Little House on the (Title Redacted)

Purging Laura Ingalls Wilder from the Canon

One problem with censoring and expunging certain books and authors for their retrograde attitudes is that, ironically, it covers up and blinds us to the very evils they are accused of.

Some anti-slavery books, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Huckleberry Finn, are now considered racist because of their racial language and their “stereotypical” depictions of black people.  And yet these were the books that woke up Americans to the evils of racism!

If we successfully purge our literature and our history of their bad parts, they risk being falsified or forgotten.  Also falsified and forgotten will be the good parts of our literature and our history.

Therein lies the problem with taking away things we deem offensive. Recall the old phrase “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it?” It’s a lot easier to forget about history when you banish all of its works and reminders to the ash heap. (Statues erected just to annoy people not included.)

We aren’t talking about a series of books written today. We’re talking about books written at an unfortunate time when racial epithets were commonplace. The Little House books aren’t promoting or encouraging an insensitive view. They are simply a portrait of what America was like in the mid-1800’s. Does anyone truly think that a 4th-grade reading of how Native Americans were once viewed will turn them into a hate-filled adult?

And the verbiage causing issue isn’t even that bad by the period’s standards:

But the “Little House” books have no hateful language, no talk of “murderous savages” as is common in other writings of that times and place. There are no Indian attacks or battles against Indians, as in other pioneer novels, no mention of massacres on either side.

Indians are presented from the point of view of the little girl, who regards them with fear and wonder. A group of Indians, clad in blankets and feathers, comes through their homestead, asking for handouts. The family is worried about Indians stealing things. Pa gets out his gun in case of an Indian attack. But the portrayals are not completely negative. Laura is taken with the cuteness of an Indian baby. The Indians never harm anyone after all, and they are befriended and helped by an Osage chief.

So… what’s so hate-filled and insensitive here? Remove the ethnicities from the passage and it’s just another day in America. “I don’t know these people coming to the door. Get the gun in case they try to rob us.” And on top of that, from a time when “murderous savage” was the standard description of a Native American, they befriended them.

Is it the blankets and feathers? Because, ya know, Native Americans did wear blankets and headdresses made of feathers. Is it that they’re asking for something? Because that was a commonplace thing in the barter-and-trade economy of frontier America.

I understand why, but don’t agree with, being hesitant to making kids read historical novels with explicit racism in them. But the Little House books? It’s virtually non-existent. Take a step back, people. Understand the context and time frame of the stories. Realize where we’ve come since then. A little understanding would go a long way.

 

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