After surviving the long winter, the town of De Smet experiences a building boom and Charles’ experience as a carpenter is in great demand. Still not old enough to teach but desperate to help raise money to send Mary to college for the blind, Laura takes a job sewing shirts consigning this former tomboy to sit still for hours on end engaged in an activity she hates.
The lightness of the seventh book in the series is a nice reprieve following the bleakness of the previous book, and the whole town seems to be celebrating the change in the weather with a series of parties and extravagant spending. (Yes, what we now call business cards were extravagant expenses at 25 cents!) Almanzo also beings courting Laura in this book asking to walk her home after church much to the chagrin of her mother because Laura is, after all, only fifteen and Almanzo is ten years older. I forgot how large the age gap really was, and I can better understand how Laura was so confused about Almanzo’s attention towards her. I would be, too, and I’m far closer in age to him than Laura was.
The racist attitudes of the Ingalls family continue in this book with Ma stating that her daughters will never work in the fields because they are Americans and only foreigners do that. And the blackface minstrel show Charles participates in gave me great pause as an adult reader, but I, for one, am glad neither moment has been removed from the book as I think it is important to remind readers of the truth about American history.
Like the previous novel in the series, this book shows how human the Ingalls are as people. The evil Nellie Olsen returns as a poor country girl, which she used to taunt Laura about being, and Laura has a series of run-ins with the new teacher, Miss Wilder, which she paints as petty actions on the part of Almanzo’s sister. But it is also obvious through Laura’s actions towards her teacher and her glee over Nellie’s change in circumstances that Laura herself can be very petty showing that the Ingalls are not as perfect as people make them out to be. And, thankfully, Mary’s haughtiness and constant good behavior is finally explained as a very human need to show off in this book allowing me to (kind of) let go of my dislike of her.
- Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little Town on the Prairie. New York: Scholastic, 1969. First published 1941. Print. 307 pgs. ISBN: 9780590488112. Source: Purchased.