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F R E D E R I S M A N Texas Christian University Farmer Boy:The Forgotten “Little House”Book Discussions of Laura Ingalls W ilder’s “Little H ouse” stories for children routinely give short shrift to Farmer Boy (1933), the second book of the series.1Some accounts entirely omit any exam ination of the work, others discount its pertinence to the larger series, and all treat it in varying degrees as a m inor part of the series, if not an outright aberra­ tion. This neglect derives from three principal sources. First, the book’s setting in upstate New York places it apart from the m ore conventionally “w estern” W isconsin/M innesota/D akota locales of the other eight “Little H ouse” books. Second, its use of a male protagonist, Almanzo W ilder, intrudes upon the other books’ feminine perspective and their account of the growth to wom anhood of the fictional Laura. And, third, its second-hand point of view (that of an om niscient narrator describing in retrospect events of which she could have had no direct knowledge) places it at odds with the nominally autobiographical narratorial voice that characterizes the other books. W hatever its apparent shortcomings may be, Farmer Boy has been unnecessarily neglected, and deserves recognition in its own right. Its setting does, to be sure, asjan et Spaeth points out, provide a “backdrop of ‘the East’” against which Wilder can contrast the rigors and require­ m ents of frontier existence, and it introduces Almanzo Wilder, who figures prom inently in later volumes of the series and ultimately marries Laura (Spaeth 67). Nevertheless, the book makes an even greater con­ tribution to the larger series. In its portrayal of Almanzo’s boyhood on a large, successful farm in the settled environs of New York State, Farmer Boy establishes the social, economic, and national backgrounds against which the opening of the West takes place. It supplies, therefore, at the beginning of the series, distinctive cultural elements that are them ati­ cally essential to the com pletion of Laura Ingalls W ilder’s accounts of the American westering experience. 124 Western American Literature The incidents presented in the continuing story of the Ingalls family affirm the independence and individualism that perm eate the westering experience of myth.3Pa Ingalls is not an introspective sort, but when he does speak of his motives for living the pioneer life, he invokes the frontier’s spaciousness and its removal from society. He leaves his Wisconsin hom e in Little House on the Prairie (1935) because “there were too many people in the Big Woods now,” praises the Indian Territory hom esite he selects because “ ‘this country’ll never feel crowded,”’and, years later, after three further moves, continues to hanker after the “ ‘room to breathe’” he believes will be found still further westward (LH O P1, 74; H G Y 138). The Ingallses are, moreover, happily oblivious to the existence of a pervasive national culture outside their family circle, and Pa’s fury at the “‘blasted politicians in W ashington’” who force him to give up his hom estead in the Territory comes as a notable surprise to the fictional Laura (LHOP 316). The news comes as no surprise to readers of the series, however, for Farmer Boy establishes that where the frontiersm an goes, the society follows, and its dem ands and obligations must be met. T he events of Farmer Boy occur even earlier than those of Little House in the Big Woods (1932), the first of the stories of Laura (1868 versus 1872, respectively, based upon internal evidence), yet Almanzo, his parents, and his brother and sisters are assimilated citizens within an established and relatively com plex social milieu. Their lives, to be sure, like those of the Ingalls family on the western frontier, are controlled in great part by the cycle of nature. Superim posed upon the natural course of events, how­ ever, are social rhythms that play an equally im portant part in shaping the pattern of life. As a farm er several stages removed from the frontier, Jam es Wilder, Almanzo’s father, must necessarily pay heed to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 123-130
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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