Monday, July 13, 2015

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1941)

I'm so torn about Little Town on the Prairie.  It's got some stuff in it I really hate; it's also got some of my most favorite and most memorable scenes in the whole series.

Some of the most memorable scenes in the whole series are the encounters between Nellie Oleson and Miss Eliza Jane Wilder and Laura.  Vividly burned into my memory is the scene where Laura takes over for Carrie when "thumping" the desk; and "Lazy Lousy Lizy Jane."  I love these scenes.  Laura is never, ever a goody-two shoes (let's be honest, she's probably just as bad as Nellie, just in a different way; the "real" Laura Ingalls Wilder sounds like she was a hellion).  This is what makes Laura such a strong and memorable character.

Understatement:  When Laura and Alamanzo first meet, Laura stammeringly introduces herself, and Almanzo tells her, "I know your father, and I've seen you around town for quite a while... My sister often spoke of you."  Laura changes the subject to her horses AS SHE SHOULD, because Almanzo's sister HATED Laura.  I can't imagine she ever said anything good about her to Almanzo, and Laura (whether she meant to be or not) wasn't so nice to Miss Wilder.  The "real" Laura, if you read anything about her, will admit to having a temper (see, for example, A Little House Sampler at the end of a chapter called "How Laura Got Even").  I imagine she was a good student, but also probably sort of a mean girl (her clique was always the most popular).  I wonder what Eliza Jane Wilder thought of Almanzo marrying her nemesis?    I haven't read Farmer Boy in a while, but I don't think the two got along very well in that book (the real Almanzo sounds pretty easy going; completely opposite from his wife AND daughter).

Okay, that's the part I love the most.  There are far more parts that I hate.

Let's start with the Fourth of July celebration in town when Laura decides that "God is America's king."  I understand what she's trying to write here.  She goes on to write that "Americans won't obey any king on earth.  Americans are free.  That means they have to obey their own consciences.  No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself."  First, American exceptionalism.  Yuck.  There are other countries on earth, and they do some good things and some bad things, just like America does some good things and bad things.  Ask the former slaves in the 1880s if they were still feeling free as Jim Crow set in.  Plus, this fits in nicely with the Wilders' Libertarianism; no bosses them around except themselves, certainly not any sort of government.  Blah blah blah.  I hate this chapter so much.  Laura Ingalls Wilder would fit in well on today's Fox News.

"A grown up person must never let feelings be shown by voice or manner."  So I understand that part of becoming an adult is putting away your emotions; you can't stamp and scream in the middle of a store (although many adults do).  But Laura is talking about a celebration in town, and even then her parents can't express how happy they were.  What dour people they all must have been.  The entire series is about Ma (and Pa) tamping down Laura's emotions.

The blackface scene.  Even though I logically know that Laura Ingalls Wilder was being historically accurate, and that the minstrel show and blackface was a popular form of entertainment in the 1880s, it still (almost) ruins the book.  Maybe it does ruin the book more than almost for me.  I still can't hate the book completely because the deliciously villainous Nellie Oleson.  But there is some bad hoodoo in this book.


Little Town on the Prairie (Little House, #7)Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are scenes from this book that, when I read and re-read them as a long ago fifth grader, burned themselves into my memory to the point that I didn't even realize they were in this particular book in the series.  The entire middle section of the book and the battle between Laura Ingalls on one side and Nellie Oleson (along with Miss Wilder) on the other is quite possibly one of my favorite plots of children's literature.  If you whisper "The Little House books" to me, memories of boys chanting "Lazy Lousy Lizy Jane" will drift up from the far reaches of my brain cells, almost like I was there with them.  I love, love, love that when Laura and Almanzo actually talk for the first time, Almanzo tells her, "I know your father, and I've seen you around town for quite a while... My sister often spoke of you."  Laura changes the subject to her horses AS SHE SHOULD, because Almanzo's sister HATED Laura.  I can't imagine she ever said anything good about her to Almanzo!  There's plenty between the lines there (I wonder how Lazy Lousy Lizy Jane would have liked Laura's portrayal of her; as she died in 1930, not much she could say or do about it).  BUT this book also has some crazy voodoo in it that makes it very distasteful.  The blackface minstrel scene is excruciating; and it includes pictures, which makes it even worse.  This, among all the books in the series, is the most Libertarian in its stance as well (which isn't exactly bad as sly).  The Ingalls must have been a dour group most of the time, as Laura writes at one point:  "A grown up person must never let feelings be shown by voice or manner."  That out-Victorians the Victorians right there.  I wish the book had just been about the constant battles of Laura and Nellie; unfortunately, it wasn't.


View all my reviews



No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive

Followers