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Quotes & Analysis from the Little House on the Prairie Series

written by: Genevieve Van Wyden • edited by: Ronda Bowen • updated: 9/6/2013

If you have ever read any of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, you already know she talked about her growing-up experiences with her family. Just what did family members say to each other? When Ma and Pa Ingalls communicated with their children, they usually tried to teach the girls something important.

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    Pick up a Little House book at your school library or the library in your community and enter into a world where a little girl named Laura, her older sister, Mary, little sisters Carrie and Grace, Ma and Pa lived and loved each other. All the books Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote have quotations, or statements, that she and her family made to one another.

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    "Little House in the Big Woods"

    This book begins when Laura, also called “Half-Pint" and “Flutterbudget" by her Pa, lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Laura lives with her Pa and Ma, her older sister Mary and baby sister, Carrie. As Laura grows, she begins to understand that the big world outside her family’s little cabin is full of dangers.

    As one of the first Little House on the Prairie quotes, this one shows you that Pa makes sure his family feels safe.

    “Go to sleep, Laura. Jack won’t let the wolves in." Pa Ingalls says this to his middle daughter as the wolves prowl outside the little homestead. Laura is listening as they howl just beyond the wooden fence Pa has built.

    When Pa Ingalls tells Laura that Jack won’t let the wolves in, he’s letting his family know that he’s there, along with the dog, to protect them. This quote ties into “The Little House in the Big Woods" because it recounts one of the author’s earlier memories. Since she lived in post-Civil War times, she and her family had to be self-sufficient in order to survive in the Wisconsin woods.

    Laura talks about one of her memories living in the little house--her Pa took her out of bed, carried her to a window of the house and showed her the wolves howling outside. She saw two wolves outside. Jack, her brindle bulldog, paced the floor inside the house. The fur along his spine was standing on end and he was growling. Because of the safety of the little house and Jack’s protection, Laura and her family were safe.[1]

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    "Farmer Boy"

    Laura also wrote about the childhood of her husband, Almanzo (Manly) Wilder. Almanzo grew up in upstate New York, on a farm. In the first chapter of “Farmer Boy," Laura writes about Almanzo’s first day of school as he walked with his brother, Royal and his sisters, Eliza Jane and Alice. On Almanzo’s first day of school, he is eight years old and responsible for carrying the lunch bucket.

    “He had to walk fast to keep up with the others, and he had to carry the dinner-pail. ‘Royal ought to carry it,’ he said. ‘He’s bigger than I be.’ Royal strode ahead, big and manly in boots, and Eliza Jane said: ‘No, ‘Manzo. It’s your turn to carry it now because you’re the littlest.’ Eliza Jane was bossy. She always knew what was best to do, and she made Almanzo, and Alice do it.’ “ [1]

    Eliza Jane’s bossiness didn’t change as the brothers and sisters grew into adults.

    In “Farmer Boy," Laura details the life her husband lived in upstate New York as a young boy. His life as a child was, in some ways, very different from that his future wife lived--while his father was a farmer, he didn’t have the same struggles Pa Ingalls faced. Again, in post-Civil War New York, the Wilder family used the resources they found around them. Almanzo, as the youngest Wilder, was expected to learn to carry his own weight to help the family.

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    "On the Banks of Plum Creek"

    When the Ingalls family moved to Plum Creek, they lived underground. Laura discovers the little house is underground when she explores the area and sees the front door was placed under the hill. Her Ma isn’t very sure she wants to live in a dugout.

    “‘The last night out,’ said Pa. ‘Tomorrow we’ll be settled again. The house is in the creek bank, Caroline.’

    ‘Oh, Charles!’ said Ma. A dugout. We’ve never had to live in a dugout yet.’ [1]

    Pa and Ma Ingalls were willing to use whatever resources they had available to then--including a home underground. This quote highlights Pa’s ability to adjust to new environments and it also underscores how his adaptability helped his family. In this setting, the Ingalls personify the pioneer families of the time as they moved Westward.

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    "By the Shores of Silver Lake"

    This book opens just after the Ingalls family has been hit with an outbreak of scarlet fever. Ma, Mary, Carrie and the newest child, Grace, all came down with the illness. This is when Mary went blind.

    “She was able to sit up now, wrapped in quilts in Ma’s old hickory rocking chair. All that long time, week after week, when she could still see a little, but less every day, she had never cried. Now she could not see even the brightest light any ore. She was still patient and brave.” [By the Shores of Silver Lake, page 2]

    From this point on, Laura becomes Mary’s eyes, describing scenes and objects for her older sister.

    “Laura tried to tell her how fast the telegraph poles were going by. She said, ‘The wire sags down between them and swoops up again,’ and she counted them. ‘One--oop! two--oop! three! That’s how fast they’re going.’ “ [By the Shores of Silver Lake, page 22] [2]

    This quote is especially significant--because Laura had to become Mary’s “speaking eyes,” so to speak, learning how to describe what she was seeing to Mary taught her how to use words to paint a picture and how to “show, not tell.”

