Saturday, August 4, 2018

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1941

"Sheep sorrel tastes like springtime," Laura said. 
"It really tastes a little like lemon flavoring, Laura," Mary gently corrected her. 

Heart Convictions

Now that the Long Winter was over, the Ingalls family returned to their claim. Little Town on the Prairie opens with Mary and Laura going for a walk, having a profound conversation about convictions of the heart.

Laura explained that she always saw Mary as very good and wanted to be like her; and Mary revealed that she was not good at all:
I do try, but if you could see how rebellious and mean I feel sometimes, if you could see what I really am, inside, you wouldn't want to be like me. 
I know why you wanted to slap me. It was because I was showing off. I was showing off to myself, what a good little girl I was, and being vain and proud, and I deserved to be slapped for it. 
Laura could not believe it, but Mary continued:
We are all desperately wicked and inclined to do evil as the sparks fly upwards. But that doesn't matter. I mean I don't believe we ought to think so much about ourselves, about whether we are bad or good. I don't know how to say what I mean very well. But -- it isn't so much thinking, as -- as just knowing. Just being sure of the goodness of God.
Laura thought about the goodness of God, and she realized that "Mary must be sure of it in some special way." Then Mary recited Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd..."

I am glad that Laura included this message in her story, whether it took place or not, or in that way. In fact, throughout her stories, she talks about her own heart convictions, and they are very honest; every child and adult, if he or she is honest with him or herself, will identify with these revelations.

Laura's Burden; Mary's Blindness

Laura was burdened about becoming a schoolteacher to help pay for Mary's college; she did not want to teach school, but she did want Mary to be able to go to college for the blind. When she pondered her burden and Mary's blindness, she resigned herself to teach school. At least, she still had her eyesight.
[Laura] saw the hoe, and the colors of the earth, and all the leafy little lights and shadows of the pea vines. She had only to glance up, and she saw miles of blowing grasses, the far blue skyline, the birds flying, Ellen and the calves on the green slope, and the different blues of the sky, the snowy piles of huge summer clouds. She had so much, and Mary saw only darkness.
Being Free and Independent

This is my absolute favorite part. (I listened to Cherry Jones' narration on audio, and she does a superb job reading this.) Pa took Laura and Carrie into town to celebrate the Fourth of July. A man led a rousing and patriotic speech to the crowd, including the reading of the Declaration of Independence -- the entire thing -- including all the offenses of the king. That is how essential it was to the folks of 1882. Being FREE AND INDEPENDENT, which is repeated again and again throughout the Little House books, is magnificently recognized, thoroughly encouraged, and carefully treasured. It is a major responsibility to keep and protect forever. It is nothing to be ashamed of.

Laura the Troublemaker

Mary finally went off to college, in Iowa, which was a sad time for them all; but they did not and would not dwell on their emotions. Laura and Carrie went to school, as well, and so began the adventures with Miss Wilder, Laura's future sister-in-law. (I always wonder how that turned out later, if they had to face each other. Awkward.)

Laura, the author, reintroduced her rival, Nellie Olsen, into the story. Nellie attended the same school as Laura, who was still holding a grudge against Nellie for calling Mary and her country girls back on Plum Creek. This came back to sting Laura when Nellie developed a superficial relationship with Miss Wilder.

Miss Wilder unfairly treated Laura and Carrie, and Laura defiantly protected Carrie, causing them to be sent home from school. Pa and Ma expected it to "blow over," and it did, although the chaos at school increased. Even Nellie encouraged the continued disrespect of Miss Wilder.

Eventually, the school board visited the school, and Miss Wilder blamed all of the disruptions on Laura. Back at home, Pa and Ma helped Laura evaluate what really happened. Apparently, when Laura, in her attempt to seek revenge on Nellie, referred to her family as "country folks," this made Nellie angry; and Laura admitted she desired to make her mad. But Ma asked Laura how she could be "so unforgiving." Pa explained that Nellie "twisted what Laura said and told it to Miss Wilder, and that's made all this trouble."

Gosh darn, Laura! You are such a troublemaker.

The whole time Laura was focused on her public appearance, not her wicked heart. She behaved and was careful to be good and obedient; however, inside she hated Miss Wilder (and Nellie), and she wanted to seek revenge.
Outside, she was shinning clean with good behavior, but she made not the least effort to be truly good inside.
It was only later that she thought of the Bible verses that speak about "the cup and platter that were clean only on the outside."

That's when Ma asked to write in Laura's new autograph book:

If wisdom's ways you wisely seek, 
Five things observe with care, 
To whom you speak, 
Of whom you speak, 
And how, and when, and where. 

The Budding Town

The budding town was growing and there was a need for social events. There were literaries, which were weekly gatherings for fun and entertainment -- kind of like watching America's Got Talent once a week. They included a spelling bee, charades, music and singing, a wax works display, and finally (what would be deemed utterly racist today), men in black face. There was also a delicious New England Supper. And of course there was always church.

Pa and Ma did not care for Rev. Brown., and neither did Laura. She did not care for his fire-and-brimstone, pulpit-pounding sermons, and she said she "amused herself...by changing his sentences in her mind, to improve their grammar." Once there was a revival meeting, and listening to Rev. Brown, 
for one horrible instant Laura imagined that [he] was the Devil.
The revival meeting description reminds me of the salvation/baptism scene in There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel Day Lewis. Imagine Rev. Brown here:




Laura Proves Herself 

Finally, the students had their own public exhibition, demonstrating their scholarly knowledge. Laura had one of the heaviest roles, reciting pages and pages of history. Because of her superb presentation, Mr. Brewster, homesteader from a neighboring area and school board member, approached her. He was looking for a teacher, and when he heard Laura at the exhibition, he knew she was the schoolteacher his school needed. 

And so, Laura's burden of becoming a schoolteacher had arrived. 

Stay tuned.

2 comments:

  1. It's such a great story. The whole book is full of the type of lesson learned not through text books but personal experience, such as Miss Wilder's whole experience teaching school in De Smet. But Laura certainly majored in both types of lessons. The part about Reverend Brown's preaching style struck me the same way, especially when Pa quietly said, 'Let's go,' during that loud altar call. Such a shame they weren't able to acquire Rev Alden as the district minister, although that wouldn't have occurred to me as a kid. Nor would those parts you mention which now jump out at us as racist and not politically correct by 21st century standards. Looking forward to These Happy Golden Years.

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    1. I think if I read these books as a kid, I would have missed so much. I was not a thorough reader, for sure.

      That would have been wonderful if Rev. Alden were able to be their pastor.

      Yes, looking forward to HGY. : )

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