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Headscratchers / Little House on the Prairie

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  • Recently, I saw the two-hour 'May We Make Them Proud' for the first time in over two decades. For the uninitiated, this is the episode where a fire at the School For The Blind claims the lives of recurring/supporting character Alice Hanvey, and Mary's infant child. What really bothers me is that both deaths could have easily been prevented. When the others discover the fire in the basement which is spreading out of control, they immediately rush upstairs. Adam (Mary's husband) and the others pull Mary away from the baby's crib and drag her out. Not ONE of them even thinks to grab the baby — and I, for one, would think they'd be sure to grab the baby first. No, instead, the baby's an afterthought — after just about everyone else is evacuated from the building, Alice goes back for the baby, and as a result she and the baby die. Much of the rest of the episode deals with everyone's grief, and Albert's guilt over causing the tragedy (he and a friend dropped a lit pipe in the basement). But no one shows any sign of guilt over just forgetting the baby like that. What's going on here? Is there some sort of Values Dissonance here, or are characters just plain not doing what I think they should have done in that situation?
    • I remember reading one of the autobiographies of the actors (either Melissa Gilbert (Laura) or Alison Arngrim (Nellie), I believe) where people pointed this out to the director (who I believe was Michael Landon) who insisted it stay that way despite the fat that the baby could have easily been saved.
    • Toward the end, Charles tells Albert, "It's nobody's fault." Why would he say that? It was a lot of people's fault. Albert and his friend were the two who had the most blame for smoking in the basement. Hester Sue opened the door and let the flames spread. Alice and Hester Sue dragged Mary away from the baby. Mary left the baby. Then, Alice used the baby to break the window out, not that it helped her any.
  • I've wondered why, when Laura and Mary were young, Ma was so insistent they only wear certain colors based on the color of her hair. Laura's clothes were always red or pink because she was a brunette, and Mary's were always blue because she was blonde. I've never heard of that convention anywhere else, and I wonder if it's something specific to Ma's family rather than a widespread fashion rule. Laura mentions in On the Banks of Plum Creek that it had to be that way, but not why.
    • I think fashion "rules" were a lot stricter in the 1800's than today. Fashion books (what we would call magazines today) came over from Paris, and ladies copied the pictures. Bonnets are out this year? You better convert that bonnet into a hat. Hoops are narrower? Skirts are longer? ...And it was that way through the 1950's. I'm not just making this up, by the way. I've seen it referenced in Anne of Green Gables, in one place where Anne says she can never wear pink, and in another where Mrs. Lynde chooses a nice brown gloria for a dress that will suit Anne perfectly. It's also referenced in the book version of Gone With the Wind, where the ladies of Atlanta mob Rhett to tell them what the fashionable Parisiennes are wearing (they were cut off from Europe for several months by this time because of the Yankee blockade), and then, after the War, Scarlett sees Emmie Slattery in new clothes and mentally takes note of what the new year's fashions are. So yeah, Ma Ingalls had very ladylike aspirations despite her poverty, and it would be in keeping with the times and her personality to be worried about things like that.
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    • Also, it's not uncommon even now for families to color code their children to cut down on rivalry. If Laura always wears the red hair ribbons and Mary always wears the blue ones, you don't have a fight in the morning about who gets which color, and it's obvious which ribbons are whose. The question is if Carrie and Grace got colors too.
      • Brunette Carrie and blonde Grace were also pink and blue, respectively.
    • Keep in mind, too, that Laura was writing from the perspective of a young child. If your mother says something "has" to be some way, who are you to argue? It could just be because Ma says so. It's worth noting that when Ma does accidentally switch their ribbons, she just exclaims that she made a mistake and lets them wear what they have on. As mentioned, Ma would be the sort of person to make sure that the girls are keeping up with what's considered attractive. There's also the fact because the Ingallses were so poor, Laura and Mary probably only owned two or three dresses each, one of which was only for church. When you have so few dresses, it's better to err on the side of caution and make sure that they all are designed to match the girls' coloring and be as attractive as possible.
      • It does allow Mary to invoke True Blue Femininity. That probably was not intentional, but still...
      • Actually, considering True Blue Femininity is believed to be derived from popular depictions of the Virgin Mary showing her with a blue mantle, it could be a little intentional. One of the Rose books casually mentions that "pink was the color for boys," after all.
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    • It could be that Laura's understanding (she was eight, after all) was a little simplistic and that it wasn't hair color specifically but general appearance; consider that even today, we still recognize that different people look good in different colors, and since Laura and Mary would have maybe one nice dress per season at any given time, their mother would be that much more eager to get something that complemented each girl's looks. And in terms of the ribbons, Ma would probably want them to wear the colors that matched their dresses just so it looked orderly and planned. So it is (in part) because of hair color, but in a really roundabout way.
  • I've got a headscratcher. What on earth was Nancy Oleson's problem? I get the fact that she was supposed to be a reincarnation of sorts for Nellie, but her personality went far beyond Nellie's nastiness. The child basically tried to murder someone. What gets me is, there was no real reason given for this outlandish behavior. Nancy said it was because her mother abandoned her, but that turned out to be a lie. I have my theories: histrionics, pathological lying, blooming sociopathic tendencies—but why didn't the writers ever clear up what the issues actually were? Moreover, why wasn't this child given help? In my opinion, the whole thing almost makes her a Butt Monkey.
    • Remember, she's basically the worst attributes of Nellie multiplied by a thousand. She (the author) probably didn't give two oxen horns about giving this character a sort of character arc as that would've made her slightly sympathetic. In my view, we're supposed to hate this character no matter what.


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