July 14, 2008

Wilder the typical conservative

An article on the book Little House, Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Impact on American Culture reports what the author learned about Wilder:She found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Wilder's own staunch individualism had informed the tenor of the novels. "Distraught by New Deal policies that created an expanded role for government," Wilder had, in her books, expressly depicted government as "nothing but rules and bureaucracies destructive to the enterprising individual," sometimes manipulating the facts of her youth—on which the books are based—to achieve this effect. The Little House books instead champion the self-reliance, isolationism, and "buoyancy of spirit" Wilder felt had made America great.Debbie Reese summarizes how Wilder's vision applies to Indians:Little House and books like it that inaccurately portray American Indians as savages are formative in another way....They teach that there is such a thing as a savage other who is less than human, who must be dealt with for the security and safety of America. That ideology, well nurtured throughout the formative years, is what makes it possible for Americans to believe that there are savage others elsewhere, like in Iraq.(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 7/7/08.)

Comment:  Wilder's belief in self-reliance is a hypocritical crock. Her family sought a government handout in the form of land. Charles Ingalls didn't want to buy it fair and square; he wanted it free. And he didn't care if someone already owned it.

In short, he was a typical Euro-American. He took what wasn't his while proclaiming his innocence and virtue. And his daughter rewrote history to make him the brave pioneer rather than the shiftless squatter.

I'm not surprised to learn Wilder was a typical conservative. Her beliefs about America's greatness and the Indians' savagery go hand in hand. She shared the Euro-American vision of white Christians dominating the world--of Manifest Destiny. Her family's narrative--trying to claim "free" land on an Indian reservation--was a small but telling example of it.

Demonizing the "other" is a necessary part of this vision. We've done it with Indians, Africans, immigrants, Asians, and Russians. Now we're doing it with Iraqis and other Muslims. We have to fabricate an evil ("The Indians or Iraqis are going to kill us!") to justify our illegal and immoral actions.

For more on the subject, see America's Cultural Mindset.


Anonymous said...

I found this post by looking up "charles ingalls was a shiftless bum." You came in third. I re-read the "Little House" books as a teenager prior to a Girl Scout trip to the Ingalls house in Kansas. I remember how disturbed I was by the tenor of the narrative. Wilder seemed indignant, put-upon even, at the thought of being rightfully evicted from land they had no legal claim to.

No one else on the trip seemed to grasp this aspect. I think most folks just think about the TV show and its fuzzy take on history. My family has been in Oklahoma since The Trail of Tears so I don't have a romantic view of pioneers.

Rob said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Burning Prairie. For more on the subject, see Little House on the Reservation.

P.S. I tried the same search and this posting came up first this time. So we're no. 1 and we try harder. ;-)