Building an Empire through Gender Roles in Little House on the Prairie
Children’s literature of the Nineteenth Century is notoriously known for its projection of expected Victorian gender roles upon its young readers. Male and female characters were often given specific duties, reactions, and characteristics that reflected society’s particular attitudes and moral beliefs onto the upcoming citizens of the empire. These embedded concepts helped to encourage nationality and guide children towards their specific gender roles which would ensure the kingdom’s future success. Even in class situations where the demanding gender roles were unreasonable to fulfill, the pressure to conform to the Victorian beliefs was still prevalent.
During the Victorian Era, society had idealized expectations that all members of their culture were supposedly striving to accomplish. These conditions were partially a result of the development of middle class practices during the “industrial revolution… [which moved] men outside the home… [into] the harsh business and industrial world, [while] women were left in the relatively unvarying and sheltered environments of their homes” (Brannon 161). This division of genders created the ‘Doctrine of Two Spheres’ where men were active in the public Sphere of Influence, and women were limited to the domestic private Sphere of Influence. Both genders endured considerable pressure to conform to the idealized status of becoming either a masculine ‘English Gentleman’ or a feminine ‘True Woman’. The characteristics required women to be “passive, dependent, pure, refined, and delicate; [while] men were active, independent, coarse …strong [and intelligent]” (Brannon 162). Many children's novels utilized these gendered expectations in order to instill nationalism and program morality into the future citizens who would someday lead the empire.
Evidential stress on gender roles has been noted by several researchers who discovered that nineteenth century elementary texts highlighted the issues of “sex-stereotyped portrayals” (Sadker 272). Research “found male characters portrayed as creative, brave, persevering, achieving, and capable of solving problems. In contrast, they found female characters drawn as dependent, passive, incompetent, fearful, and concerned about physical appearance” (Sadker 272-73). These stereotypical characteristics are evident in many male-oriented novels, but are prevalent in female-based texts as well as exemplified in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novel Little House on the Prairie. The gender roles in this novel are often blatantly obvious through passages such as “every day Pa went hunting and trapping. In the cozy, firelit house Mary and Laura helped Ma with the work. Then they sewed quilt patches. They played Patty Cake with [baby] Carrie” (Wilder 253). In passages such as this, Pa is given the manly role of going into the world to be the “family provider” (Labrie 122), while the girls contrast him by staying...