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Little House series: book vs reality


YPestis
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I remember reading one of the last books "The First Four Years" and thinking it was pretty sad, actually. They suffered quite a bit. Even as a child, I remember thinking that the Ingalls family had a pretty hard time of it for the most part, and while I was perfectly content to play dress-up (one of my favorite Halloween costumes was a pioneer girl dress just like Laura's, complete with sunbonnet my mother made me after I read the books), I remember thinking that I wouldn't have wanted to do all those chores or be hungry. I remember reading the part where Mary goes blind because of her infection and it really scared me.

As an adult, I re-read several of the books, and was sort of shocked by the derogatory way that the books refer to Native Americans. While I recognize that the antipathy is probably pretty authentic for that time period coming from a pioneer perspective, it still shook me and bothered me.

As I recall from a biography, Laura left out the part about her brother because it was such an incredibly painful time for the family that she couldn't bring herself to write it in.

Like so many have expressed, I'm not sure why fundies are so enamored of these. Do they miss the part where Laura directly defies her teacher rocking the desk? Or where she gets a job teaching and lives (gasp) away from home? Or has long, unsupervised sleigh rides with her suitor? Or lives with that crazy family and the butcher knife incident? Or where Mary goes blind due to infection? Good grief.

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The reality is how I always thought about our past. Laura Ingalls led a life of deprivation well into adulthood. Growing up, her family moved multiple times, including once when they fled under the cover of darkness leaving a boatload of debt (tsk tsk Pa Ingalls). It appears that Pa Ingalls also purposely settled (illegally) into Indian Territory, probably hoping that the gov't will eventually force the Indians out giving them the land. That actually upset me as it reminds me of the illegal Jewish settlers who encroach on disputed territory.

I love the LHOTP books, but this has always bothered me. The Ingalls children went through a lot of suffering because their parents had wandering feet. They would have had a lot more comfortable and stable life if they had parked it somewhere.It's not unlike some of the Sparkly World, trailer-living fundies we've snarked on.

There's other things that bother me, mildly. The relations with Indians, the corporal punishment, one part where Pa outright called Laura stupid when she asked a technical question. :shock:(Lady M beat me to it, I expect it from the tiem period, but it does not age well at all.)

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+ 1

+2!!!

I NEED to read this book. I've loved the books since I was a kid.

What stood out for me when I read the books recently was her uncle in little house in the big woods- described him as a bit weird, he was a civil war vet, and I'm reading it and thinking "PTSD".

Now knowing this stuff, i want to read the books again and find these hints of unhappiness you guys are talking about. Very interesting!

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Which book was it where they ran away from debt? And where Pa calls Laura stupid?

I remember being really bothered by the way they spoke about Native Americans and I was about ten then.

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I love the Little House books and have read them all several times since I was a kid. I agree that there are a lot of details that Laura did not gloss over. But I don't think fundies would really care that the family situation was less than ideal. They'd romanticize the hardship thinking it would create Christian martyrs of them, and as for Pa, well, of course he had every right to drag his family all over the place, denying them education, nutrition, and human contact. He's the headship!

What I don't get is how they miss this stuff: Ma did not homeschool. The girls went to school in town. Not only does Laura have a teaching job, which involves her living with strangers for three months, she has several sewing jobs in town. Her courtship with Almanzo was NOT chaperoned in the least. They courted for like three years, they drove all over the place, ALONE, in his buggy, they basically could've been doing anything and nobody cared enough to send one of her sisters along to babysit them. They kissed before they were married. Of course, there is the little exchange where Laura tells Almanzo that she's not a feminist and she doesn't want to vote - which comes right after her telling him that she refuses to say the word 'obey' in her wedding vows. Almanzo responds that he wouldn't expect her to obey him, that he never knew a decent man who actually expected that of his wife, and that it doesn't matter anyway because the minister who's going to marry them doesn't believe in using the word obey!

I could go on like this for ages. I don't romanticize the Little House books. One of the reasons I find them so interesting is because there are views and opinions and actions in them that are difficult to read from a 21st century mindset. But all I can guess is that fundies don't read past the first couple of books, because Laura certainly does not act like a good fundie girl should.

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Thanks for this thread. I never read the Little House books as a kid (don't know why since I was an avid reader) and later on just assumed they were just a bunch of fluff--maybe because of the series. I don't think I'll read them now either but now that I know about the real lives of LIW and RWL, I definitely want to read more about them. Any recommendations would be welcome.

I don't get the fundie fascination with the "good old days" either. They have some great romantic notion of how things were that have no bearing on reality, which I suppose is why they like to play dress-up so much. The way it REALLY was is so much different from the fairy tales of a godly America the fundies have constructed for themselves. Real life was so much more mundane and matter-of-fact than they could ever imagine. I always think of my grandmother, a first-generation American who was born on the Lower East Side in 1910 and lived until just 2 months shy of of 100th birthday. When my daughter was in grade school, she chose Nana as the subject of a history paper. One of the questions the kids had to ask was "What was one of the most life-changing events you can remember." And of all the things that happened during Nana's lifetime--both miraculous and terrible--her answer was "the invention of the electric iron." Because it was her job to do not only her family's ironing but the ironing they took in for extra income. So much of her day involved running back and forth from the stove to the ironing board to keep the iron hot enough to do the job. That one simple thing that we take for granted really WAS life-changing for her. And it's the things like that that the fundies gloss over in their attempts to paint a pretty picture of the old days.

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Love the Little House books - and Laura Ingalls Wilder!

I saw much more in the books as an adult than I did as a kid. In fact, I found The Long Winter too boring to slug through (as a kid) and never read more than 1/3 of it. As an adult, it riveted me - it was scary!

I give LIW something of a pass because she was writing for children and even though it was autobiogrphical in nature, it wasn't pure autobiography. I remember reading somewhere that she and Rose discussed whether or not to include Frederick (wasn't that her brother's name?) and deciding against it because it was too sad for children. I think she also included plenty of scary things and I appreciated the danger. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized just HOW MUCH danger there was - and it makes me wonder if the knife-wielding Mrs. Brewster was the SANITIZED version! I was around 11 or 12 when I read that and it scared me sufficiently.

I didn't know fundies glommed onto the LH books (well, the first one, anyhow) so. I'm not quite as avid a fundie-follower as some.

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Thanks for this thread. I never read the Little House books as a kid (don't know why since I was an avid reader) and later on just assumed they were just a bunch of fluff--maybe because of the series. I don't think I'll read them now either but now that I know about the real lives of LIW and RWL, I definitely want to read more about them. Any recommendations would be welcome.

I would actually recommend reading the books, because they're totally different than the TV series. You can get through all of them pretty fast and it'll give you a good foundation for further research.

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Which book was it where they ran away from debt? And where Pa calls Laura stupid?

I remember being really bothered by the way they spoke about Native Americans and I was about ten then.

I don't own the series so I don't know exactly which book, but it was the one of the later ones where they lived near the town. Laura asked Pa why the people building the railroad had to dynamite paths through the hills. He may not have used the word "Stupid" but talked down to her for asking a the question. Because every other girl who's grown up in the boondocks knows the answer, apparently. :roll:

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+2!!!

I NEED to read this book. I've loved the books since I was a kid.

What stood out for me when I read the books recently was her uncle in little house in the big woods- described him as a bit weird, he was a civil war vet, and I'm reading it and thinking "PTSD".

Now knowing this stuff, i want to read the books again and find these hints of unhappiness you guys are talking about. Very interesting!

Here you go: - "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McLure. She and her partner follow the LIW trail. This is the book that contains the hilarious fundie encounter.

-"My Life as Laura" by Wendy Ferguson. Both of these books are fairly quick reads.

Also "The Ghost in the Little House" by William Holtz. This is a very long, scholarly research of Rose Wilder Lane's life, and influence on LIW's work. It is well documented/footnoted throughout. Excellent bibliography.

Happy Reading!

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I don't own the series so I don't know exactly which book, but it was the one of the later ones where they lived near the town. Laura asked Pa why the people building the railroad had to dynamite paths through the hills. He may not have used the word "Stupid" but talked down to her for asking a the question. Because every other girl who's grown up in the boondocks knows the answer, apparently. :roll:

Thanks.

When I was younger I remember thinking how dull Ma was and how Pa was such a fun parent (corporal punishment aside). As an adult, I really feel for Ma and think she exercised some serious self-restraint. If I was married to Pa I would have lost it.

I remember thinking it was harsh that they yelled at Grace for crying in the Little Town book, after Mary had left for college because they were never allowed to cry. Grace is four in the book!

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Thanks.

When I was younger I remember thinking how dull Ma was and how Pa was such a fun parent (corporal punishment aside). As an adult, I really feel for Ma and think she exercised some serious self-restraint. If I was married to Pa I would have lost it.

I remember thinking it was harsh that they yelled at Grace for crying in the Little Town book, after Mary had left for college because they were never allowed to cry. Grace is four in the book!

I read them as an adult and was really struck by how little proper ingredients and cookng tools she had to work with.

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I always thought that for a series of children's books, the Little House books were pretty blunt about how difficult and occasionally awful life on the frontier could be, and I've reread them repeatedly well into adulthood (the series is on my bookshelf now, in fact). There was Ma almost getting killed by the falling log when they were building their cabin (I think that was Little House On the Prairie), the locust infestation, Pa more or less surviving on the oyster crackers when he got trapped out in the snow in The Long Winter.... While I found the books fascinating as a kid, I never wanted to live in Laura and Mary's world; it always sounded to me as if it was a very difficult, very unforgiving world, the family's early feminist leanings notwithstanding. By contrast, I think Farmer Boy is the book in the series that paints a relatively idyllic picture of life in America during the rush westward (which may be why it's always been my favorite), likely because Almanzo was from a relatively well-off family back East, and even then you had incidents like the Hardscrabble boys coming to break up the school and Almanzo's douchey cousin making fun of him because he didn't have a store bought cap.

I've never quite understood fundies who rail against feminism but embrace the Little House books, because in the world Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about, there was just too much damn work to be done to survive to worry about who was doing it. Being a woman didn't stop Ma from helping build the family cabin when necessary, for instance. But I've seen more fundy families who have banned Little House from their homes precisely for its less than rosy picture of frontier life and its feminist leanings than I have fundies who embrace that particular series, though plenty fetishize the era.

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I read them as an adult and was really struck by how little proper ingredients and cookng tools she had to work with.

Remember Ma's button lamp in The Long Winter? I used to read that one avidly. I was kind of horrified and fantasised at the same time. I don't think the threat of their starving really hit me at the time but I remember finding it exciting.

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It's been 15 years or so since I've read a literary criticism of Laura's (and Rose's) portrayal of life, so I don't remember the name of that book. A huge indicator was how she described feasts and special foods because they stood out in her mind, as someone mentioned upthread. But remember "Farmer Boy" and how she described what seemed to be every meal the Wilder family ate? (as a kid, Farmer Boy was my favorite next to the Big Woods) and the abundance of food they seemed to have.

(and it inspired me to try fried apples 'n onions - and they're delicious!)

edited to make the first sentence make sense

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Some things I remember about visiting the Surveyors house in S Dakota:

1) How TINY the clothes were. Mature Ma was the size of your average 12 year old nowadays.

2) THe sad mention of the baby brother being buried out on the prairie with no marker or even idea of where he was laid to rest.

3) THe "brewster" scandal, of the same family where the woman pulled out a butcher knife, where one brother murdered one with a ham bone.

4) In that first schoolteaching job- where she almost froze to death in a bobsled ride- the utter boredom, pain, desolation, and depression that ruled the life of the prairie wife. Being locked in a shanty with 4 hours of daylight, nothing to read, nothing to do, and a bored, restless child. Oh yeah, its about 20 degrees in the house during the night. Sounds SO charming.

Do the fundies that wax fondly over these books realize they can indeed go out and live this life with their kids? Grab an ax and live out in a hand sewn soddy with nothing but turnips and potatoes and lard to eat for a winter. Then berate yourself for not being joyful of your Biblical role...

Yes, the tiny clothes! We always marvel over them in the surveyer's house. My daughter is 7, and small for her age, and I don't doubt she could wear some of them.

It always just astounds me, living here, that any of the pioneer families actually survived the bad winters. Winters on the Dakota prairies are deadly even NOW when we have furnaces and cars and emergency services and grocery stores. Last year we read the series while tucked in my daughter's bed with the wind howling (and it was an easy winter!) and were so thankful that we were born 100 years later than Laura was.

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In the Long Winter, I remember there being an Indian who comes to warn them that every seven years there is a bad winter and then every 70th year (and I could have this all wrong) there is a really, really bad winter. Does anyone know if she made up that part or if it was a true Native American belief?

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In the Long Winter, I remember there being an Indian who comes to warn them that every seven years there is a bad winter and then every 70th year (and I could have this all wrong) there is a really, really bad winter. Does anyone know if she made up that part or if it was a true Native American belief?

I believe it's accurate - though I think it's that every 7 years is bad, and every 7th 7 years (49 years) it's truly awful.

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I don't own the series so I don't know exactly which book, but it was the one of the later ones where they lived near the town. Laura asked Pa why the people building the railroad had to dynamite paths through the hills. He may not have used the word "Stupid" but talked down to her for asking a the question. Because every other girl who's grown up in the boondocks knows the answer, apparently. :roll:

That exchange is in By the Shores of Silver Lake. Honestly, the way Pa spoke about Native Americans was absolutely standard and acceptable at that time and place. It would have been complete BS if she had sugar coated that.

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The Wilders (Almanzo's mother and father) were serious, prosperous farmers in upstate New York. I think LIW was really delving into the differences between how she and her husband were raised when she wrote Farmer Boy. The Wilders had a lot more food security, and had obviously stayed in one place long enough to accumulate surpluses and possessions beyond the necessities.

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I'm glad that someone mentioned Farmer's Boy. The description of food in that book made my mouth water. However, the book also describes the entire family as only very rarely having time to enjoy themselves. They seem to work all the time. There is also an incident where a teacher is given a bull whip by the father. Apparently, bullies in the one room school house have beaten up and run off nearly every teacher that tried to work there. They even nearly beat a teacher to death.

Almanzo's father and the community don't offer to help the teachers. Instead Almanzo's father provides one of the teachers with a bullwhip that he uses to drive the kids out of the classroom. How the heck did it get to that point anyway? Why didn't the community force those kids to remain home or arrest them?

There is another incident where the Almanzo does something wrong and his father threatens him with a whip. Apparently, it had been used on him before. I wish that I could find my copy of Farmer's Boy because this incident with his dad is never mentioned by anyone. But it shocked me.

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The teacher previous to the one given the bull whip died of his injuries. Kids were beaten and it was considered normal. In farming communities in the 1800s, the teachers come and go, but your neighbors whose help may mean life or death don't, so I see why people did not step up. Doesn't make it any more palatable, but the reality was that life was harsh, and you were expected to either get tough or die.

Good old days my big fat Greek ass. :roll:

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