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Expect Less, Get More from Laura Ingalls Wilder

Updated on July 29, 2017

Laura Ingalls Wilder was, and still is a favorite author to many folks, young and old. I still enjoy reading her books, trying to put myself in her world. Loving history, I find Wilder's stories capture a piece of American history, giving it life for better comprehension.

Some may dismiss her works as meant only for children, but she described her life, the way it was lived, and the mindset of a segment of the American population in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wilder was a published author of farm practices and household engineering long before she wrote her Little House books.

Sadly, the television series of those books often became a social platform of the late 20th century, making Wilder's little world an oasis of social justice and thought, largely unknown to the real characters of her very real life. Perhaps Michael Landon despaired of his world and sought to make Wilder's a refuge from the anxieties of the time or just sought good entertaining copy to make a buck. But, though it highlighted again a remarkable woman it gave generations of those who never cracked her books a skewed impression of the people and events she portrayed.

All was not rosy. Charles Ingalls participated in a minstrel show, blackening his face & joining others in a farce of African Americans. Caroline Ingalls hated Native Americans, and could not see the sense of their grievances. Her brother, and the Ingalls family themselves, attempted to settle on designated Indian territories and were indignant when forced to leave. Wilder was expected to behave in a retiring manner, allowing Nellie Olson to be cruel to her and sitting by waiting for Almanzo Wilder to make all the advances in their relationship.

Women were not supposed to show emotion, being expected to bosom feelings which doubtless played havoc on the physical and mental health of many. Wilder's expressive and creative abilities were locked away until she discovered the joys of writing.

Yet these, and other example readers may discover, should not dissuade people from reading and enjoying Wilder's works. Rather, use them as learning tools. They are gauges to help show what social and political gaps are closing and which are yet wide open. They were the only world Wilder and her characters knew. Love her or hate her, she was a product of a world reeling from the American Civil War, "Manifest Destiny", "White Man's Burden", a growing "Wild West" mythology, and an America on the cusp of becoming a major world player.

Closer reading of her works reveals an incredible mind that could imagine actually feeling the world turn under her feet as she beheld the changing colors of a new day (Rose Wilder Lane A Place In The Country). Read between the lines to discern the things she was trained from childhood to withhold. Seek out her practical household and farm items from the Missouri Ruralist and read about her experiences when she moved to Missouri (On the Way Home) or her trip to San Francisco to see and write about the Pan-Pacific International Exposition (West From Home). Discover how this courageous woman dealt with the tragic loss of a child, crop failures, inescapable debt and losing her home to fire, overcoming them to emerge even stronger, more humane, and deeper (The First Four Years). Wilder was not overcome. She overcame. She won. She thrived! This was the mother of Rose Wilder Lane, author, traveler and adventurer. It is easy to see how Lane's mother was a major influence in her daughter's successes.

Expect nothing from Laura Ingalls Wilder but what she freely gave. Read her writings a little more deeply and find the bounty she shared. Don't expect her to give you what she could not. Treasure her for what she could.


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    • RobinReenters profile image

      Robin Carretti 3 days ago from Hightstown

      We all need to use something as a learning tool even if it's from our old school time goes by but our age get more wisdom to live more divinely I love history things were so much better then in the Twenties and Forties now everything is warfare and aging no one seems to care

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      S Maree 3 months ago from North/Central Indiana

      Hello Kari! I almost forgot I wrote this, preferring to read the works of others than to forge something of my own.

      Might you be from a country other than the U.S.? I know Ann was. If you are, it may be no wonder you are unfamiliar with Wilder's works.

      Laura Ingalls Wilder was a born in the middle 1860's in Wisconsin, which was a wilderness at the time. Her father was a hunter, her mother a thrifty Congregationalist of Scottish heritage. They were ideal parents in the developing frontiers of America.

      Laura wrote of her pioneering childhood in a series known as "The Little House" books. Starting with "Little House in the Big Woods", she wrote of her experiences in an easy, engaging style that captured the hearts of a nation.

      America was settling down. Children of pioneers were helping establish the communities and industries that would form our 20th century country. The mistakes of the Dust Bowl & Great Depression were embryonic in Wilder's childhood, but by careful reading one is able to determine the things that eventually became very wrong.

      These things of course are not part of the narrative, so as to not make the books unfit for children, but those into history see the signs clearly.

      That is what makes the books appealing to all ages. Wilder started out writing for "The Missouri Ruralist", an agricultural magazine, in the early 20th century. Her articles initially gave farm women something to enjoy. Her works contained homilies, hints, and cooking tips. They then broadened into perspectives and practical advice that helped bring farming women into the modern age. For example:

      Wilder and her husband, tired of the hodge-podge American farm kitchen, used practical and even scientific ideas to turn theirs into a precursor of the modern kitchen. They pioneered built-in cabinetry, an innovation that revolutionized modern domestic architecture, from materials largely obtained from their own land. This was shared with her readers, as well as many other practical and labor-saving innovations.

      Their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, became an acclaimed writer while LIW was still a local entity. Through Lane's efforts, LIW began to write her "Little House" series, eventually making her a national sensation. She earned many awards and even international recognition.

      Sadly, but a bit gladly, her books were turned into the smash TV series "Little House of the Prairie", starring Michael Landon as Pa, Melissa Gilbert as Laura, and others.

      While in my own opinion the series started well by closely following the books, they eventually veered into a fantasy that completely ignored them, distorting for generations of Americans the real LIW. While they brought her works back to national focus, they skewed history and did a good woman's works a great deal of damage.

      I encourage you to read the "Little House" books, starting from the beginning. I also encourage exploring her other works, including the ones mentioned in the article.

      Of course, LIW's pioneering experiences were just a facet in the story of America, but they gave that facet clarity, fire, depth, and (in my opinion), brilliance.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 3 months ago from Ohio

      I have never read Laura Ingalls Wilder. After reading this I think I should. Thanks. :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 6 months ago from SW England

      Interesting article. I confess I've never heard of this author but the subjects sound worthy of a read.

      Thanks for bringing it to our attention.