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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-06-17 02:23 am

Newbery Honor: The Jumping-Off Place (Marian Hurd McNeely)

I don't think I know anything about this book, except that it's a 1930 Newbery Honor Book and that it's out of copyright (available here). So!

* The dedication is "To the Two Who Were There With Me", which suggests this is at least semi-autobiographical. Fiction or non, I don't know yet.

* The chapter titles indicate it's a prairie settlers story: "Where the West Begins", "Making a Home", "Prairie Bonds", etc.

* Yes, one of the illustrations listed at the front is "The Four Young Homesteaders Look at Their Land", which suggests about the same era and setting as Little Town on the Prairie -- but the first illustration shows a boy and girl in twentieth-century clothing, so I'm not sure. *checks Wiki* Apparently the Homestead Acts didn't go out of force until 1976, and were still being revised and expanded as late as 1916, so twentieth-century homesteading must have been more prevalent than I knew about.

(Granted I only knew about homesteading at all from the Little House books. *dry grin*)

* First sentence: "Down on their knees, a boy and girl were taking up the kitchen linoleum."

* I don't know how to characterize the writing style. It's very... spare? We get details in little driblets -- the boy is a redhead; the linoleum is tacked down (I'm used to modern glued-down PVC "linoleum", but historical linoleum was a form of oilcloth); the kids are aged fifteen and seventeen but it's not clear which is which. They're working by candlelight at half-past eight in the evening, and when I put the book down to write this paragraph, they'd just started guiltily over hearing someone called "Aunt Jule" coming back into the house.

* Dick, the boy, says Aunt Jule has come back to see if they've read "the will", and is surprised that Becky, the girl, hasn't "told her we were going". I think I like this writing style, so far. It'll be interesting to see how it works out once we have more backstory and aren't just... kind of blundering around listening in on a story we aren't part of, trying to figure out what's going on by what the characters refer to off-hand.

* There is reference to an Uncle Jim who "was so sick"; I'm assuming till further notice that that's who has died and whose will is in question. Becky decides they will let Aunt Jule in and explain to her that they're leaving. Dick grumbles "I'd rather let in measles" as he goes to open the door -- I reserve judgment as to whether the author is trying a bit too hard to pre-inform us we are to dislike Aunt Jule.

* It's either 1910, or later than 1910 but Aunt Jule still wears the old clothes. She's described in much more detail than anyone or anything else so far, and the whole description is aimed at how unpleasant she is.

* Aunt Jule starts by scolding the kids for doing manual labor in overalls the day of a funeral, claiming it's disrespectful to Uncle Jim; at least she's written as unpleasant, rather than it being a merely informed characteristic. ;P The kids explain that they're getting ready to pack, to go out to Dakota "to the Jumping-off Place" to live on Uncle Jim's homestead, which he filed on before having a stroke. After the stroke, Jim told them that even though he could no longer go out and farm as he'd planned, he still wants them to do so, and an unknown "Phil and Joan" have agreed to help. Jim planned everything out in a notebook he kept by his sickbed -- Betty brings this up against Aunt Jule's repeated assertions that Jim "must have been out of his head" after the stroke.

* There are only fourteen months to go till "proving up" on the homestead claim, that is, till the five years' farming since the claim was filed have been completed and the claimants own the land free and clear. That'll make this a shorter book. ;-)

* Becky and Dick are orphans, presumably raised by Uncle Jim. Which may have been evident, but it's nice to have it confirmed.

* Aunt Jule refers to "dirty Indians and coyotes" as hazards of the homestead area. I'm going to take this till further notice as more evidence that Aunt Jule is Not A Nice Person.

* Phil is ten years old. I hope Joan is over twenty-one or I don't know that the homesteading will actually be legal, with the original claimant dead. But by the way Becky mentioned "even Phil and Joan" agreeing to help earlier, I suspect Joan is either young like Phil, or has other responsibilities that make it somewhat surprising she'd agree to help.

* There is no house on the land, but there's a barn which should be livable. The animals - one cow and a team of two horses - will just have to live in the large tool shed.

* The kids don't plan to do full-scale farming, anyway; according to Uncle Jim's plan, they'll have only ten acres planted with corn, just to feed the livestock, and then a vegetable garden for themselves, and keep chickens as well as the cow. That way they can "prove up" the land and own it so in some years when it's worth a lot of money they can sell and be provided for. (It's not explained exactly why it'll be worth a lot of money, just that Uncle Jim did all the math. *waves hand airily*)

* The kids also own Uncle Jim's house, i.e. this one that they're working on turning over the linoleum in, and plan to rent it out for $25 a month so as to have a bit of income to buffer them if their crops fail. -- ah, no, it's already rented, to "the Glovers".

* Aunt Jule has more to say, mainly about the impossibility of living through a Dakota winter and about how the kids always fight among themselves so how can they expect to run a household smoothly? Clearly the latter is Foreshadowing about the character arc the kids will have to go through during the story, and I already knew the former was going to be the climax of the story, because the last chapter but one is titled "Snow Bound".

* The kids' last name is Linville; at least, Becky's and Dick's last name. I have no idea how Phil and Joan come into the picture.

* Aunt Jule thinks Betty should go to "normal school" for three years and become a teacher. Becky says she can do that afterwards, but is determined to prove up on the claim first, because Uncle Jim wanted it.

* Uncle Jim apparently had advanced ideas about mourning clothes; Becky wore her blue hat to the funeral, refusing Aunt Jule's offer of a black mourning veil, and Dick states that this was on Uncle Jim's express request. Certainly in 1910 the author does need to address the issue of these kids who loved their uncle going immediately out to Dakota and wearing overalls instead of black mourning clothes for a year -- but Uncle Jim's exact words, quoted by Dick, are "it was easier to put on black after folks were gone than to treat them white while they were here." Which at the time, I'm sure, was very clever and witty, but the use of "white" as a complimentary adjective was awkward even in 1910, let alone in 1930, and has only gotten worse since. ;P

* Aunt Jule, it seems, is only an aunt-in-law -- the kids are children of her dead husband's sister -- while I get the impression that Uncle Jim was their mother's own brother. I hope that doesn't foreshadow any Plottery about family-feeling and blood-loyalty. o_O

* The kids plan to leave for Dakota "next Saturday". I find it interesting that which Dakota is not specified, since the Dakotas became states in 1889; surely the old "Dakota [Territory]" usage is out of date?

* Becky goes over the final packing plans, and then we get an info-dump explaining how the kids came to know Uncle Jim and what they thought of him. They first met him when their father died, eight years before our present scene; he was a sailor, who left the sea and came to take care of his sister and her children. Four years later their mother died and Jim finished raising the children alone, working at some unstated "business" to earn money, and helping Becky with the cooking and sewing etc.

(It turns out Becky is the older child - seventeen as our story opens.)

* ...no, Uncle Jim filed on the claim only the previous summer or fall? So it seems they need only two years of "proving up", and don't have to actually have someone living on the place all the time like the Ingallses did in the Little House books. I assume the changes were made in one of the later Homestead Acts to make it easier for people to prove up on the land that hadn't yet been taken. That or the author's research is faulty. I don't know.

* By the way Becky is worrying about her own personal ability to be the leader of the little group, she is the oldest of the four, and Joan must be a younger child, like Phil.

* Ah, here enters "a sharp-chinned little girl, with a freckled nose, and gray-green eyes". This will be Joan, yes? -- yup. Becky takes Joan back to her bed, and the third-person narration is left with Dick's inner thoughts.

* Dick thinks a little bit about how he'll miss his old friends and activities - track running, baseball, ice skating - and this house where he mostly grew up, while he labels the linoleum for shipping. It seems they're travelling to South Dakota's Gregory County, near the Nebraska border. This ends the chapter.

* (Looking at the Gregory County census listings, it seems our four little heroes come at the very end of the area's settlement; the population went from ~200 non-Native inhabitants in 1890 to ~13,000 in 1910, and has gone slowly downhill ever since. As of this writing there are about 4,200 people living in Gregory County.)

* So, let's recap. Four children, apparently all brothers and sisters, of whom the oldest is seventeen and the youngest perhaps eight or nine, are travelling out to South Dakota to live for fourteen months in a barn, according to a plan their dead uncle made. We are informed that the uncle was a wonderful and loving person; the aunt who opposes the plan is certainly an unpleasant person and doesn't have any good suggestions to make, nor does she put her concerns well, but I think she has some valid points.

(Do non-USians quite follow this whole plan? Probably not. South Dakota is the closest thing, except for its neighbor North Dakota, that we USians have to a Siberian landscape outside of Alaska. The Dakotas lie directly south of Saskatchewan and Manitoba; like those Canadian provinces, they are VERY FLAT and almost totally treeless. They suffer from tornadoes in the summer, blizzards that sweep straight down from the Arctic Circle in the winter, and intermittent droughts and floods all the time. They're also -- well, I'll quote a much better description than I can give, once I get into the Little House series, but they're overwhelmingly quiet and huge. You either love them or hate them, and if you hate them they can drive you actually insane rather quickly; it's not a place to live alone if you aren't at peace with your inner monologue. And even if you like the place, as I do, the winters are literally killer if you're coming from a more temperate climate. There isn't much that can prepare you for six months of forty below.)

Sooo, yeah. I understand why the kids feel like they don't have any better option - the plans were already half in motion when Uncle Jim had his stroke, and to recall them would cost more money and work than they have, whereas if they can "see it through" they'll have a good springboard for the future - but I do think the narrator is being a bit... straw-man-ish by burying the legitimate concerns about this plan under Aunt Jule's sneers and nastiness.

* Chapter 2 is "The Jumping-Off Place". The whole town that the Linvilles are leaving turns out to see them off at the train station, and a few paragraphs are devoted to telling how everyone feels about the trip.

* Now a news agent speaks to Joan. I'll quote his description: "A very friendly man, with much gold in his teeth and on his cap, who called her 'sister', and laid on the seat beside her a package of gum, a fortune-telling ring, and a bottle made of parafine, with a delicious-looking red liquid inside. He passed on without waiting for her grateful, 'Oh, thank you!'" Now does that, or does it not, sound like an Untrustworthy person and the beginning of a Subplot in which the unwary young Joan - already excited about the swankiness of the train cars - will become embroiled? I think it was the gold teeth that set off the first alarm bell, which concerns me. Why should the having of gold-colored tooth-fillings or caps indicate a Bad Person?

*reads up on dentistry* According to Wiki, gold is the most durable material for dental fillings and crowns, much better even than modern ceramic-polymer composites specially formulated for the purpose. In 1910, the other option would have been mercury amalgam - at least 50% mercury, the rest being made up with silver, tin, copper, and/or zinc - which may or may not have serious health side effects. Either type of metal filling would have conducted heat and cold annoyingly, so the only reason not to choose the vastly more durable gold is if one is poor and can't afford it. Yet my mental image of "a man with gold in his teeth" in the early part of the 1900s is, a slovenly brown-skinned (Italian, Jewish, or Hispanic) con man in flashy clothes, whose friendly smile is marred by a gold tooth and whose victims identify him to each other by said tooth.

...I wonder if gold fillings became associated with con men and/or with Jewish merchants and pedlars due to their reputation for money-grubbing, whereas mercury fillings would indicate a poor-but-honest white farmer or factory-worker? "Societal Implications of Tooth-Filling Material in the Early Twentieth Century": a paper I shall almost certainly never write. ;-) It'd be kind of fascinating to read, though.

* Where was I? Right. Joan hides bottle and ring, and gives Phil a stick of gum. I'm not sure where Becky and Dick are at this juncture, or why nobody is paying attention to the younger children.

* Ah - the news-agent returns and demands 35 cents in payment for the things he gave Joan. The gold teeth return: "The news agent showed the gold in his teeth, but his smile seemed, somehow, less pleasant." Yeah, this is definitely a stereotype the author is playing on.

* Joan only has a dime, and the news-agent refuses to take the unopened bottle and ring back, so Phil makes up the money with a quarter he got for selling his pet rabbit. The children polish off the snacks in secret - Becky and Dick are sitting across the aisle, staring out the other window this whole time completely oblivious - and then ask Becky when they're going to eat lunch.

I'm not sure whether to judge the older children for being absent from this part of the story, or the author for forcing them to be so. The author, I think; it read a bit like she just wanted them out of the way so that Phil would have a chance to stand up for his sister.

* They eat lunch at a park in Galena, Illinois, while waiting to change trains, and then visit the preserved home of General Grant, where they receive a brief tour although it's after visiting hours. Joan likes Galena very much and wishes they were planning to live there instead of in Dakota.

* They take the 10pm train from Galena to Omaha; Becky doesn't think they can afford a sleeper-car, so the three younger children sleep tucked up in their seats with blankets, pillows, coats, and sweaters. Becky tries to sleep under a "steamer rug" (a heavy wool blanket for the use of shipboard passengers sitting in deck chairs on brisk days), but instead sits and thinks about how young and inexperienced she feels, and how incompetent to handle everything she has to manage. Then she takes out the thin green notebook in which Uncle Jim made all their plans, and reads up on what to do - he had everything planned right down to the train schedule. He assures her via his writing, "This is the home stretch. You'll love the prairie."

* I have to say, I think that's awfully self-assured of him, and awfully informed-characteristics of the author. Not everyone loves the Dakota prairie. I happen to, but I've talked to quite a few people who find it absolutely terrifying -- and I can see where they're coming from. If you aren't comfortable with extreme stifling silence, with feeling completely alone and self-dependent in the face of an entity that doesn't care about you (the Dakota prairies are totally an entity), with the ultimate agoraphobia test, you will NOT love the prairie, and nobody can be sure if they will or they won't until they try it. Certainly I can see why Uncle Jim, a sailor, would, but this whole plan is predicated on the kids loving it too. :P

* After more instructions on how to get to the claim, Uncle Jim closes his notes with "If you don't like the prairie then I've counted wrong", which... depending on how you interpret it, could mean several things, including merely "then this won't work", but to me it reads like the beloved figure beyond the grave will be DISAPPOINTED if the kids don't like the prairie, and like the author is setting them up to be DETERMINED to like it and therefore they'll come to love its harsh moods and subtle beauty, Because You'd Like It If You Knew It Better. o_O Pushy. Or I might be reading into the whole thing.

* Becky, at any rate, is comforted by Uncle Jim's writing tone, and curls up and goes to sleep.

* As they travel north from Omaha toward the Dakotas, we get our first descriptions of the prairie, and of the white and Native people who inhabit it. (The claims are made upon a reservation recently "thrown open to settlers", which is not questioned or criticized at all. But apparently there are still some Native people in the area. I am confused.)

* Ah. Here's a map. The "Rosebud Indian Reservation" is a real place; the purple 1910 boundary represents the state of affairs at the time of our story. I gather that this boundary was cut down from a larger previous one, and that Uncle Jim's claim lies just outside that purple line, most likely to the east of it because that's where Gregory County is.

* I also find that it's not as utterly flat as the prairie further north; the reservation is described as having stands of Ponderosa pine and deep river valleys along with its flat grasslands. It lies just north of the Nebraska Sandhills, a hilly prairie region associated with the Oglala or Ogallala Aquifer... does any of this mean anything to non-geologists? Probably not. ;P Basically, the Oglala Aquifer is the underground water reservoir - contained in the pores of a multi-state-wide rock formation - that makes the Great Plains not a Dust Bowl any longer. It's huge, huge, gigantic, enormous, THE source of irrigation water for America's Breadbasket, and running dry rather fast. In North Texas it's already empty.

* All of which was pretty much a digression, but it tells us these kids a hundred years ago will have good farming land with a reliable water supply during their lifetimes. ;P (Besides, you can never be too informational about the Oglala Aquifer problem. In my opinion. *geologist grin*)

* The train rolls onward. The sun sets. Joan writes a badly-spelled, cute little poem about the sunset and the journey.

* Finally they reach the town, Dallas. It's the last stop on the railway line - the "Jumping-Off Place" of the book's title. Becky decides it's too late at night to bother the lumberyard-keeper who has their freight and wagon in storage, so she leaves the two younger children to sit in the hotel's lobby while she and Dick buy the last few supplies they need for homesteading. Dick observes that their money has "hopped off" quickly, and he and Becky have a brief quarrel about whether each other's purchases of cretonne and gun-cartridges were really necessary.

* I am... unimpressed by Dick's attitude. I'll quote part of the conversation verbatim: [Dick says:] "Those cartridges will give you fresh game to cook." - Becky's eyes snapped. "To cook for whom?" - "Thought you were going to can the scrapping?" [translation: going to stop fighting] - The girl looked ashamed. "I am. We mustn't, Dick." - "See that you don't, then." Which is all extremely... Dick gave offense, Becky got mad, and Dick used "oh, you said you weren't going to fight" to make her stop AND THEN took a high-and-mighty tone as if the fight was all her fault. I am judging this book harder and harder, even though it's really well-written and these are mostly minor little things I'm digressing about.

* Mr Cleaver the lumberyard-keeper is a trustworthy fellow, the omniscient Uncle Jim has assured us from beyond the grave. As if to reinforce the fact, he looks like Santa Claus and gives hearty handshakes of "real welcome". After querying Becky a little bit about the children's plans, Mr Cleaver decrees, "You'll do."

* Once the wagon is loaded - it won't hold all the stuff, and Uncle Jim planned for Dick to bring the wagon back later and fetch the rest - Mr Cleaver suggests hiring a homesteader by the unlikely name of Wubber to carry the rest, as Wubber is heading in their direction and has some room in his wagon. Wubber, "a blond man whose face was so sunburned that he seemed to have the wrong wig on" (I've known people who looked like that, haven't you?), refuses payment beyond taking a meal with the kids, since they'll be living only a mile from his place and that makes them near neighbors.

* Dick and Wubber will each drive a wagon alone; Cleaver will take Becky "and the small fry" ahead to the Linvilles' claim in his car. I suspect that someone actually talking in 1910 would have said "motor-car" to distinguish from a "private car" such as rich folk hooked on to trains in order to travel in luxury, but our 1930 author just uses "car".

* We get another lush and dramatic description of the flat, grassy prairie. Joan asks if the prairie is "all just grass", and Mr Cleaver gives a little speech about the flowers and prairie-dogs and so forth they'll encounter, and assures them again that they'll grow to love the place.

* Becky, anyway, loves it immediately. She and Mr Cleaver (who I keep nearly calling Mr Cheever by accident, due to Gone-Away Lake) have a conversation about Uncle Jim's prior visit to the claim. Mr Cleaver also asks if the kids are "planning the five-year residence", so I guess at this point it was possible but not required to "prove up" a claim by living there a full five years? I don't even know.

* Becky is disappointed in her first sight of the barn they plan to live in. "In spite of all Uncle Jim had told her, she had not expected to find things so primitive, so unprotected, and so bare." I really, really don't think these kids are properly prepared for this adventure. *frowns*

* Mr Cleaver begins to assure Becky that the place is a veritable palace for the area, then notices that all four glass windows have been broken with stones. Clearly we can't just have actual problems like raising enough food, dealing with drought and blizzard and wildfire, and keeping the chickens away from coyotes and wolves; we have to have mysteriously hostile neighbors to track down and deal with! ;P Gaaah. Laura Ingalls Wilder has spoiled me for over-dramaticized stories of frontier life.

* Becky deduces that only a nearby neighbor would have the opportunity to break the windows, because the claim lies nineteen miles north of town and no casual vandal would travel so far just to break glass. Cleaver exposits that this is The Wrong Answer: "But you have no near neighbors except the Wubbers and the Courtlands. Wubber is a ne'er-do-well, but he hasn't a mean bone in his body, and the Courtlands aren't that kind at all. They're good neighbors." *eyerolling forever* I hate it when writers begin to go on about Types Of People.

...also, what on earth is a "ne'er-do-well without a mean bone in his body"? Just a shiftless lazy man? Wubber showed no sign of laziness when we met him; he just seemed like a good friendly neighbor. He wasn't even described as fat, not that I'm condoning fat-shaming. He certainly wasn't described in any way that would explain the condemnatory term "ne'er-do-well", which to me means a downright ruffian. O_O

(I am immediately suspicious of the Courtlands just because my own experience of people who "aren't that kind at all" has not been superb, but I doubt this author will think so far. ;P)

* Anyway, Cleaver posits that "some villain of a boy" has broken the glass - no explanation of whence the boy came, how he made the nineteen-mile trip or whether he lives nearby - and offers to send out a glazier in the morning with new panes. He grouches about the "miserable skunks" who would give new people such a bad impression of their community and says "We're not all like that, Miss Becky", to which Becky replies "I know that" with a "grateful look".

