Saturday, May 17, 2008

Little House on the Prairie

Now that Frances (who played at her first coffeehouse at Hungry Monk last night and was absolutely adorable) is 7 and more tolerant of longer stories with fewer pictures at bedtime, Brian and I have started to read to her books we loved as children. Brian read to her The Book of Three (thereby passing along yet another geeky joy to our child--fantasy) and for the past couple of weeks I have been reading Little House on the Prairie.

I remember loving this book, remember happily reading through all the books in the series and watching the show after school on TBS. What I didn't remember was how horribly racist the book is. It seemed like every other page had some character saying, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" or bitching about the government moving settlers out of Indian territory. And Pa Ingalls's desire to live as far off the grid as possible (they end up on the prairie after Pa moves the family out of the little cabin in the big woods because the big woods was getting too crowded--they saw a wagon pass by everyday) verged on the pathological. It was all very disappointing and sad.

Frances loved the book, though, even if she did think the Ingalls were wrong to build their cabin on land that belonged to someone else.

1 comment:

ThatDeborahGirl said...

Ah, the Little House conundrum. We're not alone. I also remember going through the same thing over Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

The first Little House book I read was "These Happy Golden Years" when I was in junior high. Not long after the tv show started showing in syndication right when I got home from school and I quickly went back and read the other books.

I considered the books "the real thing" and the tv show just for fun. Michael Landon got so far off base by the time they adopted Albert it wasn't barely fun anymore.

Recently, I discovered this essay which made me really question just how blinded I had been by the books.

People always get around to talking about the racists overtones of the books and, please forgive me, white folks always start with the Indians, but the sting of that "darky minstrel show" hit me even in junior high.

Laura disapproves Ma's racism of the Indians and she makes this clear. However she also makes clear that the "darky" show was hilarious entertainment and her biggest concern was never the portrayal of "darkies" but where the heck Pa was the whole time and that he was missing the fun.

At any rate, despite the underlying bigotry, I as a black woman, enjoy this series a lot and re-read it from time to time and introduced my daughter to the books, carefully explaining what she was reading and answer the inevitable question about the "darkies" that I knew was going to come.

Still, I can't help but be satisfied greatly by what she said in her patent letter to fans:

The "Little House" Books are stories of long ago. Today our way of living and our schools are much different; so many things have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.

I especially felt this after reading "The Long Winter". My how the cover of that book showing children throwing snowballs is misleading!