I wanted to do something fun without committing to a multi-year thing, so let's all watch me completely abuse the concept of "Let's Play" in the context of a Little House on the Prairie binge reading. (Really, you're lucky I didn't call it Liveblogging. I'm older every day, you know.) Posts to be posted when they are posted. Standard Ana-stuff applies: there's stuff about Little House that I love, stuff that I hate, and stuff that I'm ambivalent about; an attack on 19th century attitudes does not mean I want to dig up Wilder's ghost and snark at her, etc.
Chapter 1 of Little House in the Big Woods opens strong with the kind of imagery that makes me love these books: the Ingalls are storing away food for winter. That might not sound like a world-beating plot, but OH MY GOD NINETEENTH CENTURY FOOD PORN:
Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come.
Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic’s corners.
The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry, and yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves.
And that's AFTER the venison and BEFORE the bacon, both of which are thoroughly saturated in gorgeous-smelling hickory smoke. I like Big Woods best of all the books by far, and I think it's half because food porn, half because cozy forest setting, and half because none of the annoying assholes that show up later in the series. It's increasingly clear to me that Big Woods was the zombie apocalypse escapist novel of my childhood.
One thing that strikes me, though, and it's something I'm not sure I'd have thought of if I'd not just read Robin Maxwell's "Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan", and it's how gendered the roles are so far and how passive the voice is. I know that this is the nineteenth century plus Laura is just a little girl here plus Rose's heavy editing hand -- I don't care for the moment. What I see so far in this chapter is that Pa is doing all the masculine things (trapping, shooting, fishing, butchering) and Ma is doing all the feminine things (gardening, cooking, child raising) and the girls are mostly ... watching things.
All that day and the next, Ma was trying out the lard in big iron pots on the cookstove. Laura and Mary carried wood and watched the fire. It must be hot, but not too hot, or the lard would burn. The big pots simmered and boiled, but they must not smoke. From time to time Ma skimmed out the brown cracklings. She put them in a cloth and squeezed out every bit of the lard, and then she put the cracklings away. She would use them to flavor johnny-cake later.
Cracklings were very good to eat, but Laura and Mary could have only a taste. They were too rich for little girls, Ma said.
There's not a whole lot of "you'll need to know this when you're older" training, possibly because that would be too much like work and school, and therefore wouldn't be as romantic and interesting. Or maybe Ma and Pa were just biding their time until the girls were older. But more than that, Maxell's take on Jane got me thinking, because Maxwell makes the point -- multiple times -- that when you're in a survival situation (like the Ingalls are described here as being, living off the land and storing enough food for winter, and basically on their own barring the occasional help from a relative, a couple of things may become clear.
One, gendering roles is foolish. If someone does something well, they do it. If Ma aims better than Pa, she does the shooting; if Pa has stronger arms better suited for laundry, then he does laundry. In a survival situation with a very small group of people, gendering roles becomes actively harmful to the survival of the group.
Now, you could make the case that the roles are gendered because they were pre-gendered, so to speak. Which is to say, Ma is the better cook because she was trained to be the better cook because gendering was part of her educational plan. And Pa is the better hunter because yada yada. And this makes a degree of sense, but leads to Maxwell's second point.
Two, when in a survival situation, you spread knowledge as much as you can. Hypothetical example: Ma teaches Pa to cook during the long winter hours; Pa teaches Ma how to shoot and aim. The idea being that when you're in a very small group, if one person is knocked out by death or disease or disability, you can't afford to lose one-half or one-third of your survival skill repertoire. Maxwell's Tarzan teaches Jane not because he isn't capable of taking care of her, or because she needs to be his equal; he teaches her because he needs her help. Redundancy systems, people! Very important in your survival novel.
Of course, this doesn't mean that people dropped into a survival situation are going to grok all this instinctively. That's the Noble Savage myth cropping up, the idea that if we just get far enough away from civilization, we'll magically shed all our human-othering bullshit tendencies. Alas, no.
So it's not surprising to me that Ma and Pa engage in this behavior. It's just kind of ... food for thought. Alongside the food porn for thought.