Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Attitudes towards American Indians

During my presentation I hope to explore the Attitudes towards American Indians during Chapter 11 of “Little House in the Prairie”, entitled “Indians in the House”.
Throughout this children’s book, American Indians are portrayed in less than positive light, with characters revealing their personal attitudes toward Natives, such as Mrs Scott declaring that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”, and that “they’d never do anything with this country themselves. All they do is roam around it like wild animals”. These views are clearly disrespectful and offensive, especially for a children’s book, which is why Wilder has often been criticized over what has been omitted and what has remained in the novel, by the likes of Laura June who explored the “casual racism” in the plot.
In relation to Chapter 11, we are told that two American Indians enter the household, while Pa is out. Nothing about the description of the Indians is positive, as Laura informs us of their skunk smell, and the girls’ immediate reaction to the men is negative, “Indians!” Mary whispered. Laura was shivery; there was a queer feeling in her middle and the bones in her legs felt weak.” This, however, can be considered a normal reaction, as Laura tells us that from prior knowledge, “she knew they were wild men with red skins”. In this, we can see how the attitudes of her parents towards the Natives have been passed down to Laura and her siblings.
A significant part of this chapter is the fear of Ma’s character as she had to protect her family, due to Pa’s absence, from the Natives. She does as she is told and gave the Indian’s tobacco and fed them, being shown as a victim in this perspective. However this can be argued as almost ironic, through Angela Cavender Wilson’s quote, that we should “observe how expertly [Wilder] crafted the horror of white supremacist genocidal thinking and the stealing of Indigenous lands into something noble, virtuous and absolutely beneficial to humanity”. In this, we can see that the scenario of Indians taking the tobacco and cornbread from the Ingalls family could be compared to the unjust taking of their lands. Therefore, it could be argued that the attitudes shown toward American Indians in the novel could be conveying the fear of Indians taking back what is rightfully theirs from the settlers.
A key aspect when exploring how the attitudes towards American Indians are conveyed through the text, would be to consider how Wilder could alternatively have portrayed the Indigenous people in her novel. As discussed in the lecture, with Wilder being a non-Native writer, there are clearly obstacles in avoiding appropriation, while remaining sympathetic towards this group of people which she had viewed as different and threatening, from a young age. Furthermore, Wilder intentions are to have the audience side with the Ingalls family, therefore, like the wolves and diseases, the Indians are just another hardship for the family to struggle with for survival in the West. And yet on the other hand, Wilder couldn’t exactly have completely omitted the presence of the American Indians altogether, as this could also have offended, as well as disrupted the plot majorly, as the people impacted her life, and therefore her books, so much.
In this, it can be argued that Laura’s attitude, presented in the book, is typical of a non-Native settler child, who was the product of a society which oppressed the Natives, as well as seeing them as threats of an almost animalistic nature, similar to the wolves seen in the book. During the book, we see Laura wants her father to give her one of the First Native babies, suggesting she saw the people as lesser beings, which she could objectify and own, even at such a young age. Furthermore, we see Laura hope that Pa could “show her a papoose…just as he had shown her fawns and little bears and wolves”, yet again suggesting that American Indians were creatures, rather than human beings, for her father to possibly hunt.

In conclusion, I think it is reasonable for readers, especially today, to find the attitudes conveyed towards American Indians within “Little House on the Prairie” as shocking and casually racist, particularly within Chapter 11. However, I also believe that this view towards American Indians, albeit horrifying, is simply a product of life at the time the book was written, with settlers fearing those whose land they had taken, and treating them like wild animals who lacked civilisation. The view of the Indigenous people through the eyes of a small settler girl is a sad example for readers today, of how the group were viewed.

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