Little House on the Prairie is the catchall name for the franchise these days, despite it being only one of many books with different titles.
The pilot for the series was a more-or-less straightforward adaptation of the book Little House on the Prairie. The series itself began with the setting and stories of On the Banks of Plum Creek. Things like Mary's blindness, Miss Wilder teaching school, and Laura's marriage are from the post-Plum Creek books, which all took place in De Smet, in what would later become South Dakota.
She becomes angry that her newborn brother is taking Pa's attention, and rather than owning up to it, she prays for his death. Granted, this does not cause the baby to die, but it makes you feel less sympathetic toward her when she runs away as a result.
As a matter of fact, Laura can be bratty any time someone seems to "steal" Pa's affection from her. For one, she reacts pretty badly to Albert after his adoption and journey to Walnut Grove.
Laura covets a music box from Oleson's store, steals it, and lies about it. Nellie then blackmails Laura, which includes forcing her to participate in cruelty toward Anna, a friend who has a stutter. Nellie is justly punished, but Laura is never punished for stealing, ostensibly because she had nightmares due to her guilt. It's unlikely many 1800s parents, and even modern ones, would respond this way.
During Part 1 of "I'll Be Waving as You Drive Away," Laura becomes angry with Mary and says she hates her because allegedly, Mary "stole" her boyfriend (an older boy who only liked Laura as a friend). Later, Laura puts up a fuss when Caroline asks her to mop up a broken lamp (Mary had moved it too close to a book because of her failing eyes, and a chair had caught fire). Let us emphasize: Laura did not focus on the fire, nor did she even ask if Mary was okay. She also never seemed to put together that Mary might be unwell or going through severe stress. At the time, Laura is at least 12 and old enough to act more mature.
During "Enchanted Cottage," Mary discovers she can distinguish between light and dark. An eye doctor appointment reveals she can't; she's responding to the heat of sun and indoor lights. Laura is understandably shaken, but focuses on her own emotions more than Mary's. Mary ends up comforting and reassuring Laura, who again never seems to put together that she might be suffering emotionally.
As an adult, Laura comes to believe Nellie is trying to steal Almanzo. Her response is to get into a knock-down, hair-pulling fight with Nellie. This is a grown woman we are talking about. Then again, this is Nellie we're talking about, and Nellie delighted in egging Laura on up to that point just to antagonize her and make her believe that. Arguably, Laura's fight with a woman in "Divorce, Walnut Grove Style" is much, much worse because she is now sixteen and married and developed Irrational Hatred toward someone she only suspected was moving in on Almanzo.
During the season 9 opener, Laura finds out she will be raising her niece Jenny, because Jenny's father is dying. Jenny responds by asking Rev. Alden about Heaven and attempting to drown herself so she can go there to be with her parents. Laura is understandably anguished, but does not attempt to comfort Jenny at all. Instead, she yells at and lectures her, forgetting that one, this child is depressed and suicidal and two, she probably does not understand the implications of her actions.
In short, Laura Ingalls may be an innocent, wholesome protagonist—or she may be a brat with a hot temper and an Electra Complex who, in particular, can't stand to have any important man in her life, not just her father, show kindness toward another female.
Foe Yay: Laura and Nellie, whose rivalry defined much of their youth. In a later ep., when mellowed, married Nellie visits (and deals with her clone Nancy, see below), Nellie jokes with Laura about getting into a fistfight.
In a musical version, Nellie sings mournfully about her life 'Without An Enemy' once Laura leaves to teach.
Harsher in Hindsight: Laura did not pray for the good health of her newborn baby brother, and he died very soon after. When Laura had a baby boy of her own, he died, too! And so fast that she didn't get to name her child!
Jeremy Quinn, Albert's biological father, turning up in Season 6 when Albert wants to be legally adopted. Jeremy just wants him on as a hand at his farm to help him out around the place, not interested in being much of a father at this point in life, wifeless and all. When Albert has a hand in a very tragic fire at the blind school, he runs away from Walnut Grove out of grief, going to Jeremy as the last person he can turn to. When Albert stumbles upon his farm, he finds it eerily quiet... then stumbles upon a freshly-dug grave... Jeremy's. It's implied he worked himself to death on his own, someone found him keeled over, and then quietly buried him.
