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"Indians in the house": Revisiting American Indians in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books

Abstract:
Laura Ingalls Wilder's eight-novel Little House series, published between 1932 and 1943, is among the most acclaimed and controversial examples of modern children's literature. The narrative tells the true story of Wilder's pioneer childhood in the 1870s and 80s, including her family's encounters with American Indians. Recently some scholars have argued that Wilder's depiction of American Indians is derogatory, but examining Wilder's literary devices and contextualizing the story in the eras in which it occurred and was written about reveals a more complex portrayal of Native themes. Biographical information about Wilder suggests that she deliberately crafted her story as she recorded it; such changes afforded opportunities to emphasize her political values and critique mythology associated with America's frontier era. Analyzing the narrative in the context of frontier Kansas, and more specifically as women's frontier literature, reveals the literary uniqueness of the Little House story and highlights fallacies inherent in the premise of Manifest Destiny. As Wilder recorded her memories with the help of her well-known libertarian daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, during the Depression they often emphasized their anti-New Deal politics and cautioned readers about the dangers of buying into "big government" policies. The Little House story also reflects trends of the Golden Age of children's literature which demonstrated respect for children by removing didactic lessons from the literature; thus the Little House texts present the controversial subject of America's frontier history in a manner that allows children to draw their own conclusions about it. Finally, two television versions of the Little House story present didactic, positive lessons about American Indians on the frontier, but diminish the possibility for multiple interpretations of the events inherent in Wilder's original story. In a non-fiction article in The Missouri Ruralist in 1920, Wilder reminded her neighbors that home is "the best place for teaching many things, first and most important of which is how to think for one's self." Wilder's texts offer opportunities for discussing the complex topics associated with frontier history and encourage young readers to think critically about Native issues in the texts--opportunities seldom found in mainstream American storybooks and curriculum.

Author: 

Amy Fatzinger

Chair: 

Luci Tapahonso

Publication: 

dissertation

Year: 

2008

Arizona State Museum: 

P9791 F37i

Proquest: 

ATT 3304436

UA Library: 

E9791 2008
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences