Little House Questions (warning: possible heresy inside)

So, I’m 31 and I’ve been reading the “Little House” series for the first time. Is it just me or is Pa a little bit hapless, kind of a ne’er do-well, really?

I mean, just take “By the Banks of Plum Creek.” The family has a perfectly good dugout house but Pa just has to have a Real House for his girls and buys the lumber on credit. Then with the locusts and all, they’re kind of screwed.

In “By the Shores of Silver Lake” he almost doesn’t get his claim because he keeps delaying going to the office (even though several people independently tell him there will be a land rush in the Spring).

In “These Happy Golden Years” Laura bails out Pa with her schoolteaching money after he pays $100 (!) for an organ. Mean while Laura owns, what, 2 decent dresses? (which she pays for by working for the dressmaker).

It doesn’t compare favorably with the portrait of Yankee Thrift you see in “Farmer Boy.” Almonzo’s father made his shingles by hand although he could well afford to buy them. They used maple sugar instead of white. Etc.

Sure he was a nice guy and all, but he made a lot of descisions that were to the detriment of the family. Discuss.

Yes, he was, and there have been previous threads that characterized him in exactly those words.

Even Laura apparently felt that way. When you get to “The First Four Years,” which has a distinctly more adult tone than the other books, you find out that she really, really, really doesn’t want to be a farmer’s wife, based on her experiences growing up.

All I have to say is it has been my lifelong dream to live in a house like the one in On the Banks of Plum Creek.

I don’t agree with the characterization “ne’er-do-well”, because to me it implies someone who just lies around the house all day. Pa worked hard, he just made some rash decisions that turned out to be monumentally stupid. His plans weren’t so much get-rich-quick schemes as work-hard-and-we’ll-be-rich schemes, but they were still not well thought through.

Take that house on Plum Creek. He worked hard at raising the wheat, and he worked hard at building the house. The problem was that he never considered what would happen if the crop failed. (Apparently, neither did the owner of the lumber yard, who must have extended credit based on the prospect of a successful harvest.) I’d add that we know now just how dumb that was; they were in the middle of a period of exceptionally cold winters on the Plains, and many people froze to death in poorly insulated wooden houses while neighbors in dugouts and sod houses survived - but thousands of others made that bad decision.

Once the disastrous consequences of the bad decision became clear, Pa worked his butt off to get his family enough money to live through the winter. (In real life, they had more bad harvests, moved away for a while to find work, and generally had a miserable time of it. There’s a good reason the story suddenly skips two years between Plum Creek and Silver Lake.)

In previous threads some people have criticized Pa’s decision to take the family to Dakota Territory; I actually think this was one of his better decisions. After all, he had a solid offer of a well-paying job, even if a short-term one, and had reason to believe he’d be able to get land that would be better than what he had in Minnesota as well as find carpentry work. And by that time Minnesota must have seemed like the Land of Seven Plagues to the family. Now, why he took his pregnant wife and two small daughters from the safety of Wisconsin, among extended family, to the dangers of Kansas Territory, that bit I don’t understand… (Baby Carrie was actually born in “Indian Territory”. The events in the Big Woods happened, in real life, after those in LHotP.)

I have all these books, and in fact, have just reread Plum Creek. As for building the house when they had a perfectly good dugout, remember, it was Ma who didn’t care much for the idea. She acted at first as though it was beneath them. She did adjust to it, but Pa didn’t build the house because HE thought a dugout sucked.

In These Happy Golden Years (which I’m currently rereading), Laura didn’t “bail him out” after a foolish purchase, Pa asked her if she wanted to contribute her earnings toward buying the organ. The organ was for Mary, who was learning to play it at the blind college–and they wanted her to be able to keep up with it. In fact, when Ma reminds her that her clothes are needing to be replaced, Laura insists that having an organ was better–and she earned money as a dressmaker’s assistant to get yard goods later.

As for having only two good dresses, well, from what I’ve gathered, women didn’t necessarily have closets full of clothes back then. I remember them talking about “best” and “second-best” when it came to their dresses, and having work and school dresses. In fact, when Laura and Ma discuss what clothing she’ll need before she gets married, Laurs lists the two dresses she has and then asks what else she could possibly need. Ma only names two more–a black dress and a wedding dress (of course, she ends up wearing the black gown to get married in). So it wasn’t as if they were going without because of lazy old Pa.

What did bother me some about Pa was that he got restless every time someone moved within two miles of him and then he wanted to pull up and move. That would get old pretty quick. And I felt it was awfully stupid to up and move because he was worried about the soldiers coming (in the book actually titled Little House on the Prairie)–it was only his pride he was concerned with there, I thought.

In Little House on the Prairie, I always thought that they had to leave the house because the government had mandated that white settlers weren’t allowed to occupy the land, and if they didn’t leave by themselves, soldiers were going to make them leave.

I’ve heard that the books are being edited to be PC. Just because I’m feeling nasty I’ll ask, have the books been re-written to make it sound like the government didn’t make this gesture in favor of the Indians, because they think this fact would shatter the general impression that white people were big ol’ meanies? Or did I misunderstand the book?

That is true. Pa left early because he didn’t want to be run off by the soldiers.

I have not heard this news about the editing. I am not sure what approach they are going to take, but you are not wrong in your understanding of what happens in the book. The settlers were being removed because their settling on that land was violating a treaty with the Indians. But, I would bet that if they are going to edit the books to make them more PC, it will be more about the various descriptions of the Indians, and the fact that Laura states that Ma “hated” them, and the way that Pa would say “there are some good Indians.” Just my conjecture. I would hate to see these books changed in any way. They may not seem PC to us, but I think they accurately reflect the attitudes of the time. IMO, there is no sense in sanitizing history.

Well, it wasn’t PERFECTLY good…he decides to move forward with building the house because an ox amost came through the roof onto their heads. And, as Chanteuse points out, is WAS Ma who wanted to live a little more “civilized.” Can’t say I entirely blame her.

Can’t argue with this one.

Also as earlier pointed out, he asked Laura if she would help pay for such a luxury. She does so, because she knows that it would be good for Mary. And, of course, it is true that women on the Prairie did not typically expect to own much in the way of clothes.

Got to say, that farm of the Wilder’s was impressive. But, the family had been there a long time, and upstate NY is much more conducive to successful farming than ND. I heard once that there had been a few wet years in ND, which encouraged people to settle & farm there…not knowing that the land is generally extremely dry and almost impossible to farm. All that’s up there now is cattle ranches…no crops at all. Interestingly, later in life, Almonzo’s sister Eliza Jane recommend a land deal in Louisiana to her parents, they invested everything and lost their shirts.

I agree to a certain extent. I think Pa was something of a romantic, which was constantly at battle with his practical side. He was fiercely independent, as well. Sometimes, these qualities led him to maybe not make the best decisions. Seems to me the family did the best after they settled down permanently in DeSmet. But, you can’t deny that they did OK when you consider the risks they took in moving west.

That was Charles Ingalls’ biggest flaw. He always had the itch to move, and especially to go west.

Rumor has it 'round these parts (I’m six miles from the Walnut Grove as I type this) that Pa also liked his drink and this contributed to his inability to hold a steady job. I have a book at home that delves deeper into the real story of the Ingalls family. It’s been a while since I’ve read it. I’ll try to find it when I get home and will share any interesting details I should happen to find. I don’t remember if the book talks about Pa’s rumored drinking or not.

Interesting. I have read everything I can get my hands on about the Ingalls family, and I have never heard that one.

Yeah, as I said it’s just a local rumor. Probably handed down for generations in this area.

Same here. There’s a biography on LIW entitled Laura (duh) written by Roger Lea McBride, who was Rose Wilder Lane’s [Laura’s daughter] attorney and close friend. I remember him mentioning Pa’s itch to pull up/put down stakes in various places and of the financial hardships his family encountered because of it, but there is no mention of alcoholism or anything like that at any point. If I remember correctly, Ma was portrayed as a teetotler in a few of Laura’s books…I find it difficult to believe that she, of all people, would be married to such for as long as she was.

