Literature: Little House on the Prairie
The eight books written and published by Laura Ingalls Wilder are Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy
(about her husband, Almanzo Wilder), Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter
, Little Town on the Prairie
and These Happy Golden Years,
chronicling Laura's life from her childhood in Wisconsin to her marriage in what would later become South Dakota.
Not counting Farmer Boy,
the first three and a half books chronicle the Ingallses' family life as they move from place to place on the American West frontier, partially to carve out a better life and partially to satisfy Pa's "itching foot." Farmer Boy
, meanwhile, chronicles a year in the life of nine-year-old Almanzo (the same year his future wife was born), growing up and working hard on his family's prosperous farm near Malone, New York.
The last three and a half books are about the Ingalls family settling permanently in the brand-new town of De Smet, Dakota Territory, as Ma has finally put her foot down and demanded that her girls receive a stable education. The Ingallses are also recovering from a bout of scarlet fever, which has left oldest daughter Mary blind. These books focus in on Laura's life as she grows up and struggles to find ways to help her parents survive on the harsh frontier, while also exploring life away from home. Oh, and falling in love with Almanzo, who has also just arrived in De Smet and is now ambitious for his own farm.
There is some contention about how much of the books are purely Laura Ingalls Wilder: the stories are hers, to be sure, but her daughter was a popular author and was instrumental in encouraging her mother to publish her story. While Laura already had a background writing columns for local newspapers, some suggest Rose, who was an accomplished ghostwriter, wrote the books herself, while others suggest she merely offered advice and put Laura in touch with her publishing connections; the truth is likely somewhere between the two extremes. Note that The First Four Years
, which was written without Rose's help, is similar in content but noticeably different in style to the rest of the series.
After Wilder's death, her daughter found her journal account of their move from De Smet to Mansfield, Missouri, and had it published as On the Way Home.
This was the kiss of death for Laura's immortality, as, after Rose's death, her lawyer and heir, Roger Lea MacBride, brought to light a manuscript Rose entrusted him with. MacBride published Laura's ninth book, The First Four Years
, along with a collection of letters she wrote to Almanzo while visiting Rose in San Francisco during the World's Fair, West From Home.
Not content to stop there, he also wrote a series of books about Rose, drawing on stories she told him as a child and tossing in a few creative liberties.
HarperCollins was similarly discontented, as they smelled a zombie franchise
in the making (nearly half a century later!), and have since published books about Caroline Quiner Ingalls, Mary Ingalls, Nellie Oleson, and Laura's grandmother Charlotte Tucker and great-grandmother, Martha Morse who grew up in Scotland. Plus Old Town in the Green Groves,
a book about the "lost years" Laura felt were too painful to include in children's books, written by Cynthia Rylant. These extra books vary in quality and success at emulating the charm of the originals, but all are interesting portraits of "America's favorite pioneer family."
Laura's autobiography Pioneer Girl, which she initially tried to publish before re-writing her life story as the Little House books, will be published in October 2013.
A television adaptation
began airing in 1974.
Tropes relating to Laura's books, and their companions, sequels, prequels, ad nauseam:
- A Day in the Limelight: The Long Winter has three or four chapters from Almanzo's point of view instead of Laura's, while New Dawn on Rocky Ridge has one chapter focusing on Laura instead of Rose...
- A Death in the Limelight: ...because Pa is dying and has requested that Laura come back to De Smet to say good-bye.
- Aerith and Bob: The Wilder siblings are named Royal, Eliza Jane, Alice, and Almanzo. The Rose books mention two others: youngest brother Perley and eldest sister Laura.
- Affectionate Nickname: Laura calls Almanzo "Manly" after their marriage, and he calls her "Bess," for her middle name, Elizabeth. Partly this is due to Almanzo disliking his name and also having a sister named Laura, but it's sweet, too. Most of the girls also have pet names:
- Laura is called "half pint" and "flutterbudget" by Pa.
- Almanzo calls his daughter his "Prairie Rose," the flower she was named after.
- Caroline was called "little brownbraid" by her father, which her brothers and her father's friend picked up.
- Age-Appropriate Angst: In the first few books, when Laura is very young, what drama there is is about her and Mary's sibling rivalry and things on that level. The stakes get much higher as she grows up.
- Altar the Speed: Laura and Almanzo decide to move up the date of their wedding drastically - so drastically that it's held in the minister's parlour and with no guests - because Eliza Jane and Mother Wilder are coming to out from Minnesota to plan a big church wedding neither bride nor groom can afford, plus the harvest season is coming up. When Ma Ingalls protests that they could at least have a small ceremony at the Ingalls home, Laura counters that it wouldn't be fair to have a ceremony purely for the benefit of her family and not give Almanzo's the chance to attend.
- Amazon Chaser: Almanzo hints from time to time that part of the reason he likes Laura is her spirit and temper. While Laura spends her teenage years worrying about what people think of her because she sometimes plays ball at recess, Almanzo buys her a pony just for her playtime and later builds her a sled that their dog can pull. When Laura tells him that she isn't comfortable promising to obey him against her better judgment as part of their marriage vows, Almanzo tells her he didn't expect her to (and that he's never heard of any woman who actually keeps the vow even if she makes it, "nor any decent man that wanted her to").
- What's mildly hilarious is that when he decides to court Laura, he doesn't bother informing her that that's what he's doing, presumably assuming she'd know. He clearly hasn't factored in the fact that she's fifteen and completely naive about men. This winds up backfiring on him for a time: when she does figure it out, she panics, and tells him that while she appreciates him driving her to and from her teaching job, she's not interested in anything more. Fortunately, he's a Determinator, which pays off in the end.
