Janet Spaeth

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




"'Over the Horizon of the Years': Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House Books" consists of five essays, each of which focuses on an aspect of Wilder's writing which has been overlooked in critical analyses of her writing. The title is taken from the ending of The First Four Years: "'it is better farther on' . . . over the horizon of the years ahead." "Horizon" is a key word in a study of the Little House series, for Wilder had to examine the horizon behind her to write the books, which are autobiographical fiction, while projecting the optimism contained in the horizon ahead.

The first essay, "Family Folklore in Little House in the Big Woods," explores family traditions in folklore and their relationship to the general structure of Little House in the Big Woods, which Wilder wrote to preserve the stories her father told her when she was a child.

The second essay, "'It Is Better Farther On': The Westward Movement and the Little House Books," considers the Little House series as a unified account of the effects of the Homestead Act of 1862 on both the pioneer and the frontier: the lure of the West, the struggle to comply with the terms of the Homestead Act, and the building of a frontier society.

The third essay, "'I Have Always Lived in Little Houses': Wilder's Portraits of Frontier Women," discusses female social training on the American frontier as revealed in the Little House series. Most of the characters in the series are female and thus provide a valuable view of the women who settled in the West and their interpretations of their environment.

The fourth essay, "Expression of Growth in the Little House Books: Language and Experience," examines Wilder's language--the dichotomous ordering of Laura's environment, the changing image of the stars, and Laura's perception of language--to discover how she portrays Laura's growth to adulthood.

The fifth essay, "The Technique of the Little House Books," identifies particulars of Wilder's technique (point of view, plot, theme, tone, imagery, personification, and character) and analyzes their contributions to the enduring success of the series.