Little House on the Prairie

by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Describe the development of the main character (Laura) over the course of the plot, including her response to challenges and changes in her environment in Little House on the Prairie.

As Little House on the Prairie begins, Laura is only five years old, but she quickly develops in several ways. She shows courage, particularly in her encounters with wolves and other wild animals. She gains empathy for the Indians with whom she shares this new environment, asking why anyone would come to the Indians' country if they do not like Indians. Finally, she becomes more tactful in dealing with adults, as when her mother and Mrs. Scott discuss a massacre.

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Laura is only five years old as Little House on the Prairie begins, and she is placed in an unfamiliar situation, surrounded by potential dangers. Although her development is uneven, she does show growth in at least three areas: courage, empathy, and tact.

Laura has to learn to cope with the dangerous animals around her. In chapter 3, she is terrified by something she thinks is a wolf but which turns out to be a single, much smaller animal, a lynx or coyote. In chapter 7, however, when a pack of wolves really does approach the house, Laura is initially frightened, but her reaction is already much calmer:

Terrible howls curled all around inside the house, and Laura rose out of bed. She wanted to go to Pa, but she knew better than to bother him now. He turned his head and saw her standing in her nightgown.

“Want to see them, Laura?” he asked, softly. Laura couldn’t say anything, but she nodded, and padded across the ground to him. He stood his gun against the wall and lifted her up to the window hole.

She has to display similar fortitude when a panther threatens the family in chapter 20.

Laura soon develops empathy for the Indians with whom they share the territory. She immediately realizes that the Indian man who killed the panther did so in order to protect his family. Many of the adults around Laura regard the Indians only as an enemy. Mr. Scott says that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Laura, however, quickly adopts a more reasonable approach to their neighbors, even arguing with her mother on this point:

“Why don’t you like Indians, Ma?” Laura asked, and she caught a drip of molasses with her tongue.

“I just don’t like them; and don’t lick your fingers, Laura,” said Ma.

“This is Indian country, isn’t it?” Laura said. “What did we come to their country for, if you don’t like them?”

Finally, Laura learns to be tactful and consider the feelings of others. At the beginning of the book, she blurts out every question that enters her head. By chapter 17, however, when Mrs. Scott and her mother are discussing the Minnesota massacre and suddenly stop, Laura immediately realizes that this is something they do not want to discuss in front of children and waits until Mrs. Scott has departed before asking what a massacre is.

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