- There is also the time where a band of Indians came to inspect the Wilders' farm. One of them takes hold of Laura's arm, and she slaps him; the leader of the little band not only forestalls any violent response from the man, but promptly asks Laura to leave with him and be his wife.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Grace sometimes comes across as this, as she's so much younger than Mary, Laura and Carrie and is frankly a little spoiled because of it.
- Arc Words: "Everything is evened up in the end. The rich have their ice in the summer but the poor get theirs in the winter."
- Author Avatar: Obviously. Although Wilder took quite a few liberties for the sake of her story, including combining three young rivals into 'Nellie Oleson' and eliminating a few very rough years in the Ingalls' lives that she apparently couldn't bring herself to write about.
- Automaton Horses: Averted. In a downright scary example, when the weather is at its coldest, Almanzo has to make frequent stops when taking Laura home from teaching school to melt the ice that forms from the condensation over the horses' mouths and nostrils, so they won't suffocate on their own breath. When this problem with livestock is first mentioned earlier in the series, Laura is horrified by it.
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: In Farmer Boy, Almanzo semi-accidentally throws a blacking brush at Eliza Jane, misses, and stains the wallpaper in the fine parlor. Almanzo spends a few weeks dreading the whipping he'll get when the stain is discovered, but Eliza Jane secretly patches the stain to save him.
- Barefoot Poverty: In Little House in Brookfield (the first book in "The Caroline Years," prequel series to this one) Caroline's oldest sister goes to church barefoot one day because the family is too poor to buy her new shoes and the old ones pinch her feet something terrible. She thinks her new long dress will cover up her shoeless feet, and she's right for most of the time but eventually gets caught. Her parents are not pleased.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Mr. Corse in Farmer Boy. The mild-mannered and apparently unimposing schoolteacher manages to be the first teacher in a string of them who doesn't get beaten and driven off by the older boys. It's an achievement he accomplishes with the use of a bullwhip.
- Beta Couple: Cap Garland and Mary Power, until they break up.
- Henry Quiner and Polly Ingalls in A Little House of Their Own.
- Big Damn Heroes: Almanzo and Cap make a cross-country journey in the depths of winter to bring back enough wheat to save the town from starvation.
- Blondes Are Evil: Nellie Oleson.
- Averted with Mary, although Laura is still jealous of her and considers her to be something of a Spoiled Brat at first (which she later admits was true).
- Book Worm: Caroline, Mary, Rose and Laura herself.
- Brainy Brunette: Laura has brown hair and is consistently at the top of her class. She inherited this trait from her mother Caroline who is also a brunette and extremely studious. Laura's daughter, Rose, has brown hair as well and is something of a prodigy.
- It's not a contrast between the blondes and brunettes in the book, however. Mary, who has blonde hair, is described as being incredibly smart with a great memory. Carrie's intelligence is never really addressed in the books.
- Brother Chuck: Unlike Royal and Eliza Jane, Alice neither appears again nor is mentioned after Farmer Boy. Sadly, Alice's disappearance is probably because she died in Florida at the age of 39.
- Cabin Fever: Inevitably, in The Long Winter, Laura starts to feel like she's going a little nuts at times. Even Pa has a moment where he starts yelling at the blizzard as if it's something intelligent and malicious. Something like this also seems to be afflicting Mrs. Brewster in These Happy Golden Years.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Even in Little House in the Big Woods when five-year-old Laura fills up her pocket with too many pebbles and it rips out of her dress, her parents use the opportunity to impart a lesson about being greedy (and Laura thinks that nothing like this ever happens to Mary). This is typical of the adults' general attitude, often toward behavior that wouldn't even be considered wrong by modern standards. This is why it seems practically miraculous that Almanzo's parents never find out about the wallpaper in Farmer Boy.
- Cassandra Truth: The Indian in The Long Winter who warns about "seven months of winter". Most of the townspeople don't put much stock in his claim at first.
- When Laura discovers the cattle's heads frozen to the ground, Mary initially dismisses it as "one of Laura's queer notions."
- Chekhov's Gunman: Eliza Jane in The Rose Years. A minor subplot in the background of the series is her mission to get all of the Wilders to live with her in Louisiana and try rice farming, which leads to Mother and Father Wilder visiting Rose and her parents, Father buying the house in Mansfield that they live in for a few years, and later, Father losing his fortune and dying of the shock. It culminates in Eliza Jane visiting Rose's family, and inviting Rose to live with her for a year and complete her education, as a way of atoning for the loss. E.J., of course, ends up being a very influential on Rose's eventual independence and political beliefs.
- City Slicker: Nellie tries to act like one when she reappears in De Smet, even though Laura knows she's been living on the prairie at least as long as Laura.
- Closer to Earth: Mild case with Laura and Almanzo, although the difference is more in their upbringing than their genders. Laura grew up always on the edge of poverty and is frugal and practical almost to a fault, while Almanzo's family was always prosperous and successful and never wanted for much. They clash a bit after they're married, because Almanzo wants the family to have modern means and comforts but Laura hates spending money. Laura tells Manly in The First Four Years that she doesn't want to marry a farmer and wishes he'd get a job in town, despite her preference to live in the country, because it'd be more financially secure. The only time we really see them in a fight is in Little Farm in the Ozarks, when Almanzo buys Laura a new stove on credit. He's excited because it will make her work easier, it's sturdier than they one they have and less likely to catch fire, and it's actually very lovely to look at, but while Laura is initially happy, she tells him to go back and return it because they can't afford it. They have a similar difference of opinion when Almanzo brings home a mail order catalogue, and when Laura finally gives up on saving for something in it, he sighs and complains, "Sometimes a fella just wants to spoil his best girl, but you won't hardly let me." Laura kisses him and tells him that he spoils her just fine.
- Coming-of-Age Story: The entire series chronicles Laura's life from childhood to adulthood.
- Composite Character: Nellie Oleson... thank God. Laura apparently felt it would be in poor taste to name real people if she was portraying them in a negative light, and so three unpleasant girls Laura knew were rolled into one. And yes, one of them moved from Walnut Grove to De Smet. The descendants of the three girls remain distinctly unimpressed with how much Laura made up. Possibly also Mr. Edwards.
- Costume Porn: Several of the books contain detailed descriptions of the clothes that Laura and her mother made for her and her sisters. One aunt's dress had buttons "shaped like blackberries" which Laura remembered well enough to mention again in later books.
- Daddy's Girl: Laura. Pa's pet names for her were "Half-Pint" and "Flutterbudget." And not, as Cynthia Rylant would have you believe, "Apple Pie" or "Pumpkin Pie."
- Dare to Be Badass: In These Happy Golden Years, Almanzo admits to Laura that the forty-below-zero weather made him think twice about coming to drive her home for the weekend, until Cap Garland, seeing him hesitating, told him, "God hates a coward."
"So you came because you wouldn't take a dare?" Laura asked.
"No, it wasn't a dare," Almanzo said. "I just figured he was right."
- In "New Dawn on Rocky Ridge", Rose's Aunt Eliza Jane (Almanzo's older antagonistic sister) gives this speech to Rose who is sadddened about not being able to afford to go to an academy to finish her high school education and about her relationship with Paul. Before offering to let Rose complete her education in her hometown of Crowley, she gives this lecture.
Rose: Oh, nothing ever comes out right for me! I don't know why, but it just never does."
Laura: Rose, really.
Eliza Jane: Young lady, you are suffering an attack of defeatism. Do you think your mother and father would have survived if they sat around bemoaning life's every little stumble? (Rose shakes her head) And look at me (bitter chuckle). My grand scheme to have my family close to me in Louisiana. What happened? Father's fortune lost. Then Father died. My poor sister Laura died. My husband died, and then his family descended upon me like a flock of vultures. Do you hear me groan about my terrible life?"
Eliza Jane: You come from sturdy, independent stock, on both sides. We have all survived the very worst that life could fling at us. And you shall, too.
- Darker and Edgier: Given the reputation of the television adaptation, you might expect that the book series also Tastes Like Diabetes. Instead, they paint a straightforward, reasonably unsentimental picture of the challenges of frontier life. A particular mention should go to The Long Winter.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Martha, Laura's great-grandmother. Though the series only covered Martha's pre-teens, she grew up to marry Lew Tucker, a blacksmith instead of a wealthy lord as was expected. Historical evidence explicity states her family were unhappy with the match.
- A Day in Her Apron: When Ma and Pa take Mary to college, Laura decides she and the younger girls will do the spring cleaning themselves as a surprise for when they get home, and it turns out to be a bigger job than they bargained for. Farmer Boy has a similar chapter where Almanzo's parents go away for a week and the kids have the farm to themselves, with even more disastrous results in this case since they're in no way trying to be responsible until the mad scramble to clean up on the last day, exactly like a Wild Teen Party in a Dom Com.
- Death Glare: Cap Garland supposedly had one that could intimidate a railroader.
- Determinator: Almanzo and Cap Garland, who in The Long Winter head out to look for the homestead of a man who might have enough grain to keep the town from starving. They're not even sure where it is, or whether or not the man decided to winter on the prairie or go back East. Given the frequency of blizzards, it's a rather dangerous undertaking, but they find him, persuade him to give them some wheat, and successfully make it back to town.
- On a more personal note, Almanzo's unwilling to be put off by Laura's initial reluctance to let him court her, which of course paid off in the end.
- Determined Homesteader's Children: All of the Ingalls girls, naturally.
- Also Caroline and the other Quiner siblings.
- Determined Homesteader's Wife: All of the "protagonist" girls except Rose, but especially Ma.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Almanzo Wilder's initial courtship of Laura takes essentially this form, particularly when she tells him up-front that she's letting him take her to and from her teaching job on the weekends so that she can get home, but doesn't plan to continue to go with him afterwards, so he shouldn't feel any obligation to keep coming to pick her up. Not only does he go right on doing so (in forty-below-zero weather), once her teaching job is over and she's back home, he turns up at her door the next weekend to ask if she'd like to go sleighing. (She would.)
- Dramatic Sit-Down: Ma is often described as sitting down "limply" in response to a shock. When a teenage Laura gets her first invitation to a real formal dinner party, she does the same.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Little House in the Big Woods has less of a narrative than the later books and is organized around a series of stories and general descriptions of the Ingallses' daily life, probably because Laura was so young at the time.
- Education Mama: Ma, who was a schoolteacher when she was younger and has her heart set on one of her girls following in her footsteps. Everyone thought Mary would be the one, including Mary herself, but her blindness derailed her plans. Laura ends up becoming a schoolteacher, partly to please Ma, but mostly to earn enough money to send Mary to the college for the blind in Vinton, Iowa.
- Embarrassing First Name: Almanzo's clearly not too fond of his, (as he explains in-story, it stems from a family tradition of a 'Moorish' soldier named Al-Manzoor who once saved a Wilder ancestor), and you'll note that Laura calls him Manly after they're married. His siblings call him "Mannie" or "'Manzo."
- His sister Eliza Jane also hates her name thanks to an embarrassing ordeal in school. It doesn't help that, once Nellie Oleson tells the other girls why Eliza Jane hates her name, Laura's friend Ida writes (with a little editing help from Laura) a nasty but humorously catchy limerick about it that half the little boys memorize and then sing loudly through the entire town. Eliza Jane needless to say is not pleased. By the time she pops up in the Rose series, she insists on being called "E.J." (Laura still calls her 'Eliza Jane' in her letters to Rose. Whether that's because Laura is too formal to use such an informal nickname or because she still hates E.J. is left as an exercise for the reader.)
- Everyone Can See It: Everybody but Laura catches on to Almanzo's intentions around the time he starts driving a twenty-four mile round trip to bring her home for the weekends during her first teaching job.
"If you knew how that Nellie Oleson's always bragging and showing off, and picking on Laura. And now to think that Laura's teaching school, and Almanzo Wilder's beauing her home."
"Oh, no! He isn't!" Laura cried out. "It isn't like that at all. He came for me as a favor to Pa."
Mary [Power] laughed. "He must think a lot of your Pa!"
- Eye Scream: In Farmer Boy, Almanzo and his sister Alice are helping their father burn potato stalks. They get hungry long before lunchtime, and bury a couple potatoes in the pile to roast for a snack. Unfortunately for Almanzo, when he goes to check on them, one explodes right in his face. He manages to shut his eye before it can blind him, but winds up with a nasty burn all over that side of his face.
- Failed a Spot Check: It takes Laura a good year to figure out just why Almanzo keeps seeing her home from church and driving her all over, and when she does she freaks out over it a little. Rather justified by the fact that she's fifteen years old and thus completely clueless about men. Ma, on the other hand, is much more Genre Savvy and for quite a while does not approve.
- Fever Dream Episode: At one point in the series, the entire Ingalls family falls victim to malaria. Laura documents her experience with the disease, which included odd hallucinations. Her pregnancy and childbirth in The First Four Years are also alarmingly trippy.
- Food Porn: Especially in Farmer Boy, to the point where it becomes a mild Running Gag. All that hard work in the fields gives little Almanzo a fierce appetite, and his mother is a fabulous cook; just how fabulous is spelled out on nearly every page. Worth noting that this'd be all organic, free-range ingredients, too...
- As noted in the companion book The Little House Cookbook, this food porn might be due to the author having spent much of her childhood eating little else but cornbread, salt pork, and the occasional prairie rabbit.
- One Christmas with the Boasts, they talk about how they're having jackrabbit because there aren't many at Silver Lake and it's a special occasion, while when they lived in Indian Territory, they ate jackrabbit all the time and Pa shot a turkey for Christmas dinner. There are many stretches where the Ingallses are eating the same food at every meal for months. It's very noticeable how different the food in Farmer Boy is, not just in quantity but in variety.
- There are also at least two lengthy passages describing harvest and butchering time, with detailed descriptions of preparing and storing up food in various ways — these are surprisingly engrossing.
- Frontier Doctor: The only black person to appear in the original books, Dr. Tan, who comes to the Ingallses' aid when they have malaria, and is identified only as "a doctor with the Indians." His role is very brief and matter-of-fact, which is rather frustrating to modern readers.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!/Narrative Profanity Filter: Almanzo saying "Gol ding it!" is classified as swearing, and so is Laura's cousin Lena saying "Gosh!" Other times, such as when Big Jerry draws the mob of railroad workers away from Pa's store, the "rough language" is simply mentioned and not recorded.
- When Royal Wilder's screen door was busted by a pair of drunks, he opened it up and "said what he thought."
- Growing Up Sucks: Laura, Caroline and Martha struggle with this at times.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Explicitly, beginning in the first book — when they're about four and six respectively — between Laura, who is plain, strong-willed and active, and Mary, who is pretty and perfectly well-behaved. Lessens naturally as they grow older, especially after Mary's blindness forces Laura to become her eyes. No doubt describing everything around her for her sister's benefit helped her writing talent, too.
- There's a nice scene in one of the later books where Mary admits that part of the reason it was so easy for her to be "good" when they were little was the pleasure of one-upping Laura — so really, a lot of the time she wasn't being genuinely "good" at all.
- Ironically there is a similar relationship between Laura's great-grandmother Martha and her older sister Grisie. Although there is a larger age gap - eight years or so - like Laura, Martha was tomboyish, energetic and mischevious while Grisie was girly, quiet and passive. One can only imagine what would happen if the two pairs met up.
- The difference between Martha and Grisie is further emphasised by their choice of lifestyle. Grisie marries a rich, landowning friend of their father and settles down as a society wife. Martha emigrates to America with the village blacksmith to live the life of a commoner.
- Height Angst: Laura has quite a bit of this, particularly when she first begins to teach school. She topped out at five feet tall, which was short even by the standards of her day, and worries her students won't listen to her because she's so small. (Turns out she's right, but she handles it.) She also tells Almanzo that Pa never let her drive the wagon, because she's too little. Almanzo thinks that's ridiculous, and teaches her to drive anyway.
- Hidden Depths: In-story, Laura is surprised to realize that her gentle, ladylike mother hates sewing as much she does. In spite of this, both Laura and Ma are skilled seamstresses, as being able to make the family's clothes was an essential accomplishment.
- Hunter Trapper: Pa in the Big Woods, and Mr. Edwards.
- Hypocritical Humor: Mary confesses to Laura that she would like to write a book, and muses that she also planned to teach school, but now Laura is doing that for her. Laura finds the idea absolutely hysterical and tells her to write her own book.
- Ill Girl: It takes Carrie a long time to recover from the malnutrition the family suffered in The Long Winter. She's often mentioned as being "delicate", and suffers frequently from what sound like migraines. At one point she almost faints in school during an unjust punishment, prompting Laura to resent Eliza Jane even more. The fact that EJ picks on sickly little Carrie is what sends Laura over the edge, and makes her give up trying to get the other children to behave.
