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Expect Less, Get More from Laura Ingalls Wilder
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.