If I had to sum up Little Town on the Prairie in one word it would be bittersweet.
The Ingalls family has more money, but they also want a lot more. Mary is off at college, but Carrie is weak after The Long Winter. Even Christmas has lost its usual magic.
Laura is a full-on teenager now, and it’s fun to see her making her way in the world. She gets a job mending shirts in town, attends dances and parties, and starts to interact with boys.
At school Laura’s old nemesis Nellie Olson comes back. Nellie’s father seems to have lost his general store in Plum Creek, and had to take a claim in the country. Laura finally gets her chance to make up for all the mean things Nellie did to her back in Plum Creek.
There’s a new school teacher in town, Miss Wilder, and she’s the prairie’s version of Dolores Umbridge. Nellie is her special pet, of course. Nellie tells her all sorts of things about Laura and her Pa, so of course Miss Wilder takes out her anger on poor, weak Carrie Ingalls. Pretty soon the whole school is in revolt, and the boys in the class find special ways to drive Miss Wilder nuts. Eventually they chase her back to Minnesota. It makes for a fun read.
Almanzo Wilder has some new horses, and Nellie is determined to get a ride on his sleigh. Once Laura hears this she immediately wants Almanzo and his horses for herself. No matter that he’s the brother of the evil Miss Wilder, or that Cap Garland seems like a lot more fun.
I really liked this book until the townspeople started having entertainment in the schoolhouse.
There’s a minstrel show, and of course Pa is in the middle of the whole thing. It just stopped me cold. It’s so hard to deal with this sort of thing in classic books, isn’t it? It’s something I come up against again and again in my re-read of these books, and I’m not sure how to reconcile a beloved series with obvious racism (and sexism in other books).
In the end Laura needs to study a ton to make up for all the fun she’s been having, and there’s no time for entertainment, racist or otherwise. She spends a whole summer studying, and has to memorize America’s entire history. After her perfect recital Mr. Boast helps Laura get her teacher’s certificate and a job in a town twelve miles away. The days of stomping on hay with Pa and picking violets with Carrie are over. In the next, and last, book Laura heads to work.
How do you reconcile classic literature with today’s ideas?
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