- Impractically Fancy Outfit: More subtle than many examples, but for women, the fashions of the day were pretty impractical for frontier life. Working a farm in corsets, hoop skirts, and layers and layers of petticoats would have been much harder than it should have been. In Farmer Boy, Alice is explicitly mentioned as planting crops in her hoop skirts, and Laura has to wheedle to leave her corset off while helping Pa bring in the crops. Despite the fuss and trouble of fashion, though, everyone still wanted the latest styles from the east.
- In Farmer Boy, Mother is described as having to turn sideways before she can pass through a door because of her hoop skirts. And Little Town on the Prairie makes a point of the fact that hoop skirts are coming back in to style. Yes. They got rid of hoop skirts and then they came back.
- Improbable Age: Laura, who gets her first teaching certificate at the age of fifteen, wonders if she's too young to be a capable teacher. The fact that three of her students are older than her really doesn't help her self-confidence, and she hits some rough patches during her first term because of it. It works out in the end, though.
- That's Truth in Television though, straight out of the real life of Clara Barton, who was thirteen when she first taught school.
- It was also the reason why Laura in Little House in the Big Woods is older than Laura herself was at the time they lived there. In the book, she is five years old. In reality, she was three years old, and publishers suspected people would not believe a three-year-old would have such vivid memories.
- Innocent Inaccurate: A young Laura goes through this twice with the same issue: in Little House in the Big Woods, her cousin Charley ends up badly stung by bees because he keeps screaming when nothing is wrong to make his father and Laura's stop working and come running, only to get no response when he really does stumble into the bees' nest; Pa concludes that "it serves the little liar right," and Laura lies awake that night wondering how Charley can be a liar when he didn't say anything. The other time is in On the Banks of Plum Creek; Laura honestly doesn't realize she's committing Loophole Abuse re: the strawstack (see below), and she doesn't know why Pa looks shocked when she repeatedly denies sliding down it.
- In with the In Crowd: Not even a year after Laura receives a new autograph album, Nellie Oleson finds out about name cards, and arbitrarily changes the fashion amongst the girls at school. Laura is initially reluctant to ask her parents to buy her some, but they eventually get her to admit she wants them and tell her that they want her to have the same nice things as other girls her age. Laura is both guilty and pleased. See also: Laura's hoopskirts (Laura: "They're a bit of a nuisance, but they are in style, and when you're my age, you'll want to be in style.") and bangs (or, as her parents call them, 'lunatic fringe').
- Injun Country: There are several descriptions of the displaced Indians in Little House on the Prairie, not openly unsympathetic (aside from Ma's open prejudice) but still as dangerous Noble Savages. Native American educators have some pretty harsh things to say about the books and the true story behind the Native situation at the time.
- It Will Never Catch On: Discussed and played with towards the end of "Little Town in the Ozarks" where Rose and her friends were discussing the incoming 20th century; amongst the topics were if horseless carriages would arrive in the Ozarks, the answer was no but they imagined that people would soar through the air in flying machines and that Butch Cassidy would be caught by the law.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Ma was not as slim as she used to be, after five pregnancies, but described how tiny her waist was when she and Pa first met at one point (at the time the book is set, extremely small waistlines were in fashion and corsets were standard wear).
- Jail Bait Wait: Maybe. Thirteen-year-old Laura first meets nineteen-year-old Almanzo when she and Carrie run across the field he and Royal are working in, having gotten lost on their way home from an errand in town. The narrative mentions explicitly that he won't stop staring at her, "as if he had known her a long time". Two years later, when she's fifteen, he begins seeing her home from church, and they marry when she's eighteen. (But see May-December Romance below.)
- The Klutz: Definitely Martha. Laura on occasion.
- Lady of Adventure: All the little house girls naturally. Martha and Laura are particularly significant as the former was the first to emigrate to America and the latter was the original pioneer girl.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: In a rather shocking moment in The First Four Years, Laura and Almanzo take newborn Rose to show to the Boasts, the young couple befriended by the Ingallses, who have no children. As they leave, Mr. Boast comes back out of the house and awkwardly offers to trade his best horse for the baby, explaining that Laura and Almanzo can have other children, but he and Mrs. Boast can't: "We never can."
- Harsher in Hindsight: Laura and Almanzo do have a second child, but he dies a few days later, before they even decide on his name. In Little Farm in the Ozarks, Rose is invited to dinner by her friend Alva, who has a big family with several brothers and sisters. When she asks Laura later why she doesn't have more brothers or sisters, Laura explains to her that she and Almanzo prayed for another baby, but she thinks that, after she and Almanzo had diphtheria, God decided that one was enough for them. Laura muses in a later book how much harder life on the farm has been for Rose, given that she had three sisters and Almanzo three sisters and two brothers with which to divide up all the chores.
- Lighter and Softer:
- Little House In The Big Woods has a significantly lighter tone, compared to the latter books to come.
- Farmer Boy is also a change of pace in a way: whether because Almanzo is a boy, because she was writing about a different family for once, or some of both, Laura clearly felt free to be a little more easygoing and humorous about family dynamics than in the other books. For instance, the young Laura would never get away (narratively speaking) with thinking of one of her parents' rules as "senseless," but Almanzo does. And Eliza Jane is pretty much unapologetically written as a bossy antagonist.
- Loophole Abuse: In On the Banks of Plum Creek, after being told she and Mary could no longer slide down the haystack, Laura decides that she can still roll down it. While she doesn't get punished for it—Pa actually has to turn his back so the girls don't see him struggling not to laugh at Laura's perfectly reasonable argument in defense of her loophole—her father does then clarify that she is no longer to even touch the haystack.
- May-December Romance: A very mild example. In the books Laura shaved a few years off her and Almanzo's age gap—he was ten years her senior, meaning when he started courting her she was fifteen and he was twenty-five. That wouldn't have been seen as at all odd in the 1880's, when an age disparity in a couple might easily be twenty years, but by the time she wrote Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years it would have been considered a little skeevy. (Though not so startling as, in By the Shores of Silver Lake, the story of a girl who was married at thirteen; even Laura and her friend Lena are shocked by that, as they're both nearly the same age.)
- Almanzo's given age in the books varies wildly over the series, possibly to assuage readers over this very issue. In The Long Winter it's stated that he's under 21, the age one had to be to file a claim on a homestead. He tells Royal that he's "21 or as good as." (It's interesting that by the time she was writing the books, Laura-the-author preferred to have people think Almanzo was breaking the law than that he was ten years older.) Laura was about 14, making their age difference only 5-6 years. However, the 10-year age gap comes to light in The First Four Years when it's mentioned explicitly that when Laura turned 19, Almanzo turned 29.
- May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?: In The First Four Years, Laura and Almanzo's nearest neighbor is described as an inveterate borrower who never gives anything back. At butchering time, he comes over when Almanzo's out to ask Laura, one by one, for all the necessary tools, and "grimly Laura said to herself if he came next to borrow their fat hog to kill she would let him have it. But he had a hog of his own."
- Misplaced Kindergarten Teacher: New schoolmarm Eliza Jane gives a speech on her first day about how she intends to rule by love, not fear: "Birds in their little nests agree!". Laura and her friends find it embarrassing and don't think it will go over well when the older boys start coming to school... as it turns out, they're all too right.
- Morning Sickness: Though the term itself is not used, Laura has horrible morning sickness with both her pregnancies, involving not just vomiting, but dizziness and fainting, which scares Almanzo enough to call the doctor. Despite that, she does what she can to take care of the homestead. With her second pregnancy, a neighbor brings her a big bag full of Walter Scott novels, and reading them in between her chores gets her through the worst of it.
- My Card: The first time Laura and Almanzo properly speak to one another, they exchange name cards.
- Narm: In-universe example - Laura and the rest of the students at her school find Miss Wilder's overly cutesy speeches trite and embarrassing.
- National Stereotypes: Occasionally. A couple of these come out of nowhere: A storekeeper named Gerald Fuller shows up several times in Little Town on the Prairie and is never mentioned to be different in any way from the rest of the townsfolk, except for one line where he's described as speaking "in his English way": "I say, there's talent enough for a musical program, what?" And we meet Laura's friend Mary Power's mother once or twice and she likewise has no distinguishing features, but when she resurfaces in The First Four Years to help Laura deliver her baby, suddenly she's a "jolly Irishwoman" who talks like Mrs. Doyle. In the first book, immigrant neighbor Mrs Peterson speaks Swedish to Laura and Mary, and they speak English to her, and "understood each other perfectly well".
- Nice Guy: Almanzo, who drove Laura the twenty-four-mile round trip to and from her teaching job on a weekly basis so that she could spend weekends with her family instead of in the oppressive, unfriendly atmosphere of the Brewsters' house. Charles, Laura's Pa and Caroline's husband, qualifies as well.
- Also Lew, who helped smuggle Martha craft supplies when she was sick in bed. (Including giving her his own knife). "Martha had no doubt he'd do as she asked. Lew Tucker was the type of boy who'd walk through the tempest to help a friend."
- Nobody Poops: The issue is never touched on in the books, although we know pretty much every other detail of the Ingallses' various houses and daily routine, and it's a rather intriguing if potentially Squicky question to ponder (in particular, how they managed during the months of blizzards). There are also, of course, No Periods, Period, and Carrie and Grace are carefully born between books even though this is inaccurate in Carrie's case.
- The closest the books come is Little Town in the Ozarks, written in the '90s by Roger Lea Mac Bride, where Rose is recovering from an illness and briefly acknowledges that she hates using a chamber pot, but is still too weak and dizzy to make it to the town's privy.
- The manuscript of By The Shores of Silver Lake includes a passage where Laura sees men "pissing by the side of the railroad tracks" that they are building, but Rose, in correspondence, advised against its inclusion in the final book.
- Interestingly, while Carrie and Grace might as well have been brought by the stork, both of Laura's pregnancies make it into The First Four Years. Rose's birth is even mentioned, though it mostly consists of pain, chloroform, and some trippy hallucinations.
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging: When the boys find Laura's and Ida's nasty limerick about Eliza Jane and start singing it all around town.
Pa: "What's this? Some song I don't know? You ever hear anything about 'lazy, lousy, Lizy Jane?'"
Ma: "Either way, it doesn't sound like a nice song."
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Eliza Jane. Laura and Almanzo essentially elope because she's insisting on planning a big church wedding for them, which Pa Ingalls can't afford. In the Rose series, she brings her son to visit Rose, Laura, and Almanzo, and the narrative actually does a good job of balancing the fact that Laura and E.J. politely hate each other with Rose's admiration of her aunt. The thing that really frustrates Laura is that E.J. insists on helping with the housework, hustling and bustling and trying to make Laura's workload easier. She tries to deal with it, but Laura insists to Rose that two women cannot coexist in one house.
- Of Corset Hurts: Laura is not fond of her corset; she describes it as "a sad affliction to her". She actually looks forward to the hard work of bringing in the crops, because it means she can leave it off. She also can't follow her mother's and sister's example — they both sleep in theirs, which she gives up on fairly early on. Carrie isn't too keen on the idea, either, and Laura tells her to be grateful to be without one while she has the chance.
- Old, New, Borrowed and Blue: When Ma Ingalls objects to Laura using her new black cashmere dress as her wedding dress, citing the saying "married in black, you'll wish yourself back," Laura cheerfully invokes this trope in response, saying she'll wear the dress with her old blue-lined bonnet and borrow Ma's gold brooch. Ma concedes that there is probably not much truth in such sayings.
- One Steve Limit: Carrie's just a nickname, she was named after her mother, Caroline. Almanzo's oldest sister was also left out of Farmer Boy so as to not confuse readers, since her name was also Laura — which is also why Almanzo called his wife "Bess" or "Bessie" (her middle name being Elizabeth). Laura's friend, Mary Power, is also always referred to by her full name - as to avoid confusion with Laura's sister.
- Averted briefly in Big Woods, where Laura runs into a cousin of hers at Grandma and Grandpa's sugaring off dance also named Laura Ingalls. Played straight because the two of them were probably named after Grandma Ingalls or else Aunt Docia, themselves both named Laura.note
- Outdoorsy Gal: Laura obviously as she prefers working on the farm with her Pa, to helping with housework. However Martha also qualifies as she spends most of her time roaming Scottish moors and playing with her father's tenants.
- Overprotective Dad: Averted with Pa, who has no problem with the much older Almanzo's courtship of Laura, nor of that courtship mostly consisting of driving around behind unbroken horses; he's almost a Shipper on Deck. Ma isn't too pleased about it; at one point she opines that it seems Almanzo wants to break Laura's neck, and she hopes he breaks his own first.
- Perspective Flip: Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls tells the events of On The Banks of Plum Creek from Nellie's point-of-view.
- Probably not intentional, but Little House on Rocky Ridge (the first book in The Rose Years) functions as a perspective flip of On the Way Home (Laura's diary of their trip from De Smet to Mansfield).
- Pet the Dog: Eliza Jane is usually not portrayed in the best light, but she does have one good moment: after Almanzo ruins the wallpaper in their mother's parlor—by throwing a blacking brush at Eliza Jane, no less—EJ finds the leftover paper in the attic and patches it up before Mother and Father find out.
- Pintsized Powerhouse: Laura. Though small for her age, she's strong enough to rip the bolts out of a bench that had been secured to the floor of her schoolhouse. On several occasions, Pa says she's "strong as a little French horse." She also has little trouble helping Pa with the harder parts of bringing in the harvest. Her strength also surprises Almanzo, when he starts teaching her to drive his buggy.
- Plot-Relevant Age-Up: In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura is portrayed as being about five years old. In reality, she was only three. A publisher had her increase her age because it seemed unrealistic that a three-year-old would have such specific memories.
- Plucky Girl: Most of the female characters; the 1880's frontier life tended to require it.
- Prospector: One of Laura's uncles shows up one day with a Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story about going looking for gold in the Black Hills.
- Pungeon Master: Pa, slightly. Ma is anti-pun, but is mentioned a few times to be laughing at one of his in spite of herself. He also brings the house down at one of the "Literary Society" meetings in town when, for a charade, he just balances two potatoes on the blade of his axe: "Commentators on the Acts."
- Purple Eyes: Laura's eyes are simply described as blue for most of the books, but in The First Four Years they're supposedly purple. The Rose Years also call them purple.
- Radish Cure: In Little Town on the Prairie, Miss Wilder attempts to employ this trope by commanding Carrie Ingalls and her seatmate to put their books away and rock their desk as punishment for rocking it while studying. It's mostly an effort to get at Laura by picking on her little sister, and it backfires dramatically (and awesomely) when Miss Wilder demands that sickly little Carrie, abandoned by her seatmate, continue to rock the desk by herself—Laura declares that she'll rock the desk if Miss Wilder wants it rocked, and she proceeds to do just that, ripping the bolts right out of the floor and making so much of a racket that nobody in the entire schoolroom can hear the lesson.
- Rapunzel Hair: In These Happy Golden Years, Laura's hair is described as falling past her knees when it's loose. Ma also mentions that when she and Pa were first married, her hair was so long she could sit on the braids. At that point in time long hair was considered a defining trait of femininity, so most women grew it as much as they could, and rarely (if ever) cut it.
- Pa cut Mary's hair short during her bout with scarlet fever (a common practice at the time, since it was thought that cutting off hair could reduce fever). Ma takes great pains to hide this when they're out in public. There is also a scene where Almanzo has taken Laura and their friends driving, and Cap Garland keeps stealing hairpins from Mary Power, and Laura, who knows Mary's "beautiful large knot of hair" is fake and might fall off at any moment, has to rescue her by shoving some snow down the back of Cap's shirt.
- Rebellious Spirit: Martha, Laura and Rose.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Wild and adventurous Laura typically wears red, while composed and ladylike Mary typically wears blue.
- Regal Ringlets: "Nasty" Nellie Olson's hair, as shown in the famous Williams illustrations, is a classic example of this style.
- The Rustler: Big Jerry, Pa's "half-breed" friend at Silver Lake, is rumored to be a horse thief, and one night the railroad workers lie in wait for him around the stable hoping to shoot him.
- Sadist Teacher: Eliza Jane picks on sickly little sister Carrie to make Laura mad, because she's under the impression Laura is throwing her weight around due to Pa being on the school board. Possibly a Take That, since the real Laura and Eliza Jane didn't get along very well at all; see also EJ being portrayed as a bossy little brat in Farmer Boy.
- Scenery Porn: Loving descriptions of the prairie scenery are a staple of the series.
- Science Marches On: Mary's blindness is blamed on scarlet fever in the books. Modern studies suggest that she had contracted meningoencephalitis, a type of brain inflammation, which caused her blindness. The 'scarlet fever' diagnosis was probably a misdiagnosis, common back then.
- And the "fever 'n' ague" everyone comes down with in Indian Territory is blamed on bad watermelons by Ma and Mrs. Scott and on "breathing the night air" by Pa, but by the end of the chapter both theories have been proved wrong and the book explains, "No one knew, in those days, that fever 'n' ague is malaria, and that some mosquitoes give it to people when they bite them."
- Shipper on Deck: Laura for Mary Power and Cap Garland. And to a minor degree, Mary Power for Laura and Almanzo. Pa Ingalls seems to encourage Laura and Almanzo's courtship as well.
- Shop Keeper: Several, obviously, including Royal — much to the Wilder parents' dismay — and Mr. Oleson. Pa's job at Silver Lake is running the camp store.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Laura and Mary. Martha and Grisie.
- Also Carrie and Grace. The former is quiet and shy, while the latter is loud and confident.
- Caroline (academic and bookish) and her sister Martha (practical and sophisticated) are a mild case.
- Sinister Minister: Reverend Brown of De Smet, whose thundering, fear-based style is contrasted with Reverend Alden, the kind and quiet minister from Walnut Grove. He holds a week of revival meetings at one point, and when the Ingallses go to one, they find it off-putting at best and leave before it's over.
For one horrible instant Laura imagined that Reverend Brown was the Devil. His eyes had fires in them.
- Spirited Young Lady: Laura develops into a middle-class American version of this, while Mary remains a Proper Lady (see Tomboy and Girly Girl, below).
- Martha definitely qualifies as the daughter of a laird (Lord) who prefers foot-racing to sewing.
- Spot of Tea: Pa is a tea rather than a coffee drinker.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Historically Martha and Lew. She was from well-off society while he was a skilled labourer. The books were developing this before Executive Meddling ended the series. In real life they emigrated to America to get married and start a family freely.
- Stepford Smiler: Rose in "Little Town in the Ozarks" notes her Mother to behave cheerfully at the drop of a hat when visitors drop in, despite the fact she hates living in town.
- Technician Versus Performer: Mary and Laura have a bit of this dynamic when it comes to school. They're both incredibly smart girls, but Mary is more Literal-Minded, she's very serious, unsentimental, and unromantic, especially after she goes blind. Laura is friendlier and more imaginative. When she's seeing out loud for Mary, her descriptions are very poetic and evocative, but Mary often corrects her "queer notions," because what she's describing is impossible. Mary doesn't like metaphors, either, and Laura has to stop herself from using them.
- Textile Work Is Feminine: True to the cliché, tomboy Laura hates sewing and ladylike Mary has no problem with it. It comes as a surprise to Laura when she realizes one day that Ma hates it too and just never complains.
- The One Guy & Theme Naming: Among the authors of the books. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maria D. Wilkes, Celia Wilkins, Melissa Wiley, and... Roger Lea MacBride? If you're looking for these books in a library, Rose's will probably be shelved a little ways off from the others...
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Laura and Mary respectively, when they're little. Mary enjoys sewing and knitting, whereas Laura would much rather be outside, either playing or helping Pa. When neighbors come to visit in Little House in the Big Woods, Mary and the neighbor girl play nicely in the house, while Laura and the boy go climb trees. Laura becomes less of a tomboy as she grows up, but she never does learn to like sewing - although she took a lot of seamstressing jobs to help her family financially.
- In the Rose Years series, whistling is mentioned as something Laura enjoys, though it's not considered very lady-like.
- And again, Martha and Grisie, with the same outdoors vs knitting debate taking place a hundred years earlier.
- Tomboy: As mentioned above Laura and Martha.
- Tomboy Princess: While not royalty, Martha is the daughter of a Laird, the Scottish version of a Lord, and so is technically aristocracy.
- Tongue on the Flagpole: During a cold snap in Farmer Boy, Almanzo muses that some kids are foolish enough to take the dare to lick a pump handle, but he knows better.
- Tropey Come Home: In Little House on the Prairie, Jack gets separated from the family when they cross a river that's stronger than Pa realized, and they think he's dead. He catches up with them that night.
- Tsundere: Laura puts up a sharp front because she doesn't dare show much affection for Almanzo. This changes after he proves himself by saving the town... and she proves herself extremely handy at outmaneuvering her rival Nellie.
- Uptown Girl: Martha for Lew. She is part of the Scottish aristocratic class while he is a working class blacksmith. See Star-Crossed Lovers above for more details.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The books broadly parallel the courses of the various Ingalls' lives, but enough details are changed and rearranged to have the series firmly classified as fiction.
- Western Union Man: The telegraph is coming into town in the later books, and Laura goes to dinner at the operator's house. He demonstrates it for the guests, and they're fascinated. He also gets them all to hold hands in a circle and then gives them the first real electric shock of their lives.
- Whip It Good: A gang of rough older boys comes to Almanzo's school every winter to beat up the teacher and drive him away... until this year's model, small, soft-spoken Mr. Corse, literally drives them out Indiana Jones-style with a borrowed bullwhip.
- Write Who You Know: Justified Trope, since the books are partially autobiographical.
- Yawn and Reach: When Laura notes that the back of the seat of the buggy they're riding in is lower than normal, Almanzo rests his arm along the top so he's "not exactly hugging" her. She responds by shaking the whip to scare his colts so they start running and he has to use both hands to control them.