"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 27
Mary Ingalls' wanting to be clean and neat and ladylike all the time was one thing in Little House in the Big Woods. She takes it to a whole new, frustrating level in Little House on the Prairie. That means that, yes, Shaz, I did want to smack her after I read the following passage. =P
Laura stirred her beads with her finger and watched them sparkle and shine. "These are mine," she said.
Then Mary said, "Carrie can have mine."
Ma waited to hear what Laura would say. Laura didn't want to say anything. She wanted to keep those pretty beads. Her chest felt all hot inside, and she wished with all her might that Mary wouldn't always be such a good little girl. But she couldn't let Mary be better than she was.
So she said, slowly, "Carrie can have mine, too."
"That's my unselfish, good little girls," said Ma.
After the covered wagon, it seems that the second most popular visual motif for this novel is the contrast between the conspicuously blonde Mary and the comfortably brunette Laura. It will be interesting to see how their relationship develops and how it will come to a head (later in the series?) when Laura finds more of her voice around Mary.
The more immediate conflict in this novel is that between the white settlers and the Indians. I've already written some notes down, but since I haven't read further than the Christmas chapter of this book, I will save that big political discussion for the next readalong post.
Chapters 14 to 19
This may surprise you, but my favourite chapter of Little House in the Prairie may just end up being "Fever 'n' Ague"! I'm just fascinated by sick children in literature! ;-P The fact that it's another great "Jack chapter" helps to seal the deal! But its real crowning glory has got to be Ma's rocking-chair.
I'm amused by the line, "[Pa] wasn't able to work, so he could make a rocking-chair for Ma." As if making a rocking-chair isn't work! And perhaps, compared to building a house from scratch and keeping a family warm and fed, it isn't. But like the little china woman--or if you prefer, the ornamental shelf from Little House in the Big Woods--it's big enough to tip the balance.
Then they made a celebration. Ma took off her apron and smoothed her smooth brown hair. She pinned her gold pin in the front of her collar. Mary tied the string of beads around Carrie's neck. Pa and Laura put Mary's pillow on the chair seat, and set Laura's pillow against its back. Over the pillows, Pa spread the quilt from the little bed. Then he took Ma's hand and led her to the chair, and he put Baby Carrie in her arms.
Ma leaned back into the softness. Her thin cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkled with tears, but her smile was beautiful. The chair rocked her gently and she said, "Oh, Charles, I haven't been so comfortable since I don't know when."
It may be, as I pointed out in Meeting 25, that that living through a "worst case scenario" can make formerly difficult conditions suddenly seem like a walk in the park. Or perhaps it was just the more relaxed pace of life during the recovery, when the whole family could just be instead of having to do all the time. Whatever the reason, it was a healing time in more ways than one . . . and the magic of it is perfectly captured in the image of a radiantly happy mother in a rocking-chair.
I'm sure we all love Ma, but what do you think, in general, of the idea that the mother is a family's barometer of comfort and contentment? To me, it seems dangerously close to the implication that "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." And I'm very familiar with the way that expression can be--and indeed, has been--used to portray women as overgrown children.
While it may be true that some women pin their happiness on countless unreasonable demands (like the fisherman's wife in The Fisherman and the Fish), it is also true that there are certain emotional needs that women have that may seem unreasonable (because they are expressed unreasonably?) but are actually legitimate. Ma isn't the type to complain even when she is sick and almost starving, so of course she would never say anything about how emotionally draining moving to the prairie has been for her. But there's a sense in which she has needed that rocking-chair as much as she has needed quinine. And inasmuch as a family's emotional well-being hinges on the mother, all of them have needed that rocking-chair, too. No wonder they made a family celebration out of it!
Speaking of family celebrations, today is Christmas Day! So let's bring Mr. Edwards into the readalong spotlight, too.
When he saw the creek rising, Mr. Edwards said, he had known that Santa Claus could not get across it. ("But you crossed it," Laura said. "Yes," Mr. Edwards replied, "but Santa Claus is too old and fat. He couldn't make it where a long, lean razor-back like me could do so.") And Mr. Edwards reasoned that if Santa Claus couldn't cross the creek, likely he would come no farther south than Independence. Why should he come forty miles across the prairie only to be turned back? Of course he wouldn't do that!
That's just the beginning of a wonderful story about the time Mr. Edwards "meets" Santa Claus and agrees to act as the latter's agent for the Ingalls girls' Christmas morning. (Had you guessed, when Mr. Edwards made his first appearance, that he would turn out to be so cool?) Of course, there's some of the truth in that: Mr. Edwards is arguably a special agent, and he is acting in service of a special Christmas myth. He's just not putting it in flatly literal terms for the girls just yet, for the same reason he would never point out to them that their rag dolls aren't really precious babies, but lifeless bundles of cloth, yarn and stuffing.
I don't think we moderns are living up to the Santa Claus myth very well. For one thing, we outsource it, hiring actors to dress up in red suits and fake white beards at the mall . . . or in the movies! We've forgotten that this tradition is about playing with children--that we're supposed to make up our own stories, dodging (with adult agility!) their innocent questions until they're old enough to figure out what we're doing. Getting someone else to do it--and for money, yet--is like getting someone else to build your house or to make your cheese, also in exchange for money. Yes, you gain a practical benefit . . . but you also lose something, the full cost of which you may not realise until it's too late.
(Read more about Shredded Cheddar's official stand on Santa Claus in Punk Catholic Thought of the Year!)
What are your thoughts on Chapters 14 to 19?
1. Would you agree that the mother's emotional well-being is the single most important factor in the family's emotional well-being?
2. What wonderfully outrageous story about Santa Claus did an adult get you to believe when you were young? Was the storyteller clever enough to weave himself into the story, too?
Remember that if you write a readalong post with your own thoughts on these chapters, I'll be happy to link back to you!
Image Source: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder