Worth Reading: Laura Ingalls Wilder and Racism

This essay by Eula Biss, a Chicago writer and artist in residence at Northwestern, was pointed out to me a few months ago, but that was before my blogging days. It’s remarkably well written, and I think it’s worth sharing so I’m giving it permanent space here.

From The Believer magazine, it’s called No-Man’s-Land: Fear, Racism, and the Historically Troubling Attitude of American Pioneers. It weaves Laura Ingalls Wilder throughout, particularly the events of Little House on the Prairie.


With the benefit of sixty years of hindsight, Laura Ingalls Wilder knew, by the time she wrote Little House, that the pioneers who had so feared Native Americans had been afraid of a people whom they were in the process of nearly exterminating. And so as a writer she took care, for instance, to point out that the ribs of the Indians were showing, a reminder that they came, frighteningly, into the house for food not because they were thieves but because they were starving. They were starving because the pioneers were killing all their game. If anyone had a claim on fear, on terror, in the American frontier, it was obviously the Indians, who could not legally own or buy the land they lived on, and so were gradually being driven out of their lives.

It’s a good, albeit long, read.


8 Responses to Worth Reading: Laura Ingalls Wilder and Racism

  1. sgaissert says:

    Thanks for the link. I’ll probably read it on the train to Malone, while my daughter is looking out the window.

  2. Amy says:

    Sandra, I never fail to be impressed by the sources you find. This is a profoundly fascinating essay that explores the essence of what it is to be “other,” and lays bare the tangled strands of encroachment on culture through living in spaces that belong to others. The author made me think about LHOP in a different way (always a good thing).

  3. sgaissert says:

    One of the “possibly related posts” that came up for this is http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/07/AR2007110702595_pf.html

    It looks like a good article!

  4. sgaissert says:

    Oops! How embarrassing! That must have been the one day I didn’t chevck your blog, Sandra.

  5. Erica Randall says:

    thanks for the source!!!!


  6. Connie R. Neumann says:

    This is the kind of essay I enjoy reading and chewing on. Biss dissects the historical perspective and distance that Laura was working through, sixty years after the facts of LHP and yet she doesn’t add the historical revisionist touch – thankfully. Good reading!

  7. Isabel Ganz says:

    I was particularly struck by the author’s explanation of “gentrification,” or rather her husband’s definition. It is so very true. Thank you for posting the link.

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