I chose the book Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and illustrated by Garth Williams. This book was first published in 1932. I chose this book at random from my grandmother’s house over Thanksgiving. I knew that she had all of the books and my sister had used my grandmother’s collection to read them all when she was younger. I just chose the first book that I saw and I really lucked out because it looked interesting. I felt that I could not go wrong with any of the books because they are widely praised for being great reads.
This was the first time that I was reading a book from the collection. I had been interested in other titles when I was younger so I never became interested in these books. This book is historical realism because it was written sixty years after the events had happened. The books first sentence clearly states that this is about a time that happened long ago by saying, “Once upon a time, sixty years ago,” (Ingalls Wilder 1932, 1). Russell tells me through the book that historical realism is a story about a time that happened long ago.
He also says that a story is classified as contemporary realism if the book is written during the time period that it takes place. An example of this to show how it is not the same as historical realism, such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, is if I would write a story about something that I had experienced in 2015 during 2015. It would be historical realism, like these books, if someone would write a story in 2015 about an experience they had in 1950. This story highlights the processes, procedures, activities, and ways of life of the people who lived in the pioneer time period.
She tells about how to make cheese using rennet that can only be found in the lining of a calves stomach and gives stories of learning processes in a matter of fact way that are unique to that time period. Russell discusses that readers who are reading historical fiction are looking to be transported through time and chose the books to learn more about the history of that time. This book truly shows how people lived back in the pioneer days. It also vividly describes the way processes were done.
Laura is very descriptive for a young girl on all of the processes that she is learning like how to make hats out if the stalks of wheat after the oats are cut off, how to make cheese involving young calves, and even how sap is used in many ways. Also, the scenery is described with a childlike wonder so that it really takes the reader back in time. The way that the houses are described with what they are made of, logs or flat boards, along with what each animal looks like in the outside world adds to the mental image that the reader has at the time.
It is easy to take a mental time travel back into the days of this book and become a part of a family. The social background in this story is very evident. The attitudes and beliefs of a time era must be present within the story. A story should not have modern beliefs mixed in with the time era that doesn’t encompass them because it can confuse the reader and give them a false sense of what life was life then and what the story is really trying to capture. In the time era that this story takes place, the days of the pioneers, it is shown that there are very traditional gender roles.
Many times it is clear that young girls should behave like ladies with manners and women should be at work in the home while men are in the fields or out in the woods working or hunting. Also, at this time, children were seen as help for the family and, as stated in the story, children are to be seen and not hear. When Charley was in the field shouting like the little boy who cried wolf to the men working he wasn’t doing the job he had been told. It was said that Charley should now help since he was old enough and it would make then entire process go smoother.
Also, Pa told Laura and Mary of the times when his father was a little boy and how each child was expected to act especially with very high expectations of how children should act on the Sabbath and not partake in any fun at all. Unobtrusive history is one in which the reader is able to grasp the time period and feel as though they are in it while also not being confused by jargon or an overload of culture from that period. In this story a lot of the special words that are specifically from that time period are explained.
This can include farm equipment that is mentioned, clothing such as corsets which are not definitively described but a mental picture is able to be formed, and even food ingredients such as rennet that is described in great detail of being the inside of a calves stomach and needs to be taken before the calves stop feeding off of milk. These historical terms and processes are introduced in a way that readers understand and still keep them involved in the story without making them so confused that they become frustrated with the book.
The worst thing that can happen is that a reader does not connect with the story or becomes frustrated by their confusion and puts away the book. The way that people speak has changed as time has gone on. The words and terms used in one period have not always flowed into the next period. Credible dialogue clearly shows what type of language was present during the time period that the story or event takes place in. It is all about making the story as realistic as possible for the reader. The clearest time I can see this used in the story is when Laura refers to Ma and Pa.
She clearly introduces them and how that is how they are called in that time. This story, as made for children and younger readers, uses more clear and almost modern words for dialogue. Some words might seem foreign to the reader but the dialogue is easy to follow and there are no cues that are from the time period, they are all very contemporary. I believe that this helps the reader of this story that takes place in history stay focused and keep up with the plot of the story easily. Sensitivity and objectivity were not very apparent to me in this tory.
This story is told through the eyes of a little girl and is about the way of life in the time she is growing up. This story is not sensitive to any particular group of people nor does it show that the characters or author is objective to the possible sides of an issue. In fact, no issues are even brought up. This story is very much just a cut and dry story that is great for children to read. It is very innocent and solely focuses on the life of one family that is very isolated besides having contact with a few family and friends who are neighbors.
As a suggested example in the textbook by Russell of Summer of My German Soldier, where the two main characters have prejudice and racism all around them, there is much need for sensitivity and objectivity due to the conflicting sides and important issues in the book. In my opinion, I see none of those examples in this book. The first topic of Russell’s realistic fiction that I chose to discuss is family. Russell states clearly that this is one of the oldest subjects in realistic fiction. Family is the highlight of this story because that is all little Laura knows.
She introduces various members such as her immediate family and also her grandparents and aunts and uncles. In one specific instance Laura is afraid of her Uncle George because Pa said that he had been wild since he ran away to be a drummer in the army at the age of 14. Laura spends more time with him and decides that she likes him very much and has fun with him at the dance at her grandparent’s house. One theme also that I want to touch on that struck me in dealing with family was how jealous Laura became of Mary as the book went on.
I think this is a good subject to discuss with the topic of family because it really shows the interworking of the family’s life. It shows and reiterates Russell’s point that family is diverse and complicated. I had noticed early on that Laura was jealous of Mary’s blonde curls because everyone seemed to love them more than her own brown curls. This became more apparent on page 175 of the book where Laura reflects on how perfect Mary is after she rips her own dress when pebbles are too heavy in her pocket.
She tells of how Mary is such a perfect little girl and everyone loves her. I think, especially being a little sister to a seemingly perfect older sister myself, this sense of jealousy is apparent in most families and something children work through, as they grow older. I also wanted to talk about friends for my second topic of Russell’s realistic fiction. Russell clearly states that as children grow up they form friendships and this is why they are central in books for young readers.
Laura has a few conflicts with friends, who happen to be related to her given the time period. The “other Laura Ingalls” in the book was a cousin to the original Laura. They have a bit of a fight over whose baby sister is the prettiest and Ma has to yell at them to get along with each other. Books about friendship normally show how friends have their rocky spots Russell says and even though Laura is so young, that example certainly shows it. Alice, Ella, Peter, Mary, and Laura are all cousins but they are also all friends.
They all learn how to play together and find fun games to play together on Christmas when the entire family is together. In this time period it was natural for children to have their first friends, and their best friends, be their family which this book clearly illustrates as Mary and Laura are constantly playing together. Although they have their fair share of fights, where Laura ends up striking Mary, they learn from them and how to treat each other properly from Pa’s strict discipline and grow their friendship through the year that the book takes place.