Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 17: The Sociable

Guest post by Amanda Morris

This chapter begins with a visit from Mary Power, informing Laura that the Ladies’ Aid Society is giving a dime sociable and asking if she can attend. Laura does not know what a dime sociable is, but she does not want to ask Mary what it is. She feels somewhat behind the times compared to her more sophisticated friend. Apparently Ma is in the same boat because she was not even aware that a Ladies’ Aid Society had been formed. This might have something to do with the fact that Rev. Alden is not the preacher and so Ma and Pa are slightly less than enthusiastic about the church right now. (Side note: I recently learned that Rev. Alden attended Dartmouth College, my alma mater! Go Green!)

Laura is granted permission to attend, along with Mary Power, but Minnie, Ida and Nellie cannot attend because it costs a dime. This is a very clear illustration of the change in the Ingalls family’s circumstances. Laura can now afford luxuries that her friends cannot take part in. When the day finally arrives, Laura gets ready and is dissatisfied with her appearance. She asks Ma if she can cut bangs like Mary Power’s. Ma is reluctant, calling Mary’s hairstyle a “lunatic fringe.” I have always thought this sounds kind of harsh, although maybe the connotation was different. Then again, when I first read this bangs were quite the thing… The illustration shows Laura snipping away at her bangs, and they seem pretty standard. At last, Laura turns to show Ma the finished product:

“It looks quite nice,” Ma admitted. “Still, I liked it better before it was cut.”

OUCH! Maybe I was just a delicate little flower as a teenager, but I think that I would have cried if my mom said that to me about a haircut, especially right before I went out to an event I was nervous about. Pa and Carrie soften the blow somewhat, and then there is nothing more to do but wait for Mary Power.

Once Mary arrives, they head to Mrs. Tinkham’s house. They are welcomed inside, leave their wraps in a small bedroom, and then head to a larger sitting room. It is lavishly furnished and decorated, as the Tinkhams own the town furniture shop. The guest list for this event includes Florence Garland, Mrs. Beardsley, Mrs. Bradley, and Mr. and Mrs. Woodsworth. They are all sitting in awkward silence, or at least Laura feels awkward about the silence. The silence continues until Rev. and Mrs. Brown arrive. Laura is fascinated by Rev. Brown, who is supposedly a cousin of John Brown of Ossawatomie, and Laura thinks there is a resemblance. Her description is not really very flattering, here or in any of the descriptions of him throughout the series. But really, he could not have been ALL bad if he was willing to drop “obey” from wedding vows in the 1880s, right?

Rev. Brown’s arrival breaks the ice for the other guests, but Mary and Laura remain silent. Then Mrs. Tinkham brings out custard and cake. This at least gives them something to do, but once they have finished they are pretty eager to leave. Their relief is palpable.

Pa and Ma are surprised by her early return, and Laura hates to admit that she did not have a good time at the event she had been anticipating for so long. She tells Ma that she should have been the one to go. Ma says that once the people in town are better acquainted, the sociables will become more enjoyable. According to The Advance, church sociables are greatly enjoyed.

While the sociable was not fun, this chapter and the one before do a good job of setting the stage for what is to come. The town is starting to come into its own, with social events and modern trends hitting the stores. But most importantly, for me, the Ingallses are finally reaping the rewards of so many years of hardwork and sacrifice. Just last week I completed a trip to Pepin, Walnut Grove and De Smet, and decided to re-read “On the Banks of Plum Creek” as a result. I just finished the chapter in which Mary and Laura buy a slate, and money is so tight that they are reluctant to ask Pa for even one more penny to buy a slate pencil, opting to spend one of their Christmas pennies from the last Christmas in Kansas. Going from reading that chapter, to reading this one for the read-along, the change in the Ingalls family’s circumstances feels especialy poignant. All the books are ultimately uplifting, but it is nice to see the Ingalls family experience a bit of luxury.

Posted in Little Town on the Prairie
5 comments on “Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 17: The Sociable
  1. LauriOH says:

    I wonder if Laura doesn’t start receiving these little luxuries because she has worked over the summer, once she earned the money herself it seems like it would be hard to deny her. I know the money was used to help send Mary to college, but still Laura is a contributing member of the family.
    Also, maybe Rev. Brown wasn’t that bad, he was just “different” than Rev. Alden. I’ve seen at my church that when someone “loves” one minister, the next is never quite as good especially if they have different styles.

  2. Amanda Morris says:

    Lauri, that probably was a big part of it. The same thing happened with my church in NY. I know that a lot of people don’t like Rev. Brown for whatever he and his wife did to make Ida feel like “only an adopted child,” but I always appreciated the vows thing.

  3. Eddie says:

    I like the vows thing too, plus I like the way Mrs Brown keeps back pies and cake for the women doing all the work at the New England supper. I think the idea of an adopted child ‘owing’ more to their adoptive parents must have been typical of the time.

    • LauriOH says:

      So Mrs. Brown is the opposite of the teacher at the Sunday School picnic (not in the books) that kept Ma’s pie just for the teachers? Interesting that the stories are told with a different tone.
      I wonder if that was more Ida than the Browns. She seems to me to be a sweet, gentle person. One, if adopted as an older child, may have felt that she owed them something more than they held it over her.

  4. janNC says:

    It turned out that dropping “obey” from the wedding vows really wasn’t the issue. In “The First Four Years”, it was revealed that Laura really wanted to convince Almanzo to do something other than farming for a living. She felt that farmers were unfairly treated because they were told how much their crops were worth on the one hand and how much goods we cost them by the store owners on the other hand.