Any time Isaiah quietly pulls out the moonshine after getting married to Grace or she catches him operating a still. Their marriage collapsed in Season 8 because he couldn't knock the bottle.
Right before the end of Season 9, the last season, Laura is gifted a gorgeous estate by a dying widow who wants hers and her husband's dream home to be kept alive. Come The Last Farewell, not three stories later, and the Grand Finale of the series, She and Alamanzo decide to blow it up- because they realize it's going to fall into the seedy hands of a land baron no matter what they do and the best thing for it is to let the dream die mercifully. Guess you're going to be haunted by their angry ghosts!!
In the season one episode "Circus Man", Mr. Hanson is suffering from terrible headaches, for which nothing seems to work. After taking O'Hara's miracle cure (which of course isn't really one), his headaches go away but Doc Baker warns him that the underlying condition hasn't been found or really treated. Come several seasons later, he suffers a massive stroke which leads to his eventual death.
In the Season 3 episode "The Collection", Dr. Baker is talking to Caleb Hodgkiss, played by Johnny Cash, about a character's husband who passed away recently and she was doing her best to catch up with him. Fast forward to 2003, June Carter Cash, who also guest starred in this episode as Johnny Cash's character's wife died, and Johnny Cash died months later and people believe he died because he was depressed and broken hearted without his wife by his side.
Informed Wrongness: The controversy at the Grange convention in "Times of Change" hinges on whether it's better to rely on government-imposed regulations or private entrepreneurial negotiations; we're expected to passionately agree with Charles (the TV version, anyway) that the former is not just better for business, but morally superior.
It's the Same, So It Sucks: "Someone Please Love Me" is a lazy, almost completely word-for-word Xerox of an episode of Bonanza, with slightly altered dialogue and the actors putting on even less convincing performances than the original. Because the acting is ripping off that story, it comes off as wooden and stilted as well as totally unoriginal. On top of that, the actress playing the daughter (Kyle Richards) is the exact same one used to play Alicia, Isaiah's adoptive daughter.
For a show supposedly purporting wholesome family values, this one had a lot of it. Dead children and babies, fires, rapists, gunfire, rampaging packs of feral dogs, drug addiction and withdrawal, disease...they spared the audience nothing about the harshness of life back then.
Laura's nightmares in "The Music Box." The middle one in particular, where she's starving in prison while Nellie laughs maniacally and chomps on a chicken leg in front of her, is downright creepy.
The notorious two part "Sylvia" episode tops them all. It's shot like a slasher movie.
Almanzo blowing up the first house in The Last Farewell- the one he and Laura got as a gift. Dramatic ominous music leading up to the moment he pushes down on the detonator. It's shot in slow motion and it erupts like one of those nuclear experiment houses in the 1940's. Also, Laura smashing out the windows in a fit of rage.
Narm: A lot of episodes are drowning with Melodrama. Seems like every other story somebody dies/already has a dead parent to milk the sympathy card, someone loses their source of income through a freak development beyond their control, a heavy-handed message gets thwacked over someone's head, or Laura runs off to cry. Sometimes all within the course of the same episode.
Probably best seen in part two of "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not". Almanzo has overworked himself trying to make money to help pay for renting a courthouse for Adam and Mary to start up a new location for the blind school. He gets sick and contracts pneumonia. As he passes out from sickness and refusal to go see a doctor, he falls down the stairs to the tune... of a slide whistle. This is absolutely inappropriate for the scene, given that Almanzo's sickness was played completely seriously, and the effect was totally cartoony.
Narm Charm: To many modern viewers, one of the only reasons to watch. The other being Michael Landon's perm. Or Mr. Edwards.
Melissa Francis, if you watch Fox News or its sister network, Fox Business, starred in two seasons (7 and 8)
Seasonal Rot: Season 7, just by itself. It was full of some really crummy episodes, including the opener itself, which was dragged down by the minimal fanfare given to Almanzo and Laura's wedding and the Bittersweet Ending where Eliza Jane learned she misread the signals of an engaged man and abandoned her homestead and teaching job just to keep the soon-to-be newlyweds together, an hour-long story where Laura was The Chew Toy of an Apron Matron and Eliza Jane carried the Idiot Ballvery hard about Laura's warnings her new beau was a two-timer (Eliza's luck with men is not so good!), the season finale which pulled a double dose of Cousin Oliver (although the two-parter itself was quite engaging).
The Scrappy: Albert. He's not despised all the time, but he is credited with being used as the show's first use of artificial extension to force out new stories by due to his role as their first Cousin Oliver (Season 5 was sort of a Post-Script Season when Michael Landon was unsure if his show would go past Season 4) in the wake of Mary becoming all grown up and on the way to being married due to the events of Season 4's finale.
They Copied It, So It Sucks!: This applies towards Michael Landon's tendency to rip scripts directly from Bonanza in general, having written and directed a few himself. "Someeone Please Love Me" was remarkably Egregious, because it made absolutely no attempt to hide the fact it was repeating the events of the episode blow for blow.
The Aesop veers back and forth between modern values and prairie values being heralded as superior.
Albert sleeping in the same bed with Laura would raise some eyebrows nowadays. They weren't pubescent quite yet, but weren't far from it, and although the family did adopt him, he was not biologically her brother.
Charles not wearing a shirt to bed in the season one episode where they left Isaiah in charge of the household and both he and Caroline were all by themselves.
Alternate Character Interpretation: In These Happy Golden Years, while Mrs. Brewster* Actually Mrs. Boucher. comes off as an ultra bitch that unjustifiably takes her resentment out on Laura Ingalls herself, historical resources and speculation suggests that she was just very homesick and likely suffered from depression. After all, in those days, women were often expected to defer to their husbands.
Beware the Quiet Ones: Caroline largely seems to go along with Charles' schemes, even when it takes her further and further from her idea of civilized life—but whenever Ma finally puts her foot down, it's notable that Pa immediately drops whatever he's doing and listens to her. A notable example is when Ma tells him point-blank that he will not go chasing after wheat that might not exist during The Long Winter, but a more subtle example is when Pa agrees to finally settle the family down based on Ma's wish for the girls to have an education
Cool Uncle: Aunt Lottie, Aunt Docia, and Uncle George are this in Laura's POV, and later Uncle Tom, who shows up in De Smet with a dramatic story about traveling through the Badlands looking for gold. Eliza Jane and Mary became this to Rose.
Most of Farmer Boy is sad in hindsight. The book goes on for pages and pages about the Wilder family farm and its prosperity; by the time the series was written, the farm and the family money were gone due to a disastrous business decision. There's also a personal version in Almanzo: while he's strong enough to spend entire days plowing fields as an eight/nine year old boy, his health was broken by diphtheria as an adult and he needed a cane to walk. While he and Laura eventually did found a successful farm, it never came up to the glory days of Farmer Boy.
The end of These Happy Golden Years can become this, after reading The First Four Years. Caroline frets about Laura deciding to get married in her new black cashmere dress because it invites bad luck. The Wilders are initially quite optimistic about their future, but the first years of their marriage turn out to be one almost-unmitigated disaster. Drought causes their crops to continually fail, they both come down with diphtheria (which gives Almanzo a stroke, leaving him dependent on a cane for the rest of his life), their infant son dies, and then their house burns down and they subsequently lose both claims. If it weren't based on real events, in which Laura and Almanzo managed to build a new life after moving to Missouri, it would be a complete Shoot the Shaggy Dog story. Even then, Laura had been happy to live on the claim because it meant she was close to her beloved family, and after moving she was only able to visit her family once more before her darling Pa dies.
Laura and Almanzo end up not being as able to have more children as the Boasts suggested they would be. They do have a second child, but he dies a few days later, before they even decide on his name, and never have any more children. 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* this actually may not be that far off, though it may not have been as permanent as Laura felt it was; one modern theory is that the baby died because he was conceived too soon after their illness, and thus were not fully recovered. Laura muses in a later book how much harder life on the farm has been for Rose, given that she and Almanzo both had many siblings to play with and divide the workload, but Rose has always been alone.
In Farmer Boy, Royal teases Alice for whistling, saying to her Whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends. The real Alice died fairly young at 39 after moving to Florida with her husband, where the hot climate negatively affected her health and ultimately lead to her death.
Laura's rather critical of and dissatisfied with her own appearance; she envies Nellie Oleson her blonde hair and tall, willowy figure, as she herself is quite short, plump and brunette. In reality, she was a very pretty◊ girl◊.
Runs in the family. In the Rose Years, when Rose is watching her mother get dressed up to see the banker about the farm they want to buy, she muses to herself that Laura is considered the prettiest of her sisters. And when Caroline saw a mirror after a long trip, she wondered why anyone could call her a pretty girl.
In "Little Town in the Ozarks" 13 yr. old Rose feels plain-looking and later in her teens admits to herself about how she hated her chubby cheeks.
Nightmare Fuel: Mostly in the form of the ridiculously varied and unpredictable dangers of living on the unsettled prairie. The whole family bedridden with malaria at the same time with no one around to help until the nearest neighbors happen to check on them; all the times anyone gets stranded out in a blizzard and nearly doesn't make it back (or actually doesn't, in some secondhand stories), especially when it's made clear just how close someone could be to shelter and not even know it; the tornadoes, the fire, and most of all the "grasshopper weather." And although there's an almost oppressively civilized, Victorian tone to a lot of the social interaction in the books, The Wild West creeps in here and there: the railroad workers in By the Shores of Silver Lake, particularly the mob that nearly attacks Pa; the story of a homesteader who left his farm briefly and came back to find a squatter there who shot him dead; and even Mrs. Brewster, the wife in the family Laura stays with when she's teaching school, who is so homesick and stir-crazy from isolation (and she's possibly bipolar, from the description) that she's become dysfunctional and abusive to her husband and threatens him with a butcher knife one night ("If I can't go home one way, I can another").
Ship Tease: There were some hints that Cap Garland had an interest in Laura and that the feeling might have been mutual.
The death of Laura's son, especially so close after her and Almanzo's diphtheria, which was followed by Almanzo having a stroke. Modern medical theory is that the baby was conceived too soon after the diphtheria and died as a result.
Comes up again in the The Rose Years, when the Wilders attend the funeral of their hired man's infant son. Both Almanzo and Laura are wracked with grief, Laura admitting that what struck the the hardest was hearing the preacher read the baby's name—the Wilders' son died before they gave him one.
The end of Little House on the Prairie, when Charles Ingalls muses on "how much fun the rabbits will have eating the garden" which they planted but have been forced to leave behind, along with their house and at least a years' work on their homestead.
The death of Jack the bulldog.
Laura being extremely homesick after she leaves for the first time to teach.
Laura and Almanzo moving to Missouri means the chance for a better life, but she had loved the first claim because it meant she was extremely close to her family. She was only able to to visit her family once after she moves, and it's not until Rose is a teenager.
Pa's death in the sequel series.
Values Dissonance: Laura's youth at the beginning of her and Almanzo's courtship wasn't at all unusual in the 1880's. (She was 15 and he 25, which would garner a visit from Chris Hansen in today's world, but back then many, many women were married before the age of 20; if you were still single at 25 odds are people called you a spinster. The blunt truth is that Laura was, in fact, of marrying age in those days, regardless of modern views on the matter — not that this helps some people.) Fridge Logic can hit that with a potential case of Surprise Creepy, though, when you consider he first met her when she was thirteen, and wonder just how much of a conscious Jail Bait Wait went on there. Laurafailed her spot check when he first started courting her, but Ma definitely wasn't happy about it, precisely because Laura was only fifteen. Fortunately for Almanzo, Pa didn't seem to have any problem with it, but read from an adult 21st century perspective (especially a parental perspective), it can seem unintentionally creepy.
The blackface minstrel show — complete with jaunty assurance that "These darkies can't be beat!" — in Little Town on the Prairie, in which Pa takes part. Not precisely intentional; while the real Laura's experience with actual people of colour was severely limited, it seems to have been amicable. Back in that era, one didn't need to be overtly racist to find that kind of thing hilarious. The Unfortunate Implications didn't show up until several decades after the books were written.
On a lighter note, the parenting styles on display in both the Ingalls and Wilder families, with their extreme emphasis on self-discipline and frequent reference to whippings, are liable to strike modern readers as serious overkill. Laura is reminded constantly that adults — 'ladies' especially — do not allow their emotions to show in public. And when little Almanzo gets too close to a hole during ice-cutting and nearly drowns, he is told immediately post-rescue that he deserves severe punishment for his carelessness, though the punishment does not follow. Pa also whips a 5-year-old Laura as punishment.
See particularly both Ma and Pa's response to Laura's kerfuffle with Eliza Jane Wilder during Miss Wilder's stint as Laura's schoolteacher in Little Town on the Prairie. Miss Wilder's treatment of Laura, and especially her harrassment of Laura's little sister Carrie, is unprofessional, patently unfair, and in Carrie's case borderline abusive; nevertheless, both parents chastise Laura for acting out in protest, and Ma tells Laura point-blank that she should never criticize her teacher. (Though for what it's worth, they hear out her side of the story and admit it wasn't her fault. Pa's only advice is to be careful with what she says to other people, because gossip can spread like wildfire.)
At one point in Little House On The Prairie, Pa gives Mary and Laura a stern lecture for even thinking about disobeying him(though they didn't actually do so). Although, to be fair, in that case it might have gotten their dog killed. A couple of Native men had gone into the house looking for food and supplies. Pa had told them not to untie Jack, who hated strangers. If Jack had bitten one of the strange men, they would have killed Jack and caused MANY more problems.
See also the Wilder parents' horror when Royal decides he's sick of the whole 'get up at 5am and work until sundown' gig and wants to become a storekeeper, instead of a 'free and independent' farmer.
The eponymous Little House on the Prairie was built in the middle of Injun Country: Pa basically found a spot he liked and started building his house. The Native Americans whose land this was are less than pleased, and feel they have a right to come in and take anything they want. This is shown as being a terrible thing to have happened — not wholly unreasonably at the time, since the Ingalls have put a lot of work into their claim but in modern hindsight, that Pa is squatting on their land is a lot more evocative.
One early edition of Little House on the Prairie described the local Native Americans, then ended with "There were no people. Only Indians lived there." Upon receiving a letter that this implied the Native Americans were not people, Laura and Rose wrote back to the publisher that was certainly not meant to be the implication, and the sentence was changed to "There were no settlers." Notable, this complaint was raised almost as soon as the book was published...in 1935.
Similar to the above, the series' portrayal of Native Americans is problematic by modern standards, to say the least. As mentioned, the Ingalls are knowingly illegally squatting in Indian Territory, and Pa does this feeling sure that the government will simply make the Native Americans "move on." He tells Laura as much, insinuating that the white settlers had more of a right to the land than the Native Americans this land was set aside for; the Ingalls eventually move on because the government doesn't do that, but he's pretty peeved about it. The Ingalls build their cabin right next to a well-known Osage road, but their interactions with the Native Americans are seen as intrusive and unnecessary. Ma is openly terrified and bigoted towards them, saying "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," and transferring the fear onto the girls. Pa has more interactions with them and says there's nothing to be afraid of, but it doesn't stop him from hoping the different tribes will go to war amongst themselves and kill each other off. Laura's observations of the Native Americans are supposed to be innocent and child-like, but her descriptions continually contrast them with the "civilized" white settlers and are animalistic in nature. Near the end of book, the Native Americans migrate, and walk past the Ingalls homestead. Laura becomes enamored with a Native American baby she sees, as one would become enamored with a doll, and throws a tantrum, becoming inconsolable when Pa refuses to give in to her demands to "get it for her."
