Tuesday, November 09, 2010

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE - "Pioneers with a sense of ENTITLEMENT (um, Manifest Destiny)"

I am reading Elizabeth Bird's blog this morning and saw this:
Wow!  So somehow I was unaware that Lisa Brown (she of the recent picture book Vampire Boy’s Good Night) had created a large archive of three panel cartoon reviews of various works of classic literature.  Or, if not classic literature, at least well known literature.   Some of you, I know, will be fond of the Little House one.  Thanks to Educating Alice for the link.
With the mention of Little House, I clicked on it and scrolled down to find Browns review. Because her work is copyrighted w/all rights reserved, you'll need to click on this link to see the Little House review. Lisa Brown's cartoon reviews are published at the San Francisco Chronicle

In her review, the first two panels show Ma and Pa in a wagon. Ma and the ox that pulls the wagon are looking at Pa, who (from my point of view) is hanging his head. In apology? In shame? The text reads
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Pioneers with a sense of ENTITLEMENT (um, Manifest Destiny)...
The third panel is a log cabin in the midst of one tree and four stumps. The text for that panel is
...build a log cabin.  

On her bio page, Brown says that her presentations include "rants about historical accuracy." I think that may be part of what she's pointing to with her review of Little House. Pa built a log cabin. Thinking about that cabin and the title of the book, there's a bit of a disconnect. The word "house" summons up something quite different from a log cabin. In the book itself, Wilder gives us a lot of information about building that cabin. Its rustic, and they do their best to make it a home, but it is, nonetheless, a cabin, and we know that it is a cabin. It is given to us explicitly in the book text.  Using "House" however (in the title) brings to mind something different. It invokes civilization. I had never really thought about that before, but like her use of "papoose," I think it is another word that conveys a lot that we aren't necessarily aware of. She could have used "baby" instead of papoose, but, using papoose puts a distance between a reader thinking of Indian babies as being babies like anyone else's babies. Using papoose marks that baby as "other" and "not like me." It works, subtly, on the deep structures of knowledge that we all carry around inside of us. House works the same way. It makes Laura and her family more like the reader. 

Brown uses the word "entitlement" --- which is sure to get a lot of people fired up, for different reasons.

Another thing I see in her review is a comment on behavior of pioneers... cutting down trees. Maybe those stumps are just there to show that the logs in the cabin walls came from those trees, but I think it can also be viewed as what happens to the natural environment when a lot of people move in and set about changing it. We all do that, of course, but to varying degrees. If you're interested in a present-day story of clearcutting, a video called "Clearcut: The Story of Philomath Oregon" is one option. I haven't seen the entire video, but the trailer is provocative.

To wrap up this post, thanks, Betsy, for pointing to Lisa Brown's reviews.  

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