A Review: My Re-reading of The Long Winter

The Long Winter (Little House, #6)The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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.

View all my reviews

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About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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4 Responses to A Review: My Re-reading of The Long Winter

  1. Laura says:

    One of my favorite Little House book scenes is when Pa plays the fiddle again at the end. I loved your review!

  2. Nicole says:

    Melanie, I can’t bear this book! Every page is filled with Pa’s selfish failings that got his family in this situation, and everyone else having to deal with the fallout. Never mind Ma’s hatred of the Indians. Down with Pa! Up with Laura! 🙂

    • Hi Nicole,

      Thanks for your comments. I do understand why you have issues with it. There are things about the series, overall, that as a modern reader it is hard to get around (this about Pa’s show in Little Town on the Prairie.) You might be interested in seeing the read-a-long that Beyond Little House did of The Long Winter. There is a really interesting discussion surrounding Pa and how as adults we begin to understand Ma all that much more.
      http://beyondlittlehouse.com/about-2/read-along-the-long-winter/

      I completely agree with you that I like Pa less and Ma more (her racism aside, this makes me uncomfortable as well.) I think about how this is consistently used by Wilder as an aspect of Ma’s character. He is ready move on again and she’s like, “No.” Also, I wonder if showing his failures gives rise to a new hero, Almanzo. (The posthumously published The First Four Years aside.)

      But there is something about the rhythm of this book that is simply beautiful and I like the comfort in seeing how they survived something so challenging. I realized that, as a kid who had just learned about the Holocaust, this story gave me some hope of survival. 🙂

      I’m with you: Laura rules.

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