Friday, 21 June 2013

LITTLE TOWN ON THE PRAIRIE – Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1937

This is listed, officially, as the fourth volume in the series (because of the interjection of Farmer Boy, the tale of Laura’s future husband’s early life) but it is the third episode in Laura’s early life, taking place between 1871 and 1874. It is in some ways the most recognised version of Laura’s adventures. The TV series was based on her experiences at Plum Creek (transposed as Walnut Grove), along with the inclusion of characters from the book such as Nellie Oleson. On TV, the family remained rooted here.The book, though, is the account of just one more step on their journey and is the usual tale of hardship and survival. Disasters are almost a way of life; grasshoppers destroy the crop even before it can be harvested.
After the failed attempt to settle in Kansas, recounted in Little House on the Prairie, the family returned to Pepin, Wisconsin, the scene of the first book. This is, however, omitted from the novels, presumably in order to allow the journey to keep moving forward.
This novel includes, for the first time, the addition of an outside world. The girls go to school and experience a community. Laura deals badly with it; endowed with the wanderlust of her father, she hates to be settled and finds the ways of the town children alien. They are personified by Nellie, who thinks herself above those who live out in the country. Laura, therefore, highlights the joys to be had by sliding down haystacks and paddling in murky pools. Her relationship with her father is also strengthened. He clearly appreciates her free spirit and although he feels obliged to punish her misdemeanours, obviously loves her for her strength of will.
We see Laura in contrast to Mary. Just as one has pink ribbons and the other has blue, we see one ‘good’ girl and one ‘bad’. The technique is employed by Ingalls Wilder throughout the books. It serves to emphasise Laura’s difference.
These are difficult years for the Ingalls. Their sojourn in Minnesota is full of promise but ultimately unsuccessful. Ma hopes for a settled life but with a ruined crop and illness for the whole family around the corner, she will not find it here.
Laura is older now, so her experience is recounted more vividly. The routine is dispensed with and the adventure has begun. Her character shows through and the scene is set. This leaves the reader full of anticipation for the next chapter.

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