Pa's obsession with moving in general. At the beginning of Little House on the Prairie, the reason given for the move from the Big Woods is that it's gotten too crowded — the definition of "too crowded" being that the Ingallses sometimes, without trying, encounter people they are not related to. After multiple moves and much traveling, Pa's attitude doesn't change, and Laura clearly demonstrates that it's hereditary. The only thing keeping them in place once they hit De Smet is that Charles long ago promised Caroline that he'd ensure their kids got a proper education.
Women's rights comes up a couple of times near the end of the series. Laura-the-Author never quite passes judgment on the idea, although Laura-the-character says she doesn't want to vote, she's just independent and not comfortable vowing to obey her husband against her better judgment. So Laura demands to be treated as a free-thinking individual by her husband, yes, but is still content as a housewife and stay-at-home mom— though she did, historically, work outside the home in different ways throughout her marriage— as a dressmaker, loan officer, bookkeeper, and writer, at different points in time.
There's also the case of Ida Brown, one of Laura's friends as a teenager. Ida is the adopted child of the local preacher and his wife, and some of her dialogue implies a...not-so-nice home life: "Since I'm only an adopted child, you see, I can't have fun with you all after school and instead must go right home and do [insert large amount of difficult housework here]." She says this more than once, and her friends all admire her for it. A more modern reader will cringe at her apparently very low opinion of herself, along with how much it sounds like she's just parroting something she's been told many times, probably by her adopted parents themselves. Which of course leads one to uncomfortably wonder what her life at home with them must be like, especially when Reverend Brown is demonstrated to be a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher whose sermons make the Ingalls family so uncomfortable that they decline to attend the rest of his revival meetings...
What an Idiot!: All of Eliza Jane's actions in Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years. First is as an Establishing Character Moment for Laura— Almanzo had given his thoughts on his sister in Farmer Boy— she immediately takes away the desk that Mary Powers and Minnie were promised when Nellie Oleson demands it, which sows discontent. Then, after hearing from Nellie that Laura was "bragging" about her father being on the school board, she takes out her fury on Laura and Carrie instead of talking to Charles about Laura's supposed arrogance and letting him handle it given the Values Dissonance mentioned above. Not to mention she listened to Nellie and believed her without considering the source which a teacher as a Reasonable Authority Figure isn't supposed to do when there are two sides to a story. Making Carrie rock the chair when Carrie's too weak, and sending The Ingalls home when she rocks the chair so loudly that no one can concentrate, is The Last Straw for the boys in Laura's class, who rebel on her behalf. As a result of these cascading actions, Eliza Jane leaves rather abruptly after the school board barges in on her class suffering disruption, belatedly telling Charles what Nellie told her after the damage has been done. Her two replacements are far better, which shows how stupid her actions were. Then, a few years later, when her brother is marrying Laura, she has the bright idea of convincing her mother to come to the West and force Almanzo to have a church wedding that no one can afford, which forces Laura and Almanzo to have a rushed, small ceremony with only two witnesses. This means she misses her brother's wedding and doesn't mend any bridges with Laura as a result.
Continues in The Rose Years. Eliza Jane got married and moved to Louisiana, and tries to convince her entire family to move down there with her and try rice farming. Laura speculates that she's lonely, but she and Almanzo stay put, since they're still trying to recover from the long disaster that was their first four years of marriage. E.J. does convince her brother Perley, sister Laura, and Mother and Father Wilder to move down there, and at her urging, Father invests his entire fortune in rice farming... and loses it all. Neither he nor Mother recover from the shock, and he died fairly shortly afterward.