Tag Archives: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little Government in the Big Woods

Illustration By: Katie Kosma

Mary Pilon | Longreads | July 2016 | 8 minutes (2,061 words)


Last May, and much to the disappointment of many “Little House on the Prairie” fans, Melissa Gilbert announced that she would be ending her bid for a congressional seat in Michigan’s 8th district.

Best known for playing Laura in the 1970s television adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s iconic series of books, Gilbert, a Democrat and former president of the Screen Actors Guild cited health problems as her reason from stepping away from the campaign.

But during her short-lived bid for elected office, many Michigan voters and fans of the “Little House” television show and books may not have realized that politics is far from anything new for the franchise. In fact, they’ve been integral since the books’ Depression-era genesis.

Given the wholesome, all-American image of “Little House,” the political history of the books may surprise some readers. Wilder, who was born in 1867 and published the first “Little House” book in 1932, was an impassioned hater of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. In a letter, she once called Roosevelt a “dictator,” and like her journalist and politically-active daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, Wilder also maintained strongly anti-government views. Lane, along with Ayn Rand, is noted as one of the pioneers of the American libertarian movement. Read more…

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.

“Little House in the Present.” — Aimee Levitt, Riverfront Times

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