Thursday, November 8, 2012

Little House, Long Shadow Book Discussion

I've been reading Little House, Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Impact on American Culture for the last few weeks. It's taking me a while because I am reviewing other books for different blogs, and because the chapters are long.

I've written up chapter reviews of this book and started a discussion at one of the online forums I belong to. I thought it would be interesting to add these reviews here. I hope you'll chime in with your thoughts.

Chapter 1 - Growing Up in Little Houses

In the Introduction, we learn that author Anita Clair Fellman grew up with the Little House books and read them to her children. At some point, however, she discovered that Rose Wilder Lane was not only a libertarian, but also collaborated with her mother on the books. Instantly, she wonders if some of Rose's ideas made it into those books. As she ponders this, Ronald Reagan is elected president, and she is struck by the "individualist, antigovernment nature of his rhetoric." She was impressed by how Americans responded to it. It also made her wonder why such antistate ideas resonated for them, which makes her wonder if the books' appeal has something to do with the vision Reagan was talking about. Could children's books, "by virtue of their content, emotional appeal, ubiquitousness, and iconic status in the culture" help explain a shift in political assumptions by the populace?

There are several more pages to the Introduction, but most of them have to do with how the author approached her research: viewing the Wilder and Lane papers at the Herbert Hoover Museum, looking at books by authors like Ayn Rand, sales of the Little House books, autobiographical and biographical sources, etc.

Chapter One spans a great deal of time. It talks not only about Laura and Rose growing up in their little houses, but also about Caroline and Charles, Mary, and how Laura found herself acting as the older sister once Mary went blind. It mentions Carrie, Grace and Freddie, but only in that they were members of the family and that Mary went to live with Carrie after Ma's death. It talks about the somewhat tense relationship between Laura and Ma, and how Laura was not exactly the "good" daughter. It also discusses how Laura wrote for the Missouri Ruralist and with Rose's help broke into the national market. It spends time talking about Laura and Rose's relationship: that Laura always saw her as a child--no matter how old she got, how Rose helped shape her mother as a writer, Rose's feeling that she must take care of her elderly parents and provide for them, etc.

This chapter ends in 1926, with Lane leaving the farm and traveling to Albania, now that she felt her parents were secure enough. It also mentions that in 1925, Laura was performing research for her autobiography or some form of historical fiction.

My thoughts:

This author isn't the first one to mention some type of political agenda. What we tend to forget as we look upon past events is that people are products of their time. Independence and self-reliance were necessary for Laura and her family. It took a lot of courage for any person--male or female, married or single--to move West into a territory they knew little about that was filled with dangers of all kinds. Some authors have claimed Caroline was a racist because she didn't like Indians. The fact of the matter is that Indians were a real danger to white settlers. Charles was squatting on Indian territory in Kansas. If I were Caroline I would be chewing my fingernails off with worry. Kansas was already a hot bed of problems without the treaty issues.


Michael Cremin said...

I am just starting to read this book. It seems to have been well researched. Some of the reviews I've read say the author is a bit of a Lefty (which isn't a huge surprise). History is, by its very nature, a product of the historian's biases and points of view, so we'll see where this author takes me.

You have a really cool website! We (my wife and I) are currently watching the first season of Little House with our daughters (ages 4 and 7) as well as reading the books.

Take care,
Reading, MA

Cheryl said...

Thanks for your comments. I've been enjoying the book, though it's easy to come to certain conclusions in a modern world instead of seeing events through the eyes LIW.

I hope your girls enjoy LHOP.