Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The main characters are the members of Laura's immediate family. Charles Ingalls was apparently his daughter's favorite—and she his. In this story, Pa is rugged, hardworking, and competent. He sets traps, shoots animals for food, plants and harvests, butchers, builds, and travels to town to sell furs. But best of all, Pa is fun to be with. Although Ma apparently takes pains to keep her little girls entertained with paper dolls and pancake men, Laura declares, "The best time of all was at night, when Pa came home." Pa roughhouses with the girls, jokes, plays his fiddle, and tells tales. He knows the girls love to be "scared" by his games and stories, even as his presence makes them feel secure. Fair and openminded, he is all for "progress," and the later books of the series reveal that he hopes for bigger challenges farther west.

Ma, a slender, graceful woman, likes things to be pretty. Despite all her housework, she takes the trouble to color and mold the butter; she gazes happily at bolts of new calico. Her china shepherdess, placed on a shelf made by Pa, presides over a civilized house. Ma is positive, firm, and versatile. She expects the girls to do their chores, and she trains them to have good character as well as to "act like ladies." In a crisis— such as the night when she and Laura meet a bear—Ma keeps her composure, but she is human enough to cry and laugh later.

Ma and Pa divide their responsibilities in a smoothly running household. Clearly they like and respect each other. They provide for the family and know how to survive. Resourceful in entertaining their children, Ma and Pa do everything simply but beautifully—at least in Laura's memory.

The three sisters complete the family. While little is said of Baby Carrie, Laura and her older sister Mary are in many ways opposites. The pretty, blonde Mary is polite, obedient, clean, and neat; the brunette Laura is active and bold, sometimes unmannerly and naughty. When Pa plays "mad dog," Mary screams and shrinks away, while Laura leaps to attack.

Laura, from whose point of view the story is seen, is an intense, observant girl of five. She loves her family and tries to be good and...

(The entire section is 897 words.)