Little House on the Prairie Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 43-page guide for “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 26 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Racial Attitudes of White Settlers and Feminine Propriety and Filial Obedience.
Little House on the Prairie, by American author Laura Ingalls Wilder, was first published in 1935. The book is part of a nine-volume series based on Wilder’s childhood and adolescence growing up in the late 1800s in Wisconsin, Kansas, South Dakota, and Minnesota. While the books feature Wilder’s family and friends and historical events, they are fictionalized accounts. Wilder was known not only for the Little House books, but for her letters and journalism, and she received a lifetime achievement award for her contributions to children’s literature from the American Library Association in 1954. Wilder’s books have been adapted to television and theater.
Little House on the Prairie and the rest of the Little House series are considered middle grade historical fiction. They portray examples of everyday life for white settlers of the central United States during the late nineteenth century. This guide refers to the 1963 Scholastic paperback edition with 1953 illustrations by Garth Williams.
The Ingalls family—parents Charles and Caroline, known as “Pa” and “Ma” in the book, and daughters Mary (age seven), Laura (age six) and Carrie (a baby)—live in Wisconsin in the late 1800s near their extended families. Pa hears that Native American territory on the prairies of Kansas will soon open up to settlement by whites and decides to move there to claim a good plot of land before the selection gets too competitive. The family packs up their belongings and travels in a covered wagon to Kansas. They find a suitable piece of land, and Pa builds a house and stable, digs a well, and hunts and traps in the area.
Native Americans often pass through and camp near the family’s house, putting them on edge because they are afraid the Native Americans will be hostile toward them. Natives sometimes come into their house, and Laura’s parents feel compelled to give them supplies when they indicate that they want something. Potentially dangerous wildlife is also nearby, and the family has run-ins with wolves and a panther. The house is very isolated from other settlers, but the family interacts with a few neighbors, a bachelor named Mr. Edwards and a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Scott. Laura and Mary love playing and frolicking on the prairie, and Laura is captivated by the landscape and by the family’s animals—dog Jack, the horses Pet and Patty, and a foal named Bunny. She loves to hear Pa play the fiddle in the evenings, which he does often.
A year after the family arrives in Kansas, many Native Americans leave the area. Just as Pa is preparing farm fields to grow crops and a garden, he learns that US soldiers will be coming through the territory to remove white settlers rather than allowing them to claim land. He immediately packs up the house and reassembles the covered wagon, and the family moves on the next day, looking for a new place to call home.
Reflecting Laura’s young age and the target audience of young readers, the narration is written in a simple style. Wilder writes the book from an innocent child’s perspective rather than that of a grown adult, reflecting on past events, perhaps to make the story more relatable to her young readers.