Thursday, January 6, 2011

Oh, to be Caroline

In which our Lady relives Life on the Prairie. 

I recently listened to the audio book Little House on the Prairie.  I’m pretty sure I read this as a grade-schooler, but it was a whole new book as an adult.  Here are some thoughts I had as I read:
1.       Wow.  They are really grateful for a teensy house with a rough wood floor.  And apparently window glass is not a necessity, but a luxury.  Lesson in gratitude, anyone?
2.       At the end of the book, Laura sees a “papoose,” begins sobbing, and tells her parents that she wants ‘it’.  Their response is as expected: how ridiculous, that papoose has a mommy and it should stay with her.  And Laura is scolded.  It is obvious that there is a symmetry here in the story, a comparison with the white pioneers taking over Indian territory.  In the beginning of the book I worried that it there wouldn’t be any commentary, or even acknowledgement of these big issues.  I am pleased that there is indeed acknowledgement, but also relieved that the author doesn’t linger on the topic or dredge up guilt.  Instead, she just states how it was and how they dealt with it, letting the commentary exist somewhere in the undefined space between words. 
3.       I was impressed by the incredible obedience Mary and Laura had for their parents.  There is one spot where Charles the father says, “Girls, did you even think about disobeying me?”  Of course they had, and they actually admitted it.  The consequences would have been dire (Indian War, etc…) but I found their amount of respect and deference astonishing.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid act like that—and it’s not like Charles was beating these little girls into submission or anything either.  We may not have Indian raids to worry about today, but I doubt the danger is any less for children today—maybe even worse.  I find myself wondering how to get Eva to understand obedience better.
4.       I spent the first half wishing for a little more feminism on Caroline (the mother’s) behalf.  Her harshest comment to her husband upon him moving her away from her extended family and comfortable home in “the big woods” was, “Oh, Charles…”  Gee whiz Caroline.  Is that all you have to say?
5.       The last half of the book it finally occurred to me that Caroline really loved her husband, Charles, and would do almost anything for him because of that profound love.  Also, it was plain by then that Charles was an excellent husband and father.   My conclusion is that a person will go through a lot for their spouse because their love will lend them strength and drive them on.  I think of my husband Jon and all he’s had to go through in the past months.  None of it was pleasant, but he bowed his head and swam with the current the best he could.  Again, we don’t have Indian raids to worry about, but are the struggles any less real?  What if Caroline had destroyed her husband’s dreams with harsh words?  What if she had decided the sacrifice of staying with him wasn’t worth it?  What good would it have done?  What if Jon had gotten fed up with me when I was on too many medications and a little crazy from brain swelling?  What if he’d decided the sacrifice of living in new (cancerous) territory wasn’t worth it?  So, here’s to all the ‘Caroline’s’ in the world.  Often ignored, but essential to any successful pioneering venture.    


  1. I liked reading your thoughts on this book. I read the whole series and then some (letters from Laura in a book) when I was young. I think you'd really like the book Mrs. Mike. It's more of a young adult book but it's based on the true story of a girl who gets married and moves with her Mounty husband to the wilderness of Canada.

  2. I love this series and read it over and over as a grade schooler. Looking back, I think there was a mutual respect between the parents. Charles pitched in and did things, like helping to care for the children, that were uncharacteristic of the era. Likewise, Caroline pitched in in Little House on the Prairie to help Charles build the cabin. What a wonderful couple! I think their partnership was no different than many of those women today who pack up their lives and leave their families to follow their husbands to Alaska (or in my case, away from Alaska someday ;)). The series really makes me appreciate our modern conveniences and the advances in medicine that have been made (Mary's blindness from illness, when they get Fever'n'Augue, otherwise known as malaria). I love it when Laura's courted by her future husband, and he drives her home every weekend so she can see her family. sigh. Anyways, love your comments!

  3. I have been reading some of the Little House Christmas stories to McK lately, and it made me remember how much I loved these books as a kid. I have been unable to interest the boys in them, but hope McK will be a different story. She has a hand-me-down dress coat that came with a white muff, so she felt a connection when we read the story about Laura getting a fur cape and muff for Christmas. Pretty cool.
    I agree with your comments about Caroline. Her husband was really ahead of his time. I wonder how much easier some of our decisions and changes would be if I were always that supportive of my husband.
    Let me know if you figure out a way to teach Eva to be as obedient as those girls were. I wonder if it's easier to instill obedience in your kids when it often means the difference between life and death? Obedience in our time can be just as important, but the impact of disobedience may not be as blatantly obvious. Certainly it's hard to get that same amount of respect and trust from your kids, particularly when those around them don't demonstrate those qualities in any degree.