Thursday, June 25, 2015

Let's Discuss Little House

Hannah of So Obsessed With & I have teamed up to bring you Looking Back at Little House, a three-day celebration of our love for the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yesterday, we talked about our experiences and expectations of the series. Today, we're going to be sharing our overall reaction to the series after our reread, as well as sharing our series favorites! Don't forget to check out Hannah's post too.


The Re-read

I cannot tell y'all how much I fell in love with the Little House series all over again during my reread. Because the writing style is meant for the consumption of younger readers, I basically read the entirety of it in three days - and it was one of the best series binge experiences I've ever had. Laura's story is fiction rooted in fact, and it's presented in a way that's readable, entertaining and thoughtful. I was swept up in the narration of her life, from her days as a very little girl in Wisconsin to her late teen years in South Dakota. It's a completely diverting adventure, with plenty of unexpected twists and dramatic turns, and it's so easy to fall in love with this charming series.

I might have felt the same giddy eagerness of my childhood to consume Laura's story, but I also looked at her story and the people in it with new eyes. I noticed so many things - the strengths and weaknesses of each member of the Ingalls family (save Carrie and Grace, who we learn very little about) and Almanzo Wilder, the descriptions of delicious-sounding food, the simplicity of their lives (and the way it made me long for that), the prejudices, the ingrained societal roles and both the hardships and blessings of the pioneer and farmer life. It's disconcerting, almost as if a veil has been lifted from my eyes; but I accept the fact that this series is definitely from an individual perspective, and thus is biased in its own right. It presents me with new knowledge of that part of American history, which I can fully appreciate now, and I liked that too.

I will say that I had forgotten that The Long Winter and The First Four Years were really heavy reads, considering the depressing, difficult circumstances that plagued Laura and company. But they're still necessary chapters in their story, and I like that readers are shown that life during that time was often harder than we could ever have imagined. It made the joys of the other novels (particularly Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years) just that much sweeter, if you ask me!

The Reaction

Was there anything that stood out to you as an adult that you missed as a child?

As an adult, I realized that Laura and her family didn't just experience the joys of adventure and pioneering. They also had to go through so much hardship, and the presence of that in this series is so very important in making it even more realistic. I felt their suffering as keenly as their joy, perhaps because I've been through more joy and suffering of my own.

I was also very aware of how simple their lives were. Both the Ingalls and the Wilders led pretty straightforward lives, where everyone in the family has a role, all things that come their way (food or clothing or household item) are used to their maximum potential, and certain beliefs hold true from generation to generation. It was fascinating to me to juxtapose that simplicity with the complexity of our modern society.

How did you feel about the portrayal of historical details and events?

It was fascinating to read the portrayal of pioneer life, especially as it progresses from the simplicity of the Big Woods to the hustle and bustle of the town on the prairie. These novels captured the spirit of that time, as well as the lifestyle and culture, in a way that felt truly authentic. It inspired me to be even more curious about pioneers and their lives, if I'm being honest. While I'm sure some of the details are skewed by Laura's personal bias, they seem pretty true for the most part.

What’s the most memorable moment of the series for you?

The moment I always remember, even up until now, is the moment when Almanzo Wilder goes to pick up Laura from the Brewster home. It's bitterly cold in the winter, and it's far from the town, but he goes and gets her anyway. I just feel like this is a big turning point for these two, and it's always stayed with me.

What character trait best represents this series?

Steadfast. That's the first word that comes to mind when I think about the Little House series. The dictionary definition for it is "resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering", and synonyms include loyal, committed, reliable and true. This is basically a description I can use for just about all of the main players in this tale, but most particularly for Laura herself.

What did you notice about roles within the family and within society?

There's a very clear delineation between the responsibilities of the men and the women. It is the "proper" way of things for the women to be focused on activities like cooking, sewing, teaching and keeping house. While they must help with chores if there's no other way, generally, the farming and working to earn a living is done by the men of the family. The men, in general, appear to have more of a say in things than the women do, as evidenced by the school board members and town meetings. It's old-fashioned, but it's also something that is still true in certain communities today.

What would be the hardest aspect of living the way they did?

It'd be very difficult to have nature dictate my lifestyle and societal status. That feels entirely too much like leaving things up to chance, and as evidenced in some of these novels, it often results in dire circumstances or difficult times for the family. It would also be hard to be experiencing extremes like hunger or cold, and very confining to be restricted to certain activities just because I'm a girl.

If you moved as often as the Ingalls family, what would you choose to bring with you?

In the books, Ma carries a china shepherdess all the way from the woods to the prairie. I'd probably bring something similar, and consider it my way of marking wherever I moved to as my new home. If I could, I'd bring a book (given!) and some pen and paper (given!) and perhaps a quilt (preferably one that's personalized to me, whether in pattern or material).

What lessons did you learn from reading Laura’s life story?

There are quite a few things I've learned from this series. But here are three of the most important:

1. Life will bring both joy and sorrow. What matters is your response to your circumstances.
2. Your family will shape who you are later on in life, and that's a bond that will never alter.
3. Sometimes, it's best to say yes when opportunity presents itself.

If you wrote a book based on your life, how would it compare to Laura’s story?

Well, I'd have less adventure and travel in mine, since I only go to new places on vacations. But I'd definitely have some of the same pivotal moments that Laura had as she was growing up, including both the moments that showcase the worst of me and the moments that showcase the best of me. It'd be a different perspective, for sure, but I'd like it to have the same inviting, fact-borderline-fiction feel that would charm a reader.

Would you read these books again - on your own or with future children?

Oh, for sure! I'd love for my children to share my fascination with the life story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and it'd be a fun way to teach them about a period of history that was so long ago. It'd be nice to read it with them, to explain certain moments and remarks. But I'd also reread this one on my own, particularly These Happy Golden Years, which is my favorite!

The Recap

Favorite book: These Happy Golden Years. This book was given this title for a reason, you know. Plus, who doesn't want to swoon over a slow-burn, lovely romance?

Favorite illustration: I adore this illustration of Laura and her sisters! It's probably because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, seeing as I have sisters of my own.

Favorite quote: "You never know what will happen next, nor where you'll be tomorrow, when you are traveling in a covered wagon." (Little House on the Prairie)

Favorite place they live: It's a toss-up between De Smet and Plum Creek, and Plum Creek wins by a very slim margin. I've always been partial to the thought of living near a creek, and the house they live in there is pretty unique too. 

Favorite character: Laura is, without a doubt, my favorite character. She's got a good heart, a fierce independent streak and an intelligent mind. I admired her spunk as a child and her selflessness as an adult, and love that she chronicled her adventures. If we're speaking of secondary characters, however, I have a soft spot for Mr. Edwards, their neighbor when they first live on the prairie.

Favorite animal: I harbor much affection for Jack, their faithful watchdog. But I absolutely love the horses - Prince, Lady, Barnum and Skip. I love horses, and Laura and Almanzo do too. In fact, that's actually what brings them together.

Favorite food: Where do I even begin with this one? There were SO many delicious treats mentioned in this one, but I think I'm partial to maple sugar cakes. They just sound so delicious and sweet and lovely, and I would like to make some of my own. 

Favorite chore: Does babysitting count as a chore? Because if so, I'll take that. But if not, I think I'd like to do any of the cooking (even though in real life, I am not skilled at all in the kitchen). The books make it sound so fascinating, and I feel like, in that era, I would have been brought up knowing how to cook. However, if we didn't take into consideration the duties of men and women at that time, I would have liked to be in charge of breaking the colts.

Favorite craft/activity: Singing school! I'm not a singer in real life, though I do love a good karaoke session. But the idea of a singing school is utterly charming, and it sounds like something I would do in real life if I were given the opportunity in my own little community.

Favorite moments:
  • Scary moment: Honestly, there are quite a few scary moments! But I'll share two here: Laura nearly drowning in the creek, and Pa getting caught in a blizzard for three days. Two of my favorite characters facing life-threatening circumstances? That's definitely scary.
  • Sweet moment: One of the sweetest moments, in my opinion, is when Almanzo and Laura go home to their first house for the first time. Almanzo has put so much thought into crafting a beautiful home for them to share, and I loved his attention to detail. Plus, I also love that he was thoughtful enough to already set out a few of her things to make it feel more like home.
  • Silly moment: For some reason that I can't explain, the first moment that comes to mind is when Laura and Mary play Mad Dog with Pa. It's just such a simple, silly game, but I imagine it would be so much fun for two little girls (and me).
  • Surprising moment: There are good surprises and there are not-so-good surprises. When it comes to good surprises, Mr. Edwards arriving with Christmas presents from Santa is my favorite. When it comes to bad surprises, it's the grasshoppers. And blackbirds. And fires.
  • Sad moment: I think it's terribly sad to learn that Mary goes blind, particularly because she loves learning and wanted to be a teacher. It's also sad when both Mary and Laura leave home, even though both have excellent reasons. It's just because I've gotten so used to having the family all together that I felt their absence from the family home so keenly, in different ways.
  • Sassy moment: I just adore the moment when Laura tricks Nellie Oleson at Plum Creek. It's naughty and obviously, I wouldn't necessarily encourage that sort of behavior. But it's just so fitting with Laura's personality, and a perfect example of her impulse and sass. Plus, it serves Nellie right anyway because she was so mean!

2 comments:

  1. These books were EVERYTHING to me when I was growing up. I still have my original boxed set. I remember being so horrified by all of the misfortune that Laura and Manny encountered in The First Four Years. I can't wait to read them with my kids!

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  2. Laura and Almanzo together are everything - I totally swooned over that moment in the house (with the pantry shelves separated for her) where she gets to see all the little touches that he put together for her. SO CUTE.


    I think I would feel similar to you on the racial prejudice and gender roles - Laura was always pretty independent, but even when I first read the books, I remember being hugely frustrated by the fact that once they get to the new house, she changes into her housework dress and Almanzo says to her, "All ready for work, I see?" and he meant her just being in the kitchen. Grr.

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