Caddie Woodlawn

I hate Venn Diagrams — with a passion.  Yet, Caddie Woodlawn is the first book (thing, idea, WHATever) to make me want to produce one. Seriously!

Why?  ‘Cause it’s a whole lot like the Little House books.  After having read it, I don’t actually understand how someone could really say they preferred one over the other due to the “story” or Caddie as a person versus Laura. There is a place for both, without really needing a preference.

The setting for Caddie Woodlawn is in a settlement in Wisconsin.  Little House in the Big Woods is set in the woods of Wisconsin.  That both stories would outline Wisconsin as a place for growth and settlement is interesting.  However, (clue word for difference if you’re in elementary school), Caddie’s family lives in a rather large, established home with grounds and hired workers.  Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family lives in a modest home, with some land, but no helpers.  While Caddie (Caroline) will end up growing up in Wisconsin, Laura will move about the midwest as her father searches for a place with fewer people.

Their family units are both large, but different in that largeness.  Caddie Woodlawn mentions Clara, Warren, Tom, Hetty, Minnie and Joe, with a sister who died.  Laura’s family consisted of Mary, Laura, Carrie, Grace, and a brother who died.  Since Caddie’s father pushes her mother to allow Caddie to be raised as a tom-boy (due to recuperating from an illness), and she has brothers, many of her adventures are those of a young man at that time.  However, Laura’s mother (like Caddie’s) expects her daughter to grow up and take on family responsibilities, so Laura’s tom-boyish nature is generally squashed by her mother.  I think both girls have the SPIRIT; however, both don’t have the opportunity.  I imagine that the Little House series would be different had Charles Ingalls been allowed to raise Laura in a less “civilized” manner, and that she had older brothers.

Both Caddie and Laura’s mothers were from “back east” and generally wanted their daughters to grow up to be civilized, polite, polished, and accomplished young ladies.  Both women expected a lot from their girls and merely tolerated the tom-boy nature that both girls had.  While I had been told by a woman that she preferred Caddie Woodlawn because “it didn’t have all that guilt about being proper in it.” I have to say, it does.  Both protagonists are abundantly aware that they are not pleasing their mothers through these actions.  At the end of Caddie Woodlawn, as she begins to show interest in the home arts, she leads her brothers into them as well.  The Woodlawn family encourages this since it won’t hurt a boy to know how to do things around the house.

I did find, and I feel this is a justified criticism, that Caddie Woodlawn is less tied to gender roles than the Little House series. It IS a feminist book. Caddie’s mother does more than tolerate her daughter’s pluck, initiative, and athletic endeavors.  She allows this without saying too much, which is more than Caroline Ingalls does.  Caroline Ingalls works very hard to bring Laura back into the norm.  By allowing Tom and Warren to take on household duties, the Woodlawn family encourages the closeness of the siblings, allowing Caddie to feel her way into the feminine arts, without losing her friends in the process.  Throughout the Little House series, despite the fact that Laura shows pluck and initiative (and despite what we learn about her later as a writer, wife, mother and business-woman), her books really do seem to encourage being a “little lady” and actively discourage any feminism or gender equality issues.

In short, Caddie’s “misadventures” are rarely punished or considered bad, but Laura is always caught (or confesses). This is most interesting if you consider the Caddie was going into her teen years at the end of the Civil War and that Laura Ingalls was born in 1867.  Being born later, one would assume that Laura would be less conservative than Caddie or Caddie’s family.  Perhaps Laura’s conservative nature is born of situation, the Ingalls’ family lack of affluence, or the writer.  Caddie Woodlawn is written by the protagonist’s granddaughter, while it is assumed that Rose Wilder (Laura’s daughter) had some influence over her mother’s writing.  Both book series were, however, written after the 19th amendment had been passed in Congress (different from being ratified by the states.).

Both Caddie and Laura adore and idolize their fathers.  Their mothers are running the households, but their fathers are AMAZING.  Both men move west to settle the continent and to seize opportunity.  Caddie’s father, however, is content to take a job, live near the local town, be a town leader, and actually settle his family.  As such, his family has security and affluence. It takes Laura’s father BOOKS (years) before this occurs, and probably only then because it’s too hard on his family.  When Laura’s family finally does settle, with her father working for the railroad and running other businesses, she is a teenager, Mary is blind, and there are new responsibilities to consider.  It just now occurred to me that Caddie is allowed to be a child, while Laura is ALWAYS pushed to be an adult.

Both girls adore their family dog. Caddie has Nero, who is taken by her uncle for training, and runs away from him (her uncle comes off as a putz).  Of course you know Nero’s going to return in the end.  In the meantime, however, Indian John leads his tribes-people away from the settlement due to some heated concerns so he leaves his wounded dog with Caddie. Caddie nurses his dog back to health.  Indian John returns to reclaim his dog later in the book, and the dog returns to his original master (despite looking back at Caddie and being confused). Laura has Jack, the bulldog, who follows her family all over hell and back, also getting “lost” along the way.  You don’t expect Jack back, so you’re crying when he comes home.  Then you cry when he dies, even though he’s old and walked thousands of miles, because he’s become like your own dog.  Yes, I’m crying as I write this.

Both Caddie and Laura have interactions with the North American Indigenous Peoples (we call them Indians).  Caddie has very good feelings towards the Indians near her home, fostered by her father’s relationship with John.  Caddie even leaves her home to warn John that the towns-people are considering attacking his tribe (due to a rumor/scare).  Laura’s relationship with Indians is one of love and hate.  She truly wants to love them, like her Pa.  However, she is afraid of them, like her Ma.  Due to her father’s building on Indian land in the Missouri/Kansas territory, Laura becomes very afraid of the Indians as they come into the house, eat the Ingalls’ food, and smoke Pa’s tobacco.  I know readers who are critical about Laura’s wanting to set Jack upon them (which Pa told her specifically NOT TO DO), but I have to wonder if you would feel the same in a similar situation?  Laura is very clear in her writing about being afraid.  [Star Wars Primer — YODA: “Much fear you have.  Fear is the path to the dark side… fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate.. hate leads to suffering.”]  I do think that fear leads to loathing, so since Laura’s experiences with the Indians are different than Caddie’s, I feel her opinion of them is not unfounded.  Not politically correct, but not unfounded.

I  found Caddie Woodlawn to be an enjoyable-enough book.  It didn’t leave me clamoring for more (which truly it would have had I read it when I was in 4th grade), but I will seek out the sequel. In my mind, there is a place for both books as experiences and expressions of life during the settlement of the Midwest.  Furthermore, it makes for a great compare/contrast assignment. 😛


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