Thursday, 25 July 2013

BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE – Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1939

This is perhaps the most carefree of Laura’s memoirs. It is when she feels the wind in her hair, before she is faced with a responsibility beyond her years. She is allowed the freedom to ride wild horses across the plains (although Ma is disapproving in the background).
After the disastrous attempt at settling near Plum Creek, the temporary settlement in what will eventually become South Dakota comes as a relief to Laura. The tragedy of Mary’s blindness has now happened, along with Laura’s gradual
understanding of Mary’s true character. Yes, Mary does deal with her affliction with a gentle acceptance which Laura would probably not be able to achieve, but Laura also begins to portray Mary as a more three-dimensional character, rather than as ‘the good girl’ which Laura will never be.

The camp at Silver Lake is to accommodate the railway builders, showing once again how the novels represent the zenith of progress in nineteenth century America. Laura’s Pa works as bookkeeper/ paymaster, a way for the family to get back on their feet while they search for the place to build their homestead. This novel is transitional in many ways: on a personal level, Jack the bulldog has died but Grace, the newest little sister, has been born; on a grander scale, the West has finally been opened up and the railways are the new way to get there.

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