So the Great Depression runs through Little House in the Big Woods like a big three-hearted river.
Perhaps most striking, however, is that the book’s central theme is made most conspicuous not through the events and details described in its pages but by the things that aren’t there.
There’s no Depression in the Big Woods. There’s no sign that the Civil War was less than a decade in the nation’s rearview (aside from one minor character, Uncle George, who ran off to be a drummer boy and came home “wild”). There are no banks. There isn’t even a cash economy: A description of the family’s visit to the store in town depicts a dazzling oasis of consumerism, but Pa pays for the calico and the sugar in trade, with bear and wolf pelts. There’s no government. In fact, a government would seem superfluous. No need for police or courts, because everyone gets along. The Ingallses have everything they need thanks to Pa’s seemingly limitless frontiersman skills and Ma’s “Scottish ingenuity” on the domestic front.