Subscribe to Christianity Today
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
Laura Ingalls Wilder
South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2014
472 pp., $39.95
Rachel Marie Stone
Making All Things New
In one of my favorite chapters in all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, Ma coerces Laura into giving Charlotte, her beloved rag doll, to the bratty child of a neighbor, Mrs. Nelson. Anna has terrorized Laura and her sisters all day, and, in Wilder's close third-person narration, Laura looks forward to her departure, and to "straighten[ing] Charlotte's skirts and her hair when Anna went away."
And then, "a terrible thing happened. Anna would not give up Charlotte." Anna howls and kicks, and because she speaks and understands only Norwegian, Laura surmises that Anna thought she had intended Charlotte as a gift. In any case, when Laura tries to take the doll back, Anna screams.
"For shame, Laura," Ma said. "Anna's little and she's company. You are too big to play with dolls anyway. Let Anna have her."
Laura has no choice but to "mind" Ma, and watches from the window as Anna skips away with Charlotte. Ma scolds her for "sulking," but later, when "the wind went howling by the eaves" and Charlotte's box is empty, and the house, without Pa, feels empty too, echoing Laura's sense of hollowing bereavement, Ma apologizes. "I wouldn't have given your doll away if I'd known you care so much."
Not long after, on a "stormy day," sent to the Nelsons' house on an errand, Laura finds Charlotte "drowned and frozen in a puddle. Anna had thrown Charlotte away." She gathers the battered, now-ruined doll ("Anna had scalped her"), hides it under her shawl, and run homes to Ma, who comfortingly draws Laura onto her lap and invites her to tell her all about it. In the course of their conversation, they agree that "it had been a terrible experience for Charlotte," and that Laura is justified in taking her back. And then, that very evening, in an episode which—so it seems to me now—requires the suspension ...