* So the matter is dismissed for that time... but then they immediately find that the pump is pulled almost out of the well and doesn't work. Cleaver declares he'll have it fixed at his own expense, find the person who did it, and take the value out of his hide. He says they can water the horses at the stream, but will have to carry water for themselves from a spring half a mile away; he suggests driving the group up there in his car, but Becky says she has to wait for Dick and see that... no more windows get broken? How many glass windows does this barn have? O_O But Cleaver takes Phil and Joan, anyway, up to see the spring so they can direct the older kids to it later. He says he'll also try to borrow a bucket for water, doesn't say who from.

* Mrs Cleaver sent a picnic lunch in a basket for the kids, so they won't have to cook today. So Betty sits quietly, having nothing to do till Dick arrives with the wagon, and looks at the beautiful prairie and thinks about how it's their home now. End chapter.

* When Dick and Wubber arrive, with two loaded wagons and the Linvilles' cow, Joan remarks "critically" that the cow "looks as though she had adenoids", to which Phil replies "All cows look that adenoidish way". Which - as far as I can figure out, TECHNICALLY refers to adenoid facies, the open-mouthed expression of a person suffering from enlarged adenoids which prevent them breathing through their nose... but as a quick Google will turn up, is still used to mean an expression not only open-mouthed but "stupid" or "dull". Thus I've often seen 19th-century authors use "adenoidal" to mean "mentally handicapped"; the mistress of a house will complain about the incompetence, physical clumsiness, and short attention span of an "adenoidal housemaid", for instance.

(I've been guilty of this myself. I have a set of purchased paper dolls whose facial expressions, for whatever reason - maybe the artist was in a hurry that day - are all similarly open-mouthed, buck-toothed, and blank-eyed, and my constant reaction is "good grief, what an adenoidal family!" :P)

All of which is probably a rather long digression for a casual observation meant only to give Joan a cute line about the cow, but... it struck me. Especially coming after "ne'er-do-well", the gold teeth, Aunt Jule, and the "treating people white". I'm not sure I think much of this author's thoughtfulness about her word choices.

* Mr Wubber is less reticent about the probable cause of the broken windows than Mr Cleaver; he fingers the Welps as the culprits, because "it would be like 'em", especially the husband and the two boys. "They got it in fer everybody", but Wubber is vague about where exactly the Welps live, though he looks uneasy when he evades the question. My money's on them being the nearest neighbors the kids have, who are - according to Uncle Jim's information as relayed by Becky to Aunt Jule - only a quarter mile away.

* Wubber is now portrayed as a voracious eater, who takes the last drink of water, and a mild hypocrite who admonishes Phil for suggesting they start by setting up the oil-stove so as to be ready to cook supper after unloading.

* The barn is all fitted up for house-living, courtesy of Uncle Jim, and Becky brought some mosquito-bar from town, which goes over the broken windows. By 4pm they're nicely settled in, and go out to look at the creek and the claim. They see a prairie-dog town, meet a rattlesnake (but are not bitten), watch the sun set, and see will-o'-the-wisps over the swampy ground along the creek, which Joan privately decides are fairy lights. Then they go to bed.

* The next morning Becky is awakened by three small children knocking on the back door. These are the Wubber children, whom Becky identifies on sight by their tow hair and sunburnt faces. Their ma ostensibly wants to borrow a yeast cake - any little errand to get a look at the new neighbors. ;-)

* The Wubber children's names are Crystal, Venus, and Autumn - Autumn being the only boy. Phil remarks that these are "cow names", but Becky hushes him up quickly. There is also a two-year-old at home named Twinkle. The Wubbers, I should note, all speak in written-out hick dialect, and are the only characters so far who have done so. When Dick awakens, just as the Wubbers and the Linville "small fry" have been sent outside so Becky can have room to get breakfast, he also has a rude comment about the Wubber names: he says "They look like Huldah, Freda, and Ira." Becky makes a somewhat contrived east-and-west pun about their improper pronunciation of "yeast" as "'east", dropping the consonantal Y.

When Joan and Phil come back in - Joan very excited about Autumn Wubber's prowess at catching fish in the creek with his hands - Joan reveals that Mrs Wubber sometimes has unpredictable "laying streaks", that is, she will "lay around, some days". Not because she is ill, depressed, or undernourished, as any farm wife in the Dakotas would have a right to be, but because she "ain't one for work". :P I am really thoroughly unimpressed by the way the author keeps judging and putting down the Wubbers for no clear reason I can see.

* Uncle Jim keeps being characterized as this fount of homespun wisdom, but without actually knowing him at all, we can't "hear his voice" in the little quotes we get, so being told that Becky has to wipe her eyes every time after we hear a snippet of Uncle Jim's Wiseness... just gets boring and contrived after a while. In my opinion.

* The glazier, who is also the man to repair the pump, turns up and does the work as Mr Cleaver requested, and also presents Becky with two castor bean plants, described as "the elm trees of Dakota". I am rather concerned, because castor beans are poisonous (castor oil is not, because the poison is insoluble in oil, but the beans contain ricin, the poison that's been in the news lately), and rather puzzled. *googles*

What on earth. The castor oil plant is a perennial shrub that can reach the size of a small tree, but according to Wiki (assertion admittedly not cited), "IT IS NOT COLD HARDY". Capitals mine, but what. YOU ARE IN SOUTH DAKOTA. Apparently it's usually grown as an annual in frost-prone areas, but why would a gift of two castor-plant seedlings be such an awesome gift?

* Mr Cleaver's message is that the plants are for shade. Becky plants them by the door and names them Castor and Pollux. I am shaking my head so hard here; I suppose information on the actual settling of Dakota Territory was harder to find before Laura Ingalls Wilder started her writing career, but castor beans are by no means local to South Dakota - they're of tropical origin, AND POISONOUS, did I mention poisonous if chewed? - whereas for instance the cottonwood tree is local and makes a perfectly good shade tree (thank you, Pa Ingalls, for this useful information).

* That evening while Dick and Becky sit on the porch cutting potato-eyes to plant in the morning, Phil and Joan go again to the spring for water, and learn when the Welp boys set their dog on them that the Welps claim ownership of the spring. Since the well-water will "taste queer" for a few days after the pump has been fixed, this is a serious issue.

* Ah, and the Welps' shack is actually on the Linvilles' own claim, so they are squatters and claim-jumpers. That does make a little more sense of the way that Wubber unhesitatingly judged them as the Wrong Sort. However... legally, I have to wonder, since Uncle Jim left the claim vacant all last winter while preparing to move the kids out there this spring, do the Linvilles actually have a right to the claim, or would it be considered abandoned so that the Welps could actually take lawful possession? I don't know the 1909 law's provisions nearly as well as I do the original Homestead Act which Laura Ingalls Wilder explained so clearly.

* BAH HAMBURG. Okay, let me explain: two pages ago Becky was all sorts of proud that Dick was willing to pitch in and do a lot more hard work than he'd realized there would be on the claim, and she thought of this change of temperament as "chivalry". Now we have a passage, after Becky and Dick squabble a bit about who shall go and check out the Welps' shack to confirm its existence and location, that -- just -- well, read it. [Becky says:] "Then let me go, too." - Dick said no, with decision and emphasis, and Becky unwillingly had to agree. That new chivalry was a comfort and a joy, but it had its price. If Becky was to be given protection she must be willing to take it; she must not spoil this new feeling of responsibility by being too independent. "All right," she said meekly."

:PPPPPP I'm done. I'm just done. It's quite obvious that everything will work out fine for the Linville kids, but that I'll keep calling out unfortunate turns of phrase and weird implications bordering on the offensive, or (as here) crossing well over that border, for the rest of the book. Blah.


...why did I flip to the end. WHY. Now I have the Mouth Of Babes wise-child character saying of an abusive man's wife, "It's her own fault. You've got to stop and think before you pick out a husband." stuck in my head. :PPPPPP

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