Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Little House on the Prairie

I loved The Little House Series when I was nine, ten and eleven. Little House on the Prairie was not my favorite, however. I liked Farmer Boy best, even though it wasn't even about Laura & her family, but her husband, Almanzo Wilder. I also loved The Long Winter- it seemed so cozy and perfect- a long winter snowed in with comfy soups to eat. (Of course, if my family had been snowed in for 7 months, we probably would have killed and eaten each other.)

Little House on the Prairie has been a beloved classic since 1935. It was not until the 1990s that the book became the target of book banners. In 1993, parents in Thibodaux, Louisiana demanded the removal of the book from school libraries because it was offensive to Indians.

The novel was also banned from classrooms in Sturgis, North Dakota for the same reasons. I clearly remember reading those parts about the Indians as a child and thinking "That's the way people were back then." I understood- just as my white, Asian & Hispanic classmates did. We were children, but we were reasonably smart children .


YogaforCynics said...

The trouble when talking about books like this is the still-popular tendency (called New Criticism in college English Departments) at the grade school level to want to look at literature without problematizing it: discussing the context in which books were written and the problems in them. And then, there's the opposite tendency, popular with censors on all sides of the political divide, of going to the opposite extreme and looking at nothing but problems, so that what's good a book gets lost. What's really important with a novel, or with anything, is to learn to see a larger, more complex picture.

sharazad said...

I agree Yoga- it's like Go Ask Alice- the book is an anti-drug abuse novel that has been banned because it involves drugs use & profanity. Little House is a historical novel banned for displaying a historical point of view.

Cleopatra said...

Little House on the Prairie? Yes, that book its definitely offensive and I'm not surprised it's been banned. As if, come on Little House on the Prairie! This series is like reading the bible, it's so wholesome except without all the fighting... This is unbelievable.

Michele Emrath said...

But Cleopatra's take is dangerous, too. Seeing NOTHING wrong with a book because it holds some special place in your memory is as bad as seeing EVERYTHING wrong with it. I feel it is important to look at the opposing sides objectively: is the characterization of Indians in Little House on the Prairie offensive to some? Yes. Therefore the view that it is offensive is valid. HOWEVER, must it be banned because of that? No. No book should ever be banned. But the disturbing parts should be discussed, torn apart and shown naked in the daylight for what they are. Is the treatment of Indians in LHOTP a reflection of the author's time and the characters' time? Yes. So let's discuss why the pervasive views of that time were wrong. We have come a long way but are just as guilty of being close-minded.
Michele Emrath

sharazad said...

Hi, Cleo & Michele, thanks for commenting.

Cleopatra- I had a similar reaction when I first learned of the Little House bans- mainly because I always saw the characters moving from prejudice to understanding. Also, I don't think it would be better to pretend that racism never existed.

Michele- Yes! We should have a dialogue about the disturbing parts of books. However, I think Cleopatra's belief that the book is less offensive than others is valid, too. I don't think this is just based on a fondness for the book. The treatment of the book is reflective of the character's time, but there are many points in the novel where these views are contradicted (by Pa, for example or by Laura herself).

Michele Emrath said...

Point taken. And I didn't mean to pick on Cleopatra! To follow my own logic, all responses are valid.


Anonymous said...

In a classroom setting, this book is appropriate because it will be discussed by the teacher and put in context. In a children's library setting, it is not appropriate because no contextualize nor criticism will occur, or it will occur rarely. Also, these books are ones that some children will read over and over and over again and take to heart; and without contextualization and criticism, messages are imbibed.

In my view, uncontextualized and uncriticized racism has no place in a child's education or upbringing, and therefore the books should be re-written or removed.

sharazad said...

Anonymous- I think you need to read the book. The racism in the book IS contextualized. The book shows that Laura and Pa (who defend the Native Americans against racist remarks) are right and the others are wrong.

Basically, what you're saying is that children can't be trusted to come to the right conclusions and that we should remove an accurate and truthful portrayal of the way certain people acted from libraries to make sure they think what we want them to.

How can anyone learn under those conditions? When you tell children that racism is wrong, should they just take your word for it? Or does it help to have an example like Laura's (whose family is saved by Chief Du Chene)?