Little House on the Prairie

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The Work

Little House on the Prairie is one of a series of books that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her own experiences as a child growing up on the Kansas prairie in the late nineteenth century. The family settles there in 1870 and proceeds to build a homestead, break sod, and plant crops, only to learn that their new, hard-earned home is actually on land belonging to the Osage tribe. The Ingalls return to Wisconsin before they are removed from their land by force.

This children’s classic continues to appear on banned book lists because of Native American objections to its themes and language. It focuses on the hardships endured by the pioneer family and ignores the sufferings of Native Americans. In addition, it contains such expressions as “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

A television series of the same name was broadcast from 1974 to 1983. Its characters and plots were adapted from Wilder’s books. The book regained popularity because of the television series; not surprisingly, its resurgence caused renewed complaints. In 1993, for example, Little House on the Prairie was banned in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and in 1994 it made the banned-book list in Sturgis, South Dakota.


Anderson, William. Laura Ingalls Wilder Country. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990. An illustrated history of Laura Ingalls Wilder, covering family history, the settings...

(The entire section is 542 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of America’s most beloved children’s authors, was sixty-five years old when her first book, Little House in the Big Woods (1932), was published. Urged by her daughter, journalist Rose Wilder Lane, to record the stories of her pioneer girlhood and motivated by her own nostalgic longings following the deaths of Caroline and Mary Ingalls in 1924 and 1928, respectively, Wilder began writing a fictionalized account of her early years in Wisconsin.

Little House in the Big Woods was an immediate success. The general theme of a self-sufficient family making it through hard times, all the while providing a safe, secure, and nurturing environment for their children, was a very popular theme with Americans during the Great Depression. Young readers were enchanted with the high-spirited and independent Laura, who loved to help her father provide for the family’s needs. Wilder’s simple prose and realistic dialogue, spiced with bits of Charles Ingalls’ stories and songs, also appealed to her reading audience. Buoyed by this interest, Wilder wrote Farmer Boy (1933), which recalled the boyhood experiences of Almanzo “Manley” Wilder, her husband, who was reared in upstate New York. This book met with limited interest; it is not generally considered to be part of the Little House series.

Overwhelmed by the number of requests for more stories about “Laura,” Wilder went on to publish Little House on the Prairie in 1935. Considered to be the best-known (although perhaps not the best-written) of the series, Little House on the Prairie tells of how Pa, restless and driven by the promise of open land and economic opportunity in the West, moves his wife and three young daughters by covered wagon from the woods of Wisconsin to the vast prairie...

(The entire section is 747 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

As one of America’s most beloved and respected children’s authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder enjoyed a popularity and position accorded few women of her day. Her books received numerous awards and honors, and her pioneer girl, Laura, became a significant addition to the limited pantheon of strong, positive female characters in children’s literature. In 1954, Wilder was given special recognition by the American Library Association, and since 1960, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award has been presented every five years to an outstanding author or illustrator of children’s books. During the 1990’s, however, the Little House writings of Wilder became a source of controversy in the literary world. Of particular concern were issues regarding appropriate gender role models, racist comments, and truth of authorship. These issues are valid and require sensitive handling by parent or teacher.

Female readers may find themselves annoyed by the irrelevance today of the traditional gender roles expressed in Wilder’s books. Pa, representing the majority of men in his day, is clearly the only one with any real power in the family. It is at his whim that Ma and the girls travel to and from the prairie lands of Kansas under the harshest of conditions. Readers familiar with the entire Little House series know that the journeying does not stop there. The Ingalls continue to move many times before Pa—urged, no doubt, by an exasperated Ma—finally settles his little family in DeSmet, Iowa. Throughout Little House on the Prairie, it is clear that Laura views the family’s survival as completely dependent on Pa and that she idolizes him. Ma, on the other hand, is consistently portrayed in the stereotypical role of caregiver, teacher, and voice of reason. She is the strong thread that holds the family fabric together. One senses that while Laura feels love and respect for her mother, her precocious and devil-may-care inquisitiveness comes from that part of her that seeks to emulate the father she adores. Mary, the obedient sister and good little girl, seems destined for the traditional woman’s role at...

(The entire section is 861 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Anderson, William. Laura Ingalls Wilder Country. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990. An illustrated history of Laura Ingalls Wilder, covering family history, the settings of each of the Little House books, Rose Wilder Lane, Rocky Ridge Farm, and Wilder’s final years. Punctuated with a well-written and informative text.

Dorris, Michael. “Trusting the Words.” Booklist 89 (June 1, 1993): 1820. A thought-provoking article by a well-known American Indian author. Deals with the issues of racism and bigotry as they relate to the Little House series and Little House on the Prairie in particular.

Holtz, William. The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993. An excellent biography of Wilder’s only child, journalist Rose Wilder Lane. Well documented and persuasive, Holtz’s research gives credence to the theory that Lane “ghosted” much of her mother’s work on the Little House series. A controversial book among Wilder fans, this work also presents an intriguing study of their difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Moore, Rosa Ann. “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Orange Notebooks and the Art of the Little House Books.” Children’s Literature 4 (1975): 105-119. Librarian and scholar Moore shares her insights into the development and writing of the Little House books.

Moore, Rosa Ann. “The Little House Books: Rose-Colored Classics.” Children’s Literature 7 (1978): 7-16. Moore’s further studies of Wilder’s manuscripts reveal new thoughts about the authorship of the Little House books and the role of Rose Wilder Lane in thei creation.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls, and Rose Wilder Lane. A Little House Sampler. Edited by William Anderson. New York: HarperPerennial, 1989. A collection of lesser-known writings by Wilder and daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Magazine excerpts, Wilder’s newspaper column for the Missouri Ruralist, and unpublished bits of manuscript offer insight into Wilder as an individual and a writer.

Zochert, Donald. Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1976. The only solid biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Sensitively written, it is geared to the juvenile reader but has much to offer the adult as well. Well researched and substantiated by interviews with key acquaintances.