As Alison Gazarek noted in Monday’s provocative profile of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the stories Wilder told in the Little House on the Prairie series are products of their times. They don’t always deal directly with narratives of racial oppression; and, in writing them, Wilder arguably wore her Libertarian politics on her sleeve.
Nevertheless, Gazarek concludes her piece by telling us that “It is the dialogue between all of those voices that helps me understand the whole story,” and “in order to make meaning, I have to invite more voices into that conversation.” It’s in the same spirit that we present Wilder’s complex and sometimes contradictory voice, in the following quotes from her childrens’ books and her journalism. We see here a strong woman who seems at times caught between the values of pragmatism and hard work on the one hand, and her desire to slow down and dream a little on the other.
“It is necessary that we dream now and then. No one ever achieved anything from the smallest object to the greatest unless the dream was dreamed first, yet those who stop at dreaming never accomplish anything. We must first see the vision in order to realize it; we must have the ideal or we cannot approach it; but when once the dream is dreamed it is time to wake up and ‘get busy.’ We must do great deeds; not dream them all day long.” —“Make Your Dreams Come True,” in the Missouri Ruralist, February 5, 1918
“The voices of nature do not speak so plainly to us as we grow older, but I think it is because, in our busy lives, we neglect her until we grow out of sympathy. Our ears and eyes grow dull and beauties are lost to us that we should still enjoy.
“Life was not intended to be simply a round of work, no matter how interesting and important that work may be. A moment’s pause to watch the glory of a sunrise or a sunset is soul-satisfying, while a bird’s song will set the steps to music all day long.” —“As a Farm Woman Thinks,” in the Missouri Ruralist, April 15, 1923
“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness—just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.” —from Writings to Young Women from Laura Ingalls Wilder – Volume One: On Wisdom and Virtues (1916)
“Vices are simply overworked virtues, anyway. Economy and frugality are to be commended but follow them on in an increasing ratio and what do we find at the other end? A miser! If we overdo the using of spare moments we may find an invalid at the end, while perhaps if we allowed ourselves more idle time we would conserve our nervous strength and health to more than the value of the work we could accomplish by emulating at all times the little busy bee.” —from “Sometimes Misdirected Energy May Cease to Be a Virtue” (1916)
“She thought to herself, ‘This is now.’ She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.” —Little House in the Big Woods (1932)
“We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.” —By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939)
“‘This earthly life is a battle,’ said Ma. ‘If it isn’t one thing to contend with, it’s another. It always has been so, and it always will be. The sooner you make up your mind to that, the better off you are, and more thankful for your pleasures.’” —Little Town on the Prairie (1941)
“There’s no great loss without some small gain.” —Little House on the Prairie (1935)
“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” —“Laura’s Letter to Children” (1947)
Click here to read Alison Gazarek’s feature piece on Laura Ingalls Wilder.