Little House on the Prairie

Season 3 Episode 20

The Music Box

Aired Wednesday 12:00 AM Mar 14, 1977 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
110 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

The Music Box

Laura befriends a timid classmate named Anna, whose excessive stuttering negatively impacts her ability to make friends. Laura stands by the girl's side when she is excluded from Nellie's elite new club, but matters are complicated when Laura is caught stealing Nellie's music box. Nellie agrees not to tell anyone, but she has some ulterior motives of her own that may threaten Laura's friendship with Anna. Terrified of the disappointment her parents will feel if they find out her secret, Laura goes along with Nellie's game--but when it hits a dangerous level, Laura must use her own moral judgment to resolve the problems caused.


Who was the Episode MVP ?

  • I had some trouble with the moral message portrayed in this one, which is why I gave it such a low score, not because of the episode itself.

    Laura makes friends with a sweet little girl named Anna who is laughed at and teased by the other students because she has a severe stutter. Meanwhile, elitist snob, Nellie Oleson, forms a new and exclusive club, with what she considers to be a select membership. She wants Laura to join but Laura won't unless Anna does.

    Predictably, the girls tease Anna terribly about her speech impediment but, worse still, Laura sees a beautiful music box belonging to Nellie and decides to steal it.

    Playing with it secretly in the barn at home, she drops and breaks it and finds that she is unable to repair it. What bothered me so much was, that from here on in, Laura seemed to practically get away with the theft with a considerably light punishment, including an apology to Nellie. Nels seemed more furious with his daughter about her treatment of poor Anna (ustifiably so) than he or anybody else was about the fact that Laura stole the music box in the first place.

    This behaviour was very out of character for Charles Ingalls who, as we have seen, was a very harsh but fair disciplinarian. The fact that Nellie is such an awful child makes no difference to Laura's actions at all, but, in this case, it seemed to, and I was unhappy about this.moreless
  • Nellie's elite new clubs excludes Laura's stuttering friend Anna, but when Laura is caught stealing Nellie's music box, its up to a deal to make sure Laura doesn't get in trouble - but she'll have to join the club without Anna.moreless

    I just watched this episode a couple hours ago on the Hallmark channel, and I thought it was very well-written and thought-out. This is the sort of plot that still affects us today. A lot of the episodes have plots that we all can relate to, but given that the show takes place 130 years ago, its hard to be 100% on the same level. However, The Music Box covers the topic of bullying and in a way hazing, and that is for sure something we can still learn from today.

    Be prepared to cry! Nellie is very mean to Anna and makes her read Peter Piper really fast. I broke out the tissue box rather quickly. It teaches you about good values and using judgment, though, and I highly recommend this episode.moreless
  • Michael Landon's interesting sense of humor shines through in an episode that is borderline wacky in some ways, but watch for a worthwhile message at the end.

    For the most part, I preferred the "Little House" episodes that were light and fluffy (you must admit that nothing beats that, especially if you like this kind of show in the first place), but I can take something a little darker every once in a while. The good thing about this episode is that even though it has some inappropriate scenes that I personally would have omitted, it has an important message for any child (or adult) who has witnessed/participated in the ostracizing of someone else.

    Michael Landon certainly produced several "Little House" episodes that followed that exact theme--the plight of a child who is considered "different" and is therefore a target to his/her fellow classmates. Such is the situation for Anna Gillberg, a sweet and shy young student whose nervous stuttering does not serve her well in the social department. Laura, of course, has been raised better and immediately befriends Anna, but the naturally devious Nellie Oleson pounces at any opportunity to belittle someone else, and an unfortunate twist of events leaves Laura with no choice but to go along with Nellie's evil game.

    The problem begins when Laura impulsively steals a music box from Nellie's bedroom during an "All-Girls Club" that Nellie suddenly feels inclined to start with her female classmates. The audience never really gets a full understanding of why she would do such a thing now, completely out of the blue. Perhaps she was angry that Nellie treated Anna so badly, or maybe she was just itching for something a little more frivolous after getting nothing more than a boring dictionary from her parents on her birthday the day before. In either case, our heroine Laura Ingalls has never stolen before, and when Nellie finds out the truth, she blackmails Laura in the worst possible way--because of course, she is Nellie Oleson, and apparently, for Laura, opposing her own knowledge of right and wrong is better than braving a whipping from Ma and Pa if they ever find out that she stole from Nellie.

    The really odd part of the episode comes when Laura starts having constant nightmares as a result of her guilt. These dream sequences place Laura in all kinds of insane situations. After being convicted for stealing, she is locked in a cage by the Olesons, who dress her in rags and throw scraps at her to eat every once in a while. What really takes the cake, though, is Laura's final nightmare, where she bids a painful good-bye to her family before being hanged by Nellie Oleson herself, who dons some kind of black mask and sucks on a lollipop as she fastens the noose around Laura's neck. I guess this was Michael Landon's way of putting a humorous spin on the episode, but I thought it was a little too much. I will say that most children who watch these scenes will never want to steal anything after seeing what Laura goes through, but the episode really could have done without it or, at the very least, watered down some of Laura's overly dramatic nightmares.

