Friday, January 16, 2009
Character Profile of Laura Ingalls Wilder
My interest with Little House began with Michael Landon's show, Little House on the Prairie. In all honesty, the books did not grab my attention until I was out of high school, though I had attempted to read Little House on the Prairie in fifth grade.
As a writer, I am fascinated with the creation of characters; and in this instance, with how TV writers portrayed the life of an historical figure whose life has been the focus of attention for many years.
It is this fascination that led me to create a profile of the TV version of Laura Ingalls Wilder. While I know that many who appreciate and research Laura's real life did not enjoy how far Landon strayed from the original content of Laura's books in creating his show, I still believe that he captured the essence of all that is Laura and the books that told her story.
I share with you today, my profile of Melissa Gilbert's, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I would enjoy your comments.
WARNING!!! CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!
I felt opening up the character discussions with Laura was a good idea. Little House on the Prairie is based upon her books and it really is her story. Her voice is usually the first thing we hear at the beginning of an episode and the last thing we hear as the final scene fades into the credits.
When we first meet Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, she is the freckled, bucked-tooth, red-headed child of Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Along with her Ma, Pa, older sister Mary and baby sister Carrie, Laura leaves the Big Woods of Wisconsin and journeys west.
Even in the Pilot movie we are able to see that Pa and Laura have a special bond. It will be this special bond which makes her more vulnerable to being hurt when Charles’s attention is directed towards his newborn son, Charles Frederick Ingalls (The Lord is My Shepherd). And even from the beginning we see it will be Laura’s constant struggle to show her Pa that she is older than he gives her credit for.
Laura and Ma have a very loving relationship. In the episode Country Girls, we hear Laura’s impassioned speech about all Caroline does for the family. It is Ma who understands Laura's love for Almanzo and who believes that Laura will be able to make Almanzo see her as a woman one day (Back to School). It is Ma who empathizes with Laura when her daughter realizes for the first time that she will no longer be teaching once she gets married (Laura Ingalls Wilder). And in The Last Farewell, Laura admits to her mother that all her life, she wanted to be like Caroline.
Laura spends a lot of her time feeling bossed around by her older sister, Mary. It isn’t bad enough for Laura that Mary is older and gets to tell her what to do, Mary is also a better student and acts the way a proper girl should, while Laura is a tomboy who would prefer to fish or play ball over doing chores. And Mary is a huge source of jealousy for Laura--she has the attention of many boys while Laura has to pretend to like Willie Oleson to get a boy to ask her to a dance (Spring Dance).
When the Ingalls family moves to Walnut Grove, Laura and Mary attend school for the first time. There, Laura meets the girl who will be her rival for many years--Nellie Oleson. The spoiled daughter of Harriet and Nels Oleson, Nellie looks down on Laura because she is a poor country girl. Nellie can be mercilessly cruel to Laura at times. Remember when Nellie had Laura believing that she had been paralyzed after falling off Bunny (Bunny)? Or when Laura took Nellie’s music box and then broke it, which resulted in Nellie and Willie making Laura their slave in exchange for not telling on her (The Music Box)? And who could forget how Nellie tricked Laura into believing that she should study Vocabulary for her final year exam, when she should have been studying History like Miss Wilder told her (Back to School)?
But Laura usually got the better of Nellie in the end and her triumphs made it worth watching her go through some difficult moments.
In Season 5, the Ingalls family moved from Walnut Grove to the city of Winoka. There, they met an orphan named Albert. Laura and Albert hit it off right away and she is happy when Charles invites Albert to return to Walnut Grove with them. There are some growing pains for Laura as she believes perhaps Charles will no longer need her (Fagin). But she still loves her brother Albert. The two become close and devise many schemes--usually against the Olesons.
Once Laura gets married and moves out of the little house on Plum Creek, her relationship with Albert changes. She is not only Albert’s sister, she also becomes his teacher. She is busy taking care of the house and Almanzo, but it doesn’t prevent her from looking out for Albert’s best interest when his schoolwork suffers in the episode Fight Team Fight!
The Ingalls family leaves Walnut Grove and moves to Burr Oak, Iowa. Albert and Charles return to Walnut Grove two more times. It is difficult for Laura to watch her beloved brother battle an addiction to morphine in the episode Home Again. Then Laura is forced to face the impending death of her younger brother in the episode Look Back to Yesterday. It is a sad time for Laura, as she can’t accept the fact that Albert will no longer be with them. The last time we see them together, Laura and Albert, along with the school children, climb the mountain up to the Keepsake Tree and place their blood brothers badges into the time capsule.
Boys always seemed to be a problem for Laura. Like some younger sisters, she would fall in love with boys who ended up liking Mary instead--Johnny Johnson and Seth. Other times, she embarrassed herself while trying to impress a boy, like when she put apples down her dress so she would look more developed and perhaps attract Jimmy Hill (The Rivals). But most of her romantic troubles centered around one man--Almanzo Wilder. From the moment Laura saw Almanzo, she was in love. There were many heartaches for Laura, because Almanzo was much older than she and he saw her only as a young friend. But Laura would not be deterred; she watched while Almanzo dangled young lady after young lady on his arm, carrying her secret with her for two years. It took her first teaching job away from home, to get Almanzo to notice her. Suddenly, she looked older and Almanzo’s feelings rapidly began to change (Sweet Sixteen).
But their courtship was not an easy one. Almanzo could be stubborn and full of pride. Twice, their courtship was ended--once by Almanzo and the second time by Laura giving him back the engagement ring. After many fights and apologies they end up getting married at the blind school in Sleepy Eye.
Married life seemed simple in the beginning. They had their little squabbles and misunderstandings like most couples, but it was Almanzo's illness and stroke that tested their marriage in a way it had never been tested before (Days of Sunshine, Days of Shadow). Almanzo is left paralyzed and becomes so depressed over how things have turned out that he refuses to try and learn to walk again. They decide to sell their house and move to Minneapolis with Eliza Jane. Then a tornado hits the house, leaving it in ruins. In the middle of all this turmoil, Rose Wilder is born, but Almanzo and Laura can’t fully enjoy the birth of their first child because of all the problems they are having. Laura eventually gives up and retreats to bed, which gives Almanzo the motivation to decide to walk again. He builds a new home with the help of Charles, for his family to stay in Walnut Grove.
That would not be the last test of their marriage. In A Child with No Name, the Wilders welcome their son, but the child dies unexpectedly. And they also become the surrogate parents of Jenny Wilder after Almanzo’s older brother Royal dies (Times Are Changing). Rose is kidnapped in the episode Bless All the Dear Children, and while at first Laura doesn’t blame Almanzo, who was watching Rose at the time, when Laura fears they will never find her she does blame him for leaving her unattended.
Through to the very end, Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder is the feisty, red-head that we first met in the Pilot movie. Yes, she has grown into a beautiful woman who is married with children, but she never shies away from speaking her mind. She stands up to Mrs. Oleson, rivals for Almanzo’s affection, and the railroad. She leaves the place she has called home for many years after it has been destroyed, but she does it with her head held high, marching next to her husband, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war.”