When I started rereading this series (or part of them are rereads, others I had never read) this was certainly the book I thought I would remember best. Turns out, that I did not remember most of it. Somehow, my memories of this series turned into images of landscapes and Laura running and working and thinking and um.. not much else?
I did enjoy this book a lot more than Little House in the Big Woods. I think this book might have been aimed at older readers? The language and the whole story felt less “simple”. But maybe that is all part of the story? Little House in the Big Woods describes a time when life was relatively uncomplicated. There aren’t a lot of struggles mentioned in that book. Only in the end, Laura’s father mentions that the woods are becoming too crowded and that there isn’t any game left, so that they have to move. The stories about the house in the big woods seem to be about family time, working together for each other. There is little to no story besides that. But I think it was a necessary first step, a starting point, to see what held the Ingalls family together through all their travels later on. Because this family time, this working together and making the best of things, and the singing songs when you’re cheerful or to keep courage, are common themes in all the book. They are, so to say, a basis to fall back on.
Now for Little House on the Prairie. I think most of you are familiar with the story. Laura’s family moves to Kansas, or as they call it “Indian Territory”. According to Laura’s father (I have no knowledge of the particular history, so I’m aiming for the safest option here) the US said that this territory was to be settles by Americans, only to revoke that promise at the end of the book. So basically, what happens is that we follow the Ingalls family traveling to this land, settling there, working hard to set up a home, and in the end, leaving that home behind.
There are a lot of things I could say about this book, but there were two things that need to be said. First, there is the “pioneering spirit” of Laura’s father. Don’t get me wrong, I can see that maybe this was the expected attitude of men at the time, but it got to me. Who is this man who just takes his family on a journey to settle in an uncertain territory and lets them face so many dangerous situations? Apparently, this comes with the attitude that father, or husband, knows best. In the book there is a repeated interchange of dialogue along these lines:
“This creek’s pretty high,” Pa said. “But I guess we can make it all right. You can see this is a ford, by the old wheel ruts. What do you say, Caroline?”
“Whatever you say, Charles,” Ma said.
I know, I know, this is how things were like, back then. But that does not mean that the complacency of Caroline, Laura’s mother, didn’t sting me at times. Or that I was often annoyed at Charles complete trust in his own judgement, even if it led to dangerous situations.
Second, and I bet you saw this coming, is the image of the Native Americans in this book. The descriptions of the “Indians” really got to me (I am unsure at this point: Indians is not the right word to use right, Native Americans is seen as “less judgemental”? Terminology is so important, but often very complicated). Where Charles sometimes would defend their lifestyle towards Caroline, when she proclaimed her utter disgust of them, he would never fully approach them as equals. Once again, I know this might have been normal at the time, but it is impossible not to notice. And in Little House on the Prairie especially. Actually, it is the one thing I remember most poignantly about reading the novels in childhood: I liked Laura, I felt for her more than anyone. And I felt sympathy for the Indians. I always thought, looking back, that this must have meant that there were passages in the books that treated Indians with respect, but I admit that in this particular installment, I could not find one. Maybe it was the disrespect that got to me? Rereading this installment in the series as an adult, I think I understand what was going on a little better. However, I am still quite shocked by how explicit the references to “Indians” were. Especially because the books were published in the 1930′s.
Apart from these two things, I did enjoy this installment. More so now that I have read the rest of the stories, it really feels like all the installments are falling into place, forming part of one grant “life story”. There are other themes I would like to explore from this book and the other books in general, but I am saving some for my posts on the later books. I will say, that because there is more of a story apart from the “home setting” of the first book in the series, I started to feel more for the characters in the books. That became especially clear when Jack, their dog, had disappeared when they crossed the river. There was an awful lot of foreshadowing of this happening, but it was effective. Where before I felt almost indifferent to any of the characters, the episode about Jack made me feel.