My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Long Winter just keeps getting better every time I read it. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it. We aren’t just lulled by the howling winds of the blizzard, but feel the dreary dullness of the monotony tied up in the weather’s grip. The blizzard is a character in itself, blasting and teasing, howling and laughing, sometimes even playing.
Laura is like the town and community on the verge of growing up. She’s both Ma’s and Pa’s right-hand, doing both the farm work and work in the home. Wilder’s non-fiction often spoke of the importance of the partnership between a farmer and a farm woman in keeping the farm going, and Laura breaking gender codes by helping Pa and making the hay while the sun shines becomes the perfect commentary on this-particularly at the end when Pa admits that they would never have had enough hay had she not helped.
Even after multiple reads, the tension when Almanzo and Cap Garland getting the wheat is still just as thrilling because we can feel how lost Almanzo and Cap are in the wild white haze and how cold they must be. It is interesting, too, to kind of see Almanzo’s growth. (We also see more examples of Laura equating Almanzo with his Morgan horses.) I hadn’t noticed it really before, but he goes from kind of the casual boy lying on the pile of hay at the beginning of the novel to a man who is willing to take action and stand by it, selfishly.
Ma, too, is definitely one of the unsung heroes of the novel, figuring out how to make the seed into flour for the wheat, watching her daughter’s moods and finding ways to keep their minds and spirits sharp by having them quote passages from their reader.
The use of musical imagery is another thing that we see in all of Wilder’s novels and this one is no different. Even when Pa can no longer play, it is the blizzard that has a symphony of its own and it becomes fitting that the last scene is of Pa playing and the family and the Boasts singing after a bountiful Christmas in May supper, showing that even with the darkest of winters, one knows that Spring will most certainly arrive.
For me, this is a metaphor of our own emotional winters, where we may need to go within, perhaps find nights where the darkness engulfs us, like it did Laura, and then find a moment-a lingering of light within- that tells us that the Chinook wind is coming, we just have to be patient and wait.