This evening I read an article entitled Little House On The Controversary: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Name Removed From Book Award, by Kat Chow. It discusses how a division of the American Library Association voted unanimously to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a significant children’s literature award over concerns about how the author referred to Native Americans and blacks.
The famously read Little House on the Prarie book series was written by Laura Ingalls Wilder in 1935. Based on her childhood growing up on the American Great Plains in the 1800’s. This work of fiction has been criticized since its publication for its treatment of Native Americans and blacks.
The thing is, many books, fiction, and non-fiction written in the past, have depicted forms of racism, bigotry, and sexism. Historical writing typically gives the reader a vision of the times. In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the setting is in the South during the 1930’s where racism was prevalent and real. In the story, words such as Nigger and Nigger- loving show the speech and mindset of the time. Yet, the educational significance of this story in teaching generations the horror of racism is monumental.
I fear that we will remove the novels and stories of times past and lose relevant pieces of our history. These stories, no matter how painful they be, lead us to open our hearts and minds to a more compassionate way to treat others. Often, the best lessons are learned through negative and appalling examples read in safety removed from the experience.
One example is reading Night by Elie Wiesel. His telling of his experiences with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust is horrifying. It leaves the reader to question how human beings can be so cruel to each other. It teaches about anti-semitism, evil, death, darkness, but also the strength of the human spirit, and hope.
As a society, it would be detrimental to strip our writers of their tales or the characters the ability to stir emotion just because we don’t agree with their viewpoints or words. Charles Dickens who penned stories like A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist, wrote on controversial topics and was one of the most important social commentators who used fiction effectively to criticize economic, social, and moral abuses in the Victorian era. Mr. Dickens contributed to many important social reforms. He was an author who used his characters to demonstrate compassion and empathy towards the vulnerable and disadvantaged segments of English society.
His characters were not always politically correct or very benevolent. The famous character, Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol whose quote, “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Scrooge refers to the poor in England. Readers are repulsed by this opinion and are called to action.
I don’t agree with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s opinions on Native Americans nor blacks in the 1800’s. It is hard for me to fathom how people could think and act as they did in the past. However, I am better for reading those stories regardless of how horrifying, cold-blooded, and eye-opening they may be. It will be a fatal end to free speech and free thinking if we shun the authors and books that express historical and controversial opinions. It is nothing more than book burning without the fire.
Copyright © Jamie Nowinski and Grandmother Wisdom/ Grandmother Musings 6/25/2018.
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