I tend to side with whoever said that Pa had a “romantic” nature. Part of romanticism, in the greater scheme, is a sense of wanderlust, and that was certainly an integral part of Pa’s personality.

He had itchy feet, for certain. And he was impulsive in many ways. I’d never use the term “ne’er-do-well,” though. To me, that implies “lazy and shiftless,” which Pa certainly was not.

I’ve read most of what there is about the Ingalls, and I’ve never heard the drunk-Pa rumors anywhere but on this board (I believe yellowval has mentioned it before). I’d guess, since the rumors don’t seem to be backed up anywhere, that this a sort of localized urban legend. The actual events didn’t take place so very long ago, after all, that such a thing could be easily covered up. I’ve read many interviews with people who knew the Ingalls, for instance, and never read any such thing.

I tell you, I’ve been reading these again for the first time as an adult, and man do I ever see it differently from when I was a kid! I keep wanting to shake the hell out of Pa! And at least as it’s presented in the book (unreliable, I know) Pa doesn’t know the soldiers are coming to remove them, it’s just a rumor.

It’s funny how you identify so much more with the mother when you read it when you’re a grownup. When Pa decides to leave the cabin in Kansas, you can just about see the despair on that woman’s face! It’s just one horror after another, and when I was little it was all this great adventure!

I could see it happening. Divorce law in the 19th century was definitely more in favor of men than women, and it was nearly impossible for a woman to get a divorce. Men were more likely to retain custody of the children and there were no laws about visitation rights. The judge could decree that the man would have to pay to support his child(ren) and wife, but there was really no way to makep him pay. After that, it was extremely difficult for a woman to make her way in the world on her own and especially not if she had children. Even a bad marriage was more beneficial than no marriage at all. For a semi-autobiographical account of a single mother on her own in the East, try reading Ruth Hall by Fanny Fern (a pseudonym for Sarah Willis.) She ultimately pulls herself out of poverty, but had the advantage of being both an extraordinary woman and of a much higher social class than Ma.

Back on topic, I think Manly infuriates me even more than Pa. Hey, look! A hail storm just flattened our wheat crop! Let’s make ice cream! Oops, wheat crop failed again. And again. And the house burned down. Let’s keep at this farming thing, though it’s been a complete failure and I promised Laura I’d try something else if I didn’t succeed after four years.

Farmers are the most foolishly hopeful practical people you will ever meet.

Well, what do you want Ma to do? She’s got three little girls to take care of, she can’t let them see how upset she is, might as well make ice cream. When she obviously thought her husband had died in that blizzard, and she makes up stories and games and all with the girls, it just breaks my heart to think of how she must have felt.

It has been years since I read the books. I have a few on the bookshelf over there and this thread has inspired me to read them again.

The only thing I remember that really bothered me about Pa was his almost obsessive need to be in the middle of nowhere. The moment he saw another person he was ready to pack up and move again. (Maybe this is just *my *hangup - I really hate moving :slight_smile: )

Sorry, meant to preview not submit.

If Ma was in real life as she is portrayed in the books. Then I am in awe of her. Such a strong woman in every way.

I was always wishing she’d say, “No, Charles, we’re not moving again just because you have the ‘been in the same spot for almost a year’ itch. Suck it up, we’re staying put”. :smiley:

Are you thinking of the book “Laura” by Donald Zochert? I thought MacBride only wrote those fictional book about Rose. Let me know if there’s anotherbook I need to check out.

I love the Zochert book…he really seems to love the subject he is writing about.

It was I who said that about his romantic nature…in Laura’s books and Zochert’s her parents really come off as opposites attracting…Pa with the wanderlust and romanticism, Ma with the sensibleness and down-home practicality.

Me too.

She does say something like this, twice. It’s subtle, but Pa listens to her. (Actually Pa listens to his wife a lot more than most men of the era would have.) First it’s when they move to Minnesota, when she gets Pa to promise they’re staying because the girls can go to school here. She relents on that when living in Minnesota turns out to be an economic disaster for the family, and agrees to the move to Dakota Territory… it turns out, on the condition that this is the last move.