Thursday, February 28, 2008

Little House on the Prairie Series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Part 2

This week I managed to finish off the rest of the Little House series. My opinion of all the characters changed as I continued along. It's very interesting but I do believe that my favorite character of the series is Carrie -- who I was specifically named for. My mom read this series when she was in 6th grade, liked the name, and decided if she ever had girl she'd name her Carrie. So here I am! And I am VASTLY disappointed, btw, that we don't find out what happens to the rest of the Ingalls family by the last book. SERIOUSLY put out.

By the Shores of Silver Lake is certainly not my favorite. I may not rank it number 9 on my list of likes/dislikes but I didn't really go for the environment that Pa took the family to live in. It was obviously a scary situation for Ma and her girls to be brought out to live with ruffians. You definitely get a feel for Ma's Victorian instincts in the way she reacts to the settlement. It seems that in the later half of this book series Ma is having to work harder to make sure that her girls grow into proper young women out in the wilds of the Dakota territory. I would imagine that just about any woman would be sympathetic to Ma's plight. Her daughters, without her care and guidance, would have been far less genteel. At the same time, she almost comes across as a pussy footer which was annoying.

The Long Winter had to be my favorite book in the later half of the series. You know that the family is going to make it through all the blizzards and harshness of winter -- but you really start to wonder exactly how that was going to happen. Yet survive they did. At this point in the books I'm thinking Ma is incredibly admirable for never complaining. At the same time I almost think its a little overboard to refuse to let children complain - ever. I understand the point but that seems a bit legalistic to me. At any rate, I thought the way that the family pulled together and helped one another out was very inspiring and beautiful to hear about.

Little Town on the Prairie. Hmm. Probably the least memorable for me. Nothing really stands out as being extremely interesting, excepting Nellie Olsen, of course. This is the book in which I really started to like Carrie. Before she just struck me as the spoiled baby but in this book she really grows up and starts to become an equal to Laura. I enjoyed her even though she did not receive as much attention as I would have liked.

These Happy Golden Years made me dislike Mary (for not wanting to come home on vacation that one summer!) and really dislike Ma. Ma just seemed to harp on so much about what it meant to be a lady. It was related in such a way that you would wonder how Laura was really managing life with her. Ma was understood but I think she tried too hard to be too perfect. No one IS perfect and in their striving to be so, their flaws become more evident. Better to be honest and real about things then to pretend All Things are All Right All the Time. That's just not reality and it was almost like she was fighting against it always -- which in a way, she was! The interesting character in this book was Laura's border, Mrs. Brewster. Just when you are thinking that Ma is striving for perfection, enter Mrs. Brewster who gives her husband the what-for for dragging her out west. A most unhappy character indeed. It makes you grateful for Ma's efforts to remark only on the positive and to avoid focusing on the negative. Mrs. Brewster does a lot for keeping the whole picture in perspective! I was as happy to get back to the Ingalls home as Laura was.

The other thing of note in this particular book is, of course, Almanzo and Laura's courtship. She mentions it, talks about it and yet says absolutely nothing whatsoever about their relationship! I was wondering if "proper Victorian custom" is not to say A WORD to the person that you are courting. They just didn't SPEAK! Laura did not seem to ask questions about his whereabouts, actions, beliefs, hopes, dreams, etc. The only inkling you get about her true thoughts on their relationship is in the next book and even that is weird. I don't know if she was what type of legacy she was trying to leave to Rose in these stories but These Happy Golden Years explains positively nothing about her marriage or why she wanted to enter into it.

Despite the peaceful illustration on the cover of this book, it contains nothing of a peaceful scene. It is in this book that you discover Laura did address the issue of Manly's life occupation with him during their courtship. She did not want him to be a farmer. She wanted an easier life than the one that she grew up with. Now, I find this book positively curious. It almost speaks against all of the other works. When she was young she thrived on adventure and working and flitting about. But it as if once she married she really understood the struggles and didn't want a repeat with Manly. Yet repetition is exactly what she got. I did NOT like Almanzo by the end of this book (series). The amount of debt that he brought upon them, etc., was just too much. Their life was hard but. . . . despite all of this Laura did seem happy. Passionate about her marriage? No. Not at all. But content in what she knew? Yes. When Mary questioned Laura over whether or not she really wanted to marry "that Wilder boy" Laura responded, "We seem to belong together." Like something comfortable and known. It doesn't really seem to be anyone's right to question. Somehow it worked.

On the whole I really liked this series. I definitely enjoyed the first half of the Little House series more than the second half.

I ended up liking Pa & Carrie best, Almanzo least and I have to confess that I do not really understand Laura well enough to say whether I liked her or didn't. I liked her young self. Not sure about the elder self. I'll have to think about it.

In the meantime, thanks for your comments on the review of this series (Part I) earlier! I'll be curious to know if you can add anything to the Ingalls history that would summarize things for me nicely.


Anonymous said...

See I've always assumed that the reason more info about their courtship wasn't given was because they were children's books...

Again - the last book has more, I think because Laura didn't get to edit it down like the others... I'm suspecting that the first draft of These Happy Golden Years may have had more in it than what was the final result...

Sky said...

My Dad bought me Little House in the Ozarks when I was ten, it's a collection of articles that she wrote for regional newspapers and magazines. Edited by Stephen W Hines.

This book continues the Wilder saga, gives you a little more insight into the characters involved and also takes you back to a time where many things were changing, from motorcars to women's right to vote. I love how she refers to her husband, theirs was obviously a special and deep understanding of each other!

A Pilgrim said...

What can I say? I'm glad you liked Carrie. =)

Sky's absolutely correct concerning the Little House in the Ozarks. Find that one and read it.

Anonymous said...

This is a great review! Thanks.

I read several of these books last year for the first time since I was younger. My 6-yo has listened to several of the earlier ones on cd, because they have the cd's at the library. The audiobooks are great--I love the expressiveness of the reader.

Anyway, I kinda understand what you mean when you say you don't feel like you know Laura that well. Not long ago, I felt curious enough to read a biography of the real LA Wilder: 'Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder.' I recommend it.

Anonymous said...

I've read all of this series, but it has been a while. I'd love to reread them some day. I do remember The Long Winter seeming so long and wondering if people in this time would have the skills to survive something like that.

I was going to recommend Little House in the Ozarks as well, but I see others have beat me to it. I have only read parts of it, but it does give intriguing insights into their lives together. In one of my favorite entries in it, a classic of male and female miscommunication, Laure tries several times to tell Almanzo that she doesn't like the new improved butter churn and would like him to set up her old one. He keeps saying, "Oh, but this is so much better...." etc. She finally gets so fed up she throws the thing out the window where it breaks up. He says, "Well, if I had only known you didn't want it, I could have used the part for other things."

I love another column where they are lamenting about how busy they are, then reminiscence about the work their parents used to do well into the evening, and realize they've had leisure to read and relax in the evenings and don't have much to complain about after all.

At A Hen's Pace said...

It's been fascinating to read your impressions and everyone's comments on the whole series! I've read it twice in elementary school and halfway through to my own kids--we got bogged down at the beginning of The Long Winter; started Sonlight Read-Alouds too, and never got back to it.

As a kid, I found the later books more boring than the early books--as an adult, I've been eager to re-read the later ones for clues on what their relationship was REALLY like! I remember as a kid wondering WHY they got married?


Mr. Nauton said...

y'know, your Mom could have named you "Half-pint"... I re-read House on the Prarie last year, I'll have to check out a few more (it's only been 35 years!)

Petunia said...

I read this series for the first time 5 years ago and really enjoyed them, except for the last book. It had a feel to it like Laura wasn't very happy. I look forward to rereading the series to the kiddos for school.

Queen of Carrots said...

In later years, after they moved to the Ozarks, they were able to establish a more stable and pleasant life, I think. The Dakotas are just plain hard places to live.

I've found the hardships of *The First Four Years* to be somewhat consoling. They make our first four years look pretty easy! Most of the stuff that happened wasn't anyone's fault--life is just really, really hard sometimes.

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