Updated: Feb 16
So I finally got round to reading and finishing ‘Little House on the Prairie’ [LHOTP] recently after missing out on it in childhood. Arguably the most iconic, and well-known, title in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series, based on her own experiences ‘as a young girl travelling for over a decade with her family’, I found this children’s tale to actually be pretty relevant and applicable to our everyday ‘adult’ life.
Now I will quickly say here that the point of these Tuesday Book Blogs is not really to give summaries of books, but more my own thoughts and reflections on what I have read - developed from my initial thoughts after reading, drawing upon prior contextual knowledge alongside a little research to support my views. If you haven’t read the book(s) I discuss and want a synopsis, I will post any relevant ‘further reading’ links at the end of the blog post (and do so here too, so scroll to the bottom if you’re after a brief outline of the plot).
So yes, whilst I had some ideas about characters and tropes (please see photo at the end of this post), the main thing I kept returning to whilst reading was how much I enjoyed the character of ‘Pa’ – as in Laura’s father, not a ‘Personal Assistant’ like my clickbait-y title suggests (sorry, we’re all trying to make it so I will use annoying and infuriating clickbait on The hmrwrites Blog). Whilst the story is written in third person, it is predominantly told through Laura’s eyes and experiences - for example, we only know her parents as the affectionate ‘Pa’ and ‘Ma’; we meet and see them how Laura sees them, and it is important to remember this when reflecting on and making assumptions about Wilder’s story (so please know that my opinions are with this in mind, although I am aware this is a children’s story and this ultimately makes the tale more accessible and relatable for younger readers).
Ok, so my initial notes were made purely on the basis of LHOTP first being published in 1935, and from my own reading of the characters:
- Mary and Laura represent 1930s ideals/restrictions, interwar years, country recovering from Great Depression (1929) which leads into...
- Pa=represents the idyll, 1930s, future
Ma=represents the Depression, fear/hardships, the past
My research brought nothing up about these historical events and time periods having any relevance on the story, but for my own conclusions and allusions, I have chosen to draw upon these contextual possibilities as a way of aiding my reading (even though the actual story is set in the late 19th century, before these events occurred, it was written and published during this time period).
All throughout the story, Laura’s perspective is particularly evident when a dichotomy between the parents becomes inherently clear; often the two are seen to contradict each other, with Pa being the ‘positive’ to Ma’s ‘negative’. For instance, after Pa successfully installs a door-and-latch-system after a string of successful developments to their house, he says to Ma, ‘I never did see a place with so much sunshine, but I suppose it’s bound to rain sometime’, to which Ma counters him in her reply with, ‘Good weather never lasts for ever on this earth’. Even in their physical activities, they act as binary opposites; Pa is the one going out hunting, engaging in physical labour and working on the house, whilst Ma is the one staying in doing chores, remaining close to their children and never leaving their land (although, this could lend itself more to gendered stereotypes, rather than the outgoing vs reserved and rule-abiding nature prevalent in the couple’s personalities).
And then, arguably, this contrast between the pair also traverses over to their daughters, with the self-contained Mary more often aligned with Ma, whilst Laura’s curiosity and desire to explore lends itself to Pa’s nature, as well as his learned ease with their landscape. However again, it is necessary to remember that we are seeing the couple through Laura’s five-year-old perspective, and there is no doubt that Pa and Ma come across as devoted to and supportive of each other at various times (we only need look at Ma’s worry over Pa’s trips to ‘Independence’, and her sheer relief and joy when he returns). As children, it is natural and common to ‘lean towards’ or have a better relationship/closer bond with one parent over the other, even when the love for them is undisputedly equal. This is clear of Laura after the ‘wolf incident’, where a pack encircle the family’s house, as she expresses her parents ‘seemed so far away outside’ as she has been put to bed with Mary and Carrie inside. We all have good and bad traits, but through Laura’s exaggerations, Ma is epitomised as the ‘bad’, whereas Pa is viewed as the ‘good’, seen as doing no wrong. This may lend itself to the famous ‘pioneering spirit’ Wilder deliberately makes Pa embody, it may be a genuine reflection of the characters or may (most likely I feel) be bias of Laura’s opinion as there seems to be better bonds between Pa and Laura and between Ma and Mary.
