Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The joy of reading Little House on the Prairie is that there are so many different themes that are applicable to any age! The setting of the story is middle America, which was new territory for the settlers. Little House on the Prairie is considered historical fiction, though it is not traditional in the sense that it does not weave specific historical events into the storyline. It does, however, relate the events in Laura Ingalls's life in an autobiographical style. Little House on the Prairie is an accurate depiction of life on the Great Plains before settlers migrated from the east to claim large swaths of land to farm. It is important to acknowledge, however, that these large swaths of land were not unoccupied—they were the lands of various Native American tribes, who, during this time, were being cheated by treaties that were not upheld and forcibly removed from their land.
One theme younger readers pick up is the importance of family and family unity. Every day is a struggle for survival. Neighbors and friends are located too far from the Ingalls's farm to provide any assistance. Living in a small, nondescript, bare-bones farm cabin means there is little privacy and little choice but to closely bond with one another. The work is hard and requires everyone to do their share. Surviving the harsh environment of the Great Plains means everyone is dependent on each other for encouragement and protection.
Older students will read the book and will relate to the theme of perseverance. Every day is a struggle for the Ingalls family. There is no day that goes by without the real risk of being injured or killed. The Great Plains was a place where survival was in jeopardy every day, and success was measured in small increments. The family faces everything from the harshness of winter to illness, starvation, and threats from wild animals. Nothing is easy, and only by bonding together will the Ingalls survive. Determination and perseverance are themes that characterize the story.
More mature readers might read the theme as a testament to how life has both good and bad. No matter how hard a person works or how good a person is, bad things happen, from which there is no protection. The theme of this story suggests that, when measured in the long term, the good in life will always balance the bad. The story of the Ingalls family is uniquely an American pioneer story. Little House on the Prairie expresses the hope and dreams of creating a better life for the next generation.