Saturday, August 18, 2007

Little House

I learned to read early, and the first things I ever read that weren't picture books were the Little House on the Prairie books. I took a break from them in high school and college, but since becoming an adult I've had a Little House renaissance and am closely reading them again for all the details, as well as reading every bit of Little House scholarship or lit crit that I can find. It's getting to the point where (so says my mom) I'm an expert in my own right on these books. I'm not sure if I'd go that far. She thinks I should publish a book. Right now I'll start with a blog.

I'll get into the domestic details in a later post (my favorite character was always, and remains, Ma). Right now I want to outline a few reasons why I have Little House worship. In short, the 1880s-90s are my ideal decade, and the western frontier my ideal time-travel destination. Here are some reasons why:

There was no advertising.
There was minimal "pop culture."
The family was the center of life.
The community was the center around that center.
Everyone made something.
You knew where your food was coming from (barring Long Winters).
You knew what ingredients were and were not in your food.
You had to work with the Earth.
Your rhythms were in sync with the days and nights.
Nobody was "cool."
Nobody was "ironic."
You didn't have to worry so much about your life path, only how well you were doing.
You had to wait a few months to get a letter. You enjoyed the letter a lot more.
Ditto for new clothes, household items, and the newspaper.
Nobody got bored.
There was always something that needed doing or the structure wouldn't hold.
There was a sense of purpose.

Now for some cons, or reasons why I'd probably like it better now:

You had to be a Christian.
Women couldn't do anything but marry or live at home.
Women had no control over parenthood. They spent a lot of time pregnant.
If your family were assholes you couldn't leave.
If your family was poor, often there was no way to improve the situation.
Medical care was poor, rare, and prohibitively expensive.
Disabled people had to stay home and could not have their own lives.
Women whose husbands died often fell into abject poverty.
Children of such families often couldn't go to school.

So from these off-the-cuff lists, I have a conclusion: If things are normal, life in the Little House era was wonderful. But if anything went wrong, everything could get far more screwed up and more seriously screwed up than now. There was less margin for error, acts of God, disasters, sickness and death. There was not much of a safety net.

The question now is how to take those positive aspects (family, community, purpose, thrift, busy-ness, ignorance of pop/cool culture) and integrate them into the very safety-netted time we're in now. I suppose this is the best of all worlds and I hadn't looked at it that way before.

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