    Because members of the Ingalls family became ill with scarlet fever, these quotes underscore that, while time was moving and the girls were growing, they were still vulnerable to potentially dangerous illnesses.

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    "The Long Winter"

    In this book, the Ingalls family struggles with seven months of bitter winter cold and violent blizzards. They have moved from their claim shanty to a house that Pa built in town. Laura is not happy about living in town--she prefers living in the country, where she does not have to hear neighbors’ conversations or see them walking past her family’s home.

    The family experiences a three-day blizzard early in the winter. Pa comes into the home after taking care of the stock and milking the family’s cow, Ellen.

    “After he had got his breath and melted the frost and snow from his moustaches, he said, ‘Well, the hard winter’s begun.’

    ‘Why, Charles,’ Ma said. ‘It isn’t like you to worry about winter weather.’

    ‘I’m not worrying,’ Pa replied. ‘But it’s going to be a hard winter.’ “ [The Long Winter, page 97] [3]

    As a pioneer, Charles Ingalls had to be closely tuned to nature--animals, weather and plants--to protect and care for his family. Before the first two blizzards hit DeSmet, Pa was taking notice of all the clues around him, such as the muskrat house. What he saw worried him.

    Laura preferred country living to town living, but, to be protected from the killing blizzards she and her family faced, they had to move to town. For this reason, this quote foreshadows the hard winter to come.

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    "These Happy Golden Years"

    As this book opens, Laura is now 15 years old. She is traveling with Pa to her first teaching job, 12 miles away from town, in Brewster settlement. Laura is scared. She’s still little and worried that she won’t be able to make her students mind her. She also does not want to teach, but if the family is going to send Mary to a college for the blind, they need her help. In the last of the Little House on the Prairie book quotes, Pa tries to help Laura feel more confident about her new venture.

    “ ‘Well, Laura! You are a schoolteacher now! We knew you would be, didn’t we? Though we didn’t expect it so soon.’

    ‘Do you think I can, Pa?’ Laura answered. ‘Suppose . . . just suppose . . . the children won’t mind me when they see how little I am." ‘

    The conversation between Laura and Pa continues, with Pa reassuring his middle daughter that she’s capable of anything she tries. He reminds her that she has never shirked her responsibilities and she has never given up. He reminds her of the time, when the family lived in Plum Creek, when she moved the entire woodpile into the dugout during a blizzard. [3]

    Ever since Mary lost her vision, Laura knew she was going to have to teach so the Ingalls family could afford to send Mary to a college for the blind. As a tiny teenager facing the prospect of becoming a teacher and leaving student status behind, she was scared. While she did not want to teach, she knew she would have to. She was willing to help.

    This passage underscores Laura’s fears as she enters a new phase of her life--while she does not know what each day will bring, she will work as a teacher to help the family and her older sister. The quote is important because it points to one of the values the Ingalls family cherished: helping each other and, in so doing, helping the whole family.

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    "The First Four Years"

    This book opens while Laura is engaged to Almanzo Wilder. He wants to marry quickly so they won’t have to worry about the fuss and expense of a large wedding, which is what his mother and sisters are planning. Laura is having doubts because she does not want to marry a farmer, which is Almanzo’s livelihood. She tries to convince him to move to town and find another way of earning money. Almanzo convinces her to give him three years as a farmer. If, at the end of that time, he has not become financially secure, he will change his profession.

    “Again there was a little silence, then Manly asked, ‘Why don’t you want to marry a farmer?’ And Laura replied, ‘Because a farm is such a hard place for a woman . . .’

    Again there was a silence, a rather skeptical silence on Laura’s part, broken at last by Manly, who said, ‘If you’ll try it for three years and I haven’t made a success in farming by that time, I’ll quit and do anything you want me to do. I promise that at the end of three years we will quit farming if I have not made such a success that you are willing to keep on.’ “ [The First Four Years, pages 4-6] [4]

    Laura really wanted to live in the country, but she had witnessed her parents’ struggles. She did not want the same for her and Manly. This quote is significant because, as Laura grew from childhood to young adulthood, she witnessed her parents’ struggles and they made a strong impression on her. She wanted a different life for her, Manly and any children they would have. As the 19th century comes to an end, times and technology are bringing changes to families all across the U.S. The quote underscores Laura’s awareness of the changes she and Manly are experiencing and how they can impact their new life together.

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    References and Image Credit

    [1] Little House, Little House Books

    [2] “By the Shores of Silver Lake",

    [3] “The Long Winter",

    [4] “The First Four Years",

    Open Book Image FDP Credit digitalart