Little House, Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Impact on American Culture

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Overview

Beyond their status as classic children’s stories, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books play a significant role in American culture that most people cannot begin to appreciate. Millions of children have sampled the books in school; played out the roles of Laura and Mary; or visited Wilder homesites with their parents, who may be fans themselves. Yet, as Anita Clair Fellman shows, there is even more to this magical series with its clear emotional appeal: a covert political message that made many readers comfortable with the resurgence of conservatism in the Reagan years and beyond.

In Little House, Long Shadow, a leading Wilder scholar offers a fresh interpretation of the Little House books that examines how this beloved body of children’s literature found its way into many facets of our culture and consciousness—even influencing the responsiveness of Americans to particular political views. Because both Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, opposed the New Deal programs being implemented during the period in which they wrote, their books reflect their use of family history as an argument against the state’s protection of individuals from economic uncertainty. Their writing emphasized the isolation of the Ingalls family and the family’s resilience in the face of crises and consistently equated self-sufficiency with family acceptance, security, and warmth.

            Fellman argues that the popularity of these books—abetted by Lane’s overtly libertarian views—helped lay the groundwork for a negative response to big government and a positive view of political individualism, contributing to the acceptance of contemporary conservatism while perpetuating a mythic West. Beyond tracing the emergence of this influence in the relationship between Wilder and her daughter, Fellman explores the continuing presence of the books—and their message—in modern cultural institutions from classrooms to tourism, newspaper editorials to Internet message boards.

            Little House, Long Shadow shows how ostensibly apolitical artifacts of popular culture can help explain shifts in political assumptions. It is a pioneering look at the dissemination of books in our culture that expands the discussion of recent political transformations—and suggests that sources other than political rhetoric have contributed to Americans’ renewed appreciation of individualist ideals.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“An important, impeccably researched, and original book. Fellman breaks new ground in probing children’s literature as a source of political socialization and of adult ideology.”
—Elizabeth Jameson, coeditor of The Women’s West

“There is much to admire in this book. Many have casually noted these connections, but no one has put them all together so well.”—William Holtz, author of The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826218032
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2008
  • Edition description: bibliography, index
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 1,044,561
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Anita Clair Fellman is Chair of Women’s Studies and Associate Professor of History at Old Dominion University and lives in Norfolk, Virginia. She is coeditor of Ourselves as Students: Multicultural Voices in the Classroom.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Growing Up in Little Houses 11

2 Creating the Little House 39

3 Revisiting the Little Houses 69

4 Little House in the Classroom 119

5 The Little House Readers at Home 155

6 The Little House Books in Public 199

7 The Little House in American Politics 230

Afterword 253

Notes 257

Bibliography 313

Index 333

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  • Posted May 28, 2009

    Little House, Big Theories

    It's always rather amazing to read the theories of those with that narrow University Mentality, prone to over analysis, and a politically correct slant on everything from Mother to Apple Pie. This author is of the same school as those who've decided that Emiliy Dickinson and George Frayne were both lesbians. They manage to read between the lines and find messages which escape us mere mortals ... messages which, after a little reflection, obviously were never there.

    Save your money and reread the Little House books again instead. They're filled with atmosphere, adventure, and a way of life with which this author seems totally unfamiliar.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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