Ultimately, I just love Pa’s caring nature and the comfort this brings when reading Wilder’s tale: I always feel like Pa will ‘save the day’ and find a solution in the face of the hardships the family are forced into and have to bear. There are many times throughout LHOTP that show Pa’s selflessness and pure intentions - how he helps Mr. Edwards with his house, as well as his kindness towards the Indians and seeing them not as a separate or lower people, but the same as himself in particular come to mind. Pa is also such a support for his wife and daughters; the description of him taking Mary and Laura to the Indian camp, following their tracks and giving considered explanations of what he reads in them and the fire exhibits a kindness that underpins Pa. Particularly in the interactions with his family as he sings, Pa is devoted time and time again: ‘so woeful my love/at the parting with you’. This consistency also links to his determined hopefulness in otherwise bleak circumstances, again the contradiction to Ma’s doubts and fears. After learning they have to move on from the Prairie before being forced out, Pa gently but firmly shuts down Ma’s fears and doubts: ‘What’s a year amount to? We have all the time we need’, when talking of how they will move on and rebuild their lives, and that nothing has been wasted at their time living on the prairie.
I actually think the ending is particularly gorgeous: ‘Pa’s voice went with her[Laura], singing…Daily and nightly I’ll wander with thee’. This last song is somewhat luxurious for the reader as we become almost enshrouded in all the comfortingly gooey and lovey-dovey feelings we can relate to in a strong bond - experienced in any good familial, romantic or friendly relationship. These last words also show how Pa will remain a constant for Laura in her life; he will always be with her, demonstrating the true devotion of a parent motivated purely by love.
Whilst all the characters are consistent, which can be attributed to the nature of this being a children’s story, Pa is arguably the most consistent and provides the continuity and reliance the family (and the reader to an extent) so desperately need in their otherwise turbulent life of travelling and having to deal with what is thrown at them. No description is more apt than the brazen masculinity Pa displays when Laura talks of her father chopping wood, exclaiming in awe how his axe ‘always struck exactly where [he] wanted it too’.
I think Wilder - among other topics of familial love and a close and vital father/daughter bond – preaches through the character of Pa the basic moral need for selflessness, facing adversity and always finding a way through difficult circumstances. Pa represents a clear set of principles somewhat engrained into his generation – largely due to the situations and environments they had to endure, but also due to their upbringing without such a reliance on convenience as we have in our society today. Whilst I’m not suggesting we should all start building our houses with sticks and mud, or drive native peoples out of their own territory (a WHOLE other underlying story within Wilder’s novel that I have purposely chosen not to discuss as I feel I do not know enough to talk about it in any way – but please educate me in the comments!), I feel her story is testament to how, being in the fortunate place as most of us are in privilege, we should try to find a happy medium; take the good, practical and empathetical qualities in Pa and help others instinctively.
By changing our nature from ‘doing good deeds’ to serve some impure motives born from selfishness and bettering ourselves, to helping others with the motive of wanting to and bettering them actually in turn (and subconsciously) betters ourselves. We become kinder, more tolerant and have a wider range of experiences to draw from when approaching any new challenges we have to face in our lives.
We could all be a bit more Pa and work with what we have, as well as working with other people in collaboration, instead of working against each other in competition.
Until next time, H.M.
References and Further Reading:
- All quotes taken from ‘Little House On The Prairie’, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Edition 2012, Egmont UK Limited, ISBN 978 1 4052 6414)
- Summary of 'Little House On The Prairie', https://batten-2nd-grade-gate.weebly.com/uploads/5/4/9/4/5494193/littlehouseontheprairiesummary.pdf
- Enotes' 'Little House On The Prairie' Critical Analysis, https://www.enotes.com/topics/little-house-prairie/critical-essays
- The Controversy of 'Little House On The Prairie', https://www.npr.org/2018/06/25/623184440/little-house-on-the-controversy-laura-ingalls-wilders-name-removed-from-book-awa?t=1580124861882
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