something that Sister Ursula never accepted. Sister Ursula believed that “she did have a father, a tall, handsome father who had promised to rescue her from this place as soon as he could find work.”(8) Sister Ursula always had faith in her father. In many instances Sister Ursula compared her father to Jesus. “Like Jesus, her father was slender and handsome and sad; and unable to find work and married to a woman who was his shame. He was, like Jesus, stuck where he was.” (12) Sister Ursula has much faith that with much prayer her father would return to her, and take her from the dreadful place that he had never wished to place her.

Sister Ursula did not only have faith in her father but she seemed to want to see the good in people. Or at least that was how she was when she was the young girl arriving at that horrid place. Upon arrival, “the shoes she was given were two sizes too small, an accident, Sister Ursula imagined…” (6) She wanted to believe that this was merely an innocent mistake. She wanted to see the good in people, as oppose to expecting the bad. However with time she came to learn that her mistreatment was no mistake. Everyday this young girl was exposed to ridicule and torment from the other children however she never showed retaliation. “She grew accustomed to being referred to as ‘the whore’s child’” (7) in hopes that the children would tire of this name, she concealed the wound that was growing inside of her. To feel love and accepted Sister Ursula would take refuge in the convent chapel; talking with God, praying, to the one person who would love her and listen.

After a few years at the convent she was told to prepare to leave the convent. When hearing of this she thought it was her father coming for her, as he had promised to her. She “often imagined her father’s arrival on horseback, his angry pounding at the main gate, his purposeful stride through the courtyard and into the chapel.” (13) She waited at the main gate as she was ordered, and “awaited her father’s arrival.” (13) However just as every time before, he father did not come to take her away, although she prayed for this every day. Sister Ursula was instead taken to a hospital where she learned her mother had just died. However she felt no sadness, instead she was happy that it was not her father who had passed away. She felt relief that her father was safe.

Throughout the story Sister Ursula’s acceptance and appreciation of feedback from other students is a constant. She listens to what her peers have to say and tries to incorporate their feedback into her story. However when students start to admit to wanting the father to actually appear in the story, it is something she cannot fix. The morning after the second work shop Sister Ursula knocks on the professors door at seven-thirty. “Must he be in the story? Must he return?” (15) However, “he was already in the story.” (16) Although he was not present, he impacted Sister Ursula’s life as if he was. We learn that Sister Ursula never does see her father again. Her prayers and dreams went unanswered and we feel for her, wishing that this father in whom she had so much faith, had come back to her. However Sister Ursula came to terms with the fact that her father never came back for her. She joined the convent and became a nun, becoming a Sister to those who had ridiculed her throughout her childhood. Expressing her memoir to the students in the class she was a way for Sister Ursula to see the lie which she had tried too hard to cut out. She came to the realization that he father was not a man comparable to Jesus. She accepted that her father had been not looking for work so he could come rescue her; he was merely her mother’s pimp.

Sister Ursula’s joining of this class and the writing of this memoir seemed to be the step that she needed to take in order to recognize that she had lived a life she now had to put behind her. She needed to come to terms with the fact that her father was not the amazing man she had had faith in her whole life. She needed the help of the students to enlighten her with the fact that she lived a lie. After completing her memoir she never returned to the class. It seemed that just the writing of the memoir helped her accept the facts of her life. The sharing of her story was something she needed to do, and finally she did so. There are many stories that people don’t want to accept but just like Sister Ursula sometimes one needs the assistance of others in order to come to terms with them. Sharing a story, whether it be writing it down or telling it is a good way to begin to understand things that one wishes to with hold. “The Whore’s Child” proves just this.


Russo, Richard. The Whore's Child. London: Chatto & Windus, 2002. Print.


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