Tuesday, 2 February 2016


Operation of traditional gender roles 
Chapter 10- A Roof and A Floor

Throughout the novel the characters in Little House on the Prairie have either upheld of subverted the traditional gender roles which were evident at the time. In Chapter Ten, the family are fully settled in the Prairie and are beginning to have more normal life as they settle into a routine. As Mary and Laura spend their day doing chores and after looking at the wildlife on the Prairie, Pa hauls logs up to the house, so he can make a roof and floor. Whilst Ma looks after the children and takes care of the household.
The moderation of the chapter involves Charles Ingalls carrying out jobs which emphasise his masculinity and role in the family. Laura Ingalls implements many instances which clarify this point. Ingalls makes it clear that Pa worked hard and was strong, as he was ‘hauling logs’ for ‘days and days’. Pa’s need to provide for his family is evident, as he did not stop ‘hauling logs to go hunting’, Pa conforms to the gender roles. As Cynthia C. Prescott states, ‘It was men’s responsibility to provide their families with food and shelter, and at least a few small comforts.’[1] Pa has a clear determination to provide food and comfort for his family, demonstrating his masculinity, as he says, “You shall have furniture, too, as fine as I can make it”, and he does not shy away from his duties as the male figure.
When describing Pa on the roof, Ingalls portrays him in a traditional masculine way, with a hammer which had been in his belt and ‘some nails in his mouth’, this stereotypical view of men is still present to today, demonstrating how men are associated with fixing and building. In relation to Prescott’s statement, Charles Ingalls was a stereotypical pioneer, as he does not participate in chores which are normally associated with women but focuses more on skills which will help them survive.
Similar to Charles Ingalls, Ann Romines states that Laura is as ‘equally restless’ as her father.[2] Romines suggests that Laura’s qualities are more masculine as she is louder and more outgoing. However, due to her being a female, she goes against the social norms and thus subverts the traditional gender roles, which were common during the Western Frontier. At the beginning of the chapter, Laura and Mary are busy, ‘all day long, everyday’, doing domestic chores such as, washing dishes and making the beds. It begins relatively calm with both girls following the norms and values they had attributed. Laura demonstrates feminine qualities as she watched animals in ‘the tall grass’ with her sister as ‘they lay still’. Nevertheless, Laura’s energetic, unfeminine demeanor, comes through when she, ‘jumped up and ran and shouted till Ma came to the door’.  This uncivilised manner demonstrates the more masculine qualities which Laura has in comparison to her much quieter sister. However, this can be linked to the ‘traditional work patterns’ being ‘overturned daily’ when women were travelling to the western frontier. Due to this overturn of gender norms women had to help with “men’s work”, this led to consequences such as, ‘gender roles; becoming ‘troubled areas to many women’.[3] Therefore, demonstrating that Laura’s inability to follow the traditional gender roles can be connected to the Western Frontier lifestyle.
In comparison to Charles and Laura Ingalls, Caroline Ingalls conforms to the gender roles and attempts to maintain them throughout the novel and chapter. As Glenda Riley states, ‘Women settlers […], carried the primary responsibility for home and family.’ Ma is the prime example of a female settler, as she carries out domestic chores, and preserves the children’s appearance. This can be highlighted when Ma says, “Can I never teach you to keep your sunbonnets on?” Ma wants to preserve their well being but also wants them to not resemble Indians. Demonstrating not only her motherly nature but also her need to maintain the social order. In addition to these feminine qualities, whilst Pa builds the roof on the house, Ma sits outside, ‘with a quilt and her mending and Baby Carrie’. Ma continues her maternal role and does not deviate from her domestic duties.
Both Caroline and her daughter Mary have the same traditional values. Although at the start of the chapter she ‘hunted for birds’ nests’ with her sister, throughout the rest of the chapter she is constrained by the gender roles. However, by the act of hunting birds this indicates a more adventurous side to Mary which is not evident throughout most of the book. This being said, Mary continues to follow the traditional gender roles like her mother.
Overall, the Ingalls family conform to the traditional gender roles. Although they are away from society, the social norms are still implicated and followed, with the exception of Laura who subverts these roles to a certain extent. Demonstrating the operation of the gender roles and how life on the Prairie adjusted to them. 

[1] Prescott, Cynthia Culver, Gender and Generation on the Far Western Frontier (Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 2007) p.39
[2] Romines, Ann, Constructing the Little House: Gender, Culture, and Laura Ingalls Wilder (Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997) p. 150

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