On the Way Home Essay - Critical Context

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Critical Context

To understand the importance of On the Way Home for the young adult reader, one must view it as an extension to the Little House books and examine the additions it makes to “Lauraism.” The reader with no exposure to Wilder’s other works may find the diary lackluster at best. The brevity of the entries, the lack of development of the people mentioned, and the mundane listings of such daily events as weather and time of departure make for dull reading. True aficionados of the Little House books, however, view the Ingalls as intimate friends and clamor for more information about their beloved Laura. It does not matter to them that the book is unpolished and reads like a travelogue when there are actual photographs of Wilder and her family and of the house that Manly built for her in Missouri. To her admirers, the diary is important because it is Wilder’s diary, and Lane’s additions are important because they were written about Laura—not Wilder, but the Laura that they have loved since she was five years old in Little House in the Big Woods (1932).

Interestingly, the curator of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, has stated that visitors to the museum rarely think of the artifacts as belonging to Wilder, the writer. Rather, they come to see Laura’s sewing box, Laura’s comb, and Laura’s white dress. Wilder is known over the world as the author of the Little House books. She has won plaudits, awards, and international acclaim, but for her legions of readers, it is Laura who has won their hearts.