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Little House on the Prairie

Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder. Illustrated by Garth Williams.
Series: Puffin Story Books
Edition: 1978 reprint
Published: Harmondsworth
Physical Description: 221p. : ill.
Notes: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) was an American author ‘whose pioneer childhood inspired her popular Little House series of eight children’s novels’ (O’Sullivan 265). This is the second book in the series, which concerns the family’s move from Wisconsin to Kanas, into Indian Territory. The family’s ideas about and encounters with the Native American population form a central narrative focus which is returned to throughout. The narrative affords a more complex perspective on Native Americans and their displacement as the novel progresses, in contrast to the early part of the book which firmly categorises the Native American population as ‘wild’ and ‘savage’ and with little or no rights to the lands they occupy. Though the novel cannot be said to fully support Native American rights, neither does it fully endorse the idea of Manifest Destiny. As Peter Hunt notes, when the family are forced to move on from their home on the prairie, Pa ‘turns his anger onto the government’ and he criticises ‘governmental interference’, which Hunt argues is indicative of the book being written ‘in the context of Roosevelt’s interventionist New Deal policies of the 1930s’ (Hunt 183). The Puffin Story Book series includes all eight of the Little House books, and so continues to demonstrate its dedication to publishing classics of American juvenile literature. The book opens with Pa’s decision to ‘go west’ with the family, to the open, empty, and unsettled prairie: ‘Only Indians lived there’ (8). The expanse of the prairie and the smallness and solitariness of the wagon is reflected in the text, and also in the illustrations which often span across the top of two pages. The abundance of the surrounding countryside is emphasised, as is the family’s self-sufficiency as they create a domestic space in the wilderness. The chapters and their titles document various aspects of the construction of their home. Though the house provides security and comfort, the family’s vulnerability is frequently underlined, as wolves and panthers prowl nearby. Disturbance among Native American tribes is referenced towards the end of the novel, and the Osage chief intervenes to save the white settlers from being murdered. However, even before this intervention, the refrain repeated by a number of characters that ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian’ is challenged by Pa, who empathises with the Native Americans’ situation but who still thinks ‘An Indian ought to have sense enough to know when he was licked’ (190). Female constriction and subservience is a notable feature throughout. Ma and the daughters defer to Pa’s decisions and authority, while Laura’s personal restriction can be read in the recurring image of the constraint of her sunbonnet.
[Ciara Gallagher].
O’Sullivan, Emer. Historical Dictionary of Children’s Literature. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Hunt, Peter. Children’s Literature. Maldon, MA: Blackwell, 2001.
Subject: Gender, Genre, Representations of Nations and Nationalities, Colonialism, Race, Native Americans, Pioneers, Place, Family, Home, Domestic
Language: English
Original price: United Kingdom 55p; Australia $1.75
Library: Church of Ireland College of Education
Collection: Bartlett Puffin Collection - CICE