Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.” Thus begins the first of nine books based on the frontier existence of the Ingalls family, fixing the time at 1873 and introducing the main character of the series. The simplicity of presentation fixes Laura’s perspective as the lens for the story, and all facets of the tale remain true to a child’s point of view. Wilder’s use of capital letters heightens Laura’s wonder at her surroundings.
It is fall, and the snug Ingalls home bursts with harvest foods, colorfully cataloged. The themes of family safety and self-reliance emerge as central to this book and to the whole series. Complete but easy-to-understand descriptions of building a smokehouse and slaughtering a pig make it clear that even children knew the basics of preparation for winter. This recitation of essential frontier knowledge became one of the most valuable and interesting aspects of Wilder’s contribution to later understanding of pioneer life.
Small details deepen the sense of the cares and dangers of such a life, as well as Ma’s determination to create some beauty for her family:Ma sat in her rocking chair, sewing by the light of the lamp. The lamp was bright and shiny. There was salt in the bottom of its glass bowl with the kerosene, to keep the kerosene from exploding, and there were bits of red flannel among the salt to make it pretty....
(The entire section is 353 words.)
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For many years the Little House books have been popular with young people. This might seem surprising at first, for especially in Little House in the Big Woods, there are no villains, no major crises, and no important adventures. Illustration by Garth Williams for Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Harper & Row: New York (1953). Nevertheless, there are plenty of good times and enough conflict and suspense to make the book interesting. Young readers also seem to appreciate a novel made up of events that really happened and characters who really existed.
In addition, the novel offers detailed, accurate descriptions of early methods of cheesemaking, butter churning, gun care, maple sugaring, hatmaking, and many other crafts. Some readers have cooked the food and played the games Laura describes. This helps them feel closer to the frontier life of more than one hundred years ago. Some young people like to compare their lives with Laura's; others find that reading the book makes it easier to talk to members of their grandparents' generation. They realize that bygone days can provide many enjoyable stories.
Although the days of her frontier childhood are remote, Wilder describes them so vividly that readers almost feel as if they have been in the Big Woods. She provides many details that make her characters come to life. Laura herself, the book's main character, is vibrant, sometimes naughty, and always an individual;...
(The entire section is 329 words.)