Sunday, December 21, 2008
Don't Burn Down the Little House
Recently someone in my book group expressed a strong opinion that the Little House on the Prairie Books were pretty much useless in terms of literary significance because of Ma's racist references to the Native Americans. She felt these references impugned the value of the entire book. It was an interesting idea to consider, because of course no one would be supportive of anything that even suggests racism. But somehow, her stance felt wrong to me and I had to let it sit for a while to consider it, and eventually (as always) my thoughts settled and I understood how I felt.
There are many books with racist overtones that are highly valued in literature because they present the complete picture of life at a particular point in time. We don't stop reading them because of a racist remark. If we did, we would lose some of our greatest literary treasures. Would we change Gone With the Wind, for example? That's tantamount to censorship and really, what is the next step? Shall we start book burning? Or maybe just red-lining the parts that offend us?
I think this woman is assuming that one would read Little House and think it is somehow correct to make these racist references. But for heaven's sake -- this was written hundreds of years ago. No intelligent person would make that leap today and, in fact, it makes perfect fodder for thinking about how much life has changed. (Along with thinking about how we no longer blow up pig bladders to toss around as balloons.)
Please God, let us never in our world start to edit our book choices based on some individual's decision about what they decide seems inappropriate to them. It has happened too many times in history and is happening right now in this world. If anything, as readers we should fight against this kind of controlling behavior because what are we as a society if we are not, at the very bottom of it, able to be free thinkers? While often well intentioned, it never, ever ends well.