    However, despite all that, it's hard for me not to recommend the episode, because Katy Kurtzman does an awfully impressive job with her portrayal as timid Anna. For being such a young actress, her stuttering was very convincing (although not quite as strong as Shannen Doherty in Season 9's "Marvin's Gardens"), and you could feel every bit of her pain as she was forced to cope with such adversity at school. It was inspiring to see Laura stand up for her morals in the end and do what all of us would like to do in such a situation, if only we had the courage. It was also a nice bonus to see Nasty Nellie get her much-deserved "come-uppance" when justice was finally served at the end. Oh, how wonderful it is to see her father get the chance to put her in her place when her ever-doting mother is absent (which didn't happen very often). All in all, "The Music Box" is worthwhile viewing for the family, but with younger and/or more squeamish children, it's probably a good idea for them to watch with a parent and discuss everything afterward, from Laura's unusual self-punishment to the value of treating everyone with true kindness and friendship. ~7/10~moreless
  • Laura Steal Nellie's Music box, And when Nellie found out abouut it, she use Laura to get at her poor friend who Stutter. Now Laura must choose who to be friend with, Nellie just to stay away from trouble or Anna to face punishment for stealing.moreless

    This has to be one of my most favorite episode of Little house on the Prairie. Laura made friend with a girl who had a stuttering problem and Nellie cruelly made fun of her. Now what Laura did was wrong for stealing a music box that belong to Nellie. And when Nellie see Laura with the Music box, she use Laura to get at her friend Anna. The girl who Play Anna did a great job playing the stuttering girl. It gives me a chill when Nellie force her to say Peter Piper thing faster, That was so mean and wrong of her. I think it's one of the top five best episode in Season 3. And I hope when kids of all age watch this episode they can learn to not to make fun of that person, no matter how different they are. I sure would've like to see more Anna episode. It's worth watching. I give it a 10.moreless
  • Laura befriends a new girl, Anna, who stutters and has a hard time making friends.

    Laura befriends a new girl, Anna, who stutters and has a hard time making friends.A jealous Nellie starts an elite club and although she invites Laura, she leaves Anna out. While at the Olesens, Laura steals one of Nellie's music boxes. While taking it home, Laura drops and damages the box. Laura hides it, but Nellie soon catches her with it and threatens to tell. Laura admits the theft, but instead of forgiving her, Nellie uses the situation to her own advantage -- by pretending to be friends. One of the conditions, however, is that Laura must be mean to Anna (or else Nellie will go forward with information about the theft of her music box). Laura's new attitude toward causes friction between her and Mary, who has also befriended Anna. Later, Laura suffers from nightmares because of her guilt (with the Olesens cast as her tormenters), and Willie doesn't make things any easier when he taunts her with the music box's melody. After Charles finds out about Laura being mean to Anna, Charles makes Laura quit Nellie's club unless Anna can join, too. Nellie agrees to let Anna join, but only to pull a cruelly sadistic initiation stunt for her own amusement (she forces Anna to read a tongue twister without stuttering). A humiliated Anna runs out, and Laura soon follows her. After Laura and Anna make up, she admits her theft and explains her attitude. An embarassed Mr. Olesen goes easy on Laura, although the same can't be said for Nellie.moreless
Melissa Gilbert

Melissa Gilbert

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls/Wilder

Melissa Sue Anderson

Melissa Sue Anderson

Mary Amelia Ingalls/Kendall (1974 - 1981)

Richard Bull

Richard Bull

Nels Oleson

Charlotte Stewart

Charlotte Stewart

Miss Eva Beadle/Mrs. Simms (1974 - 1978)

Michael Landon

Michael Landon

Charles Ingalls (1974 - 1982)

Alison Arngrim

Alison Arngrim

Nellie Oleson/Dalton (1974 - 1981)

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (6)

    • Laura really falls out of character in this episode by deliberately stealing a toy from Nellie's bedroom. Of course, we are all human and make mistakes, but Laura never stole before, and she never did it again after this.

    • In this episode, Nellie engages in one of her meanest tricks yet by forcing stuttering Anna to say a tongue twister in front of a bunch of laughing classmates. "That scene even gives me the creeps!" actress Alison Arngrim (Nellie) has said.

    • Think back on the scene where Nellie shows up at the Ingalls' place and catches Laura with the music box. First, Nellie was struggling to get past Jack the dog, who was barking wildly, and Nellie kept screaming for him to get away. Then she ran into the barn for safety, and that's where Laura was caught red-handed. However, given that Nellie was being so loud with Jack before, you would think that Laura could have heard her and quickly hid the music box.

    • Katherine MacGregor (Mrs. Oleson) appears only briefly in this episode: for a few seconds at the beginning, and then a little bit in Laura's dream sequences. I wonder where she was when Mr. Oleson was constantly stepping up and dealing with Nellie as she behaved cruelly toward Anna. It's nice to see him have an opportunity to discipline his kids as they deserved to be, but one has to be curious about where Mrs. Oleson is through all of it.

    • In the scene where Nellie catches Laura with the music box in the barn, look closely at Alison Arngrim (Nellie)'s wig. It seems as if it was not placed on her head properly--it doesn't cover her whole head as it should, and the bangs are all messed up. In the next scene, however, when Nellie goes over to see Anna, the wig looks just fine.

    • When Laura is entering her dream sequence about being hanged, it shows her in bed with a branch hitting her bedroom window in rhythm which then goes into the dream and the hangman's drum being beat in rhythm. Yet from the outside, you never see a tree anywhere near her window, or anywhere near the house at all for that matter.

  • QUOTES (5)

    • Charles: (about giving Laura a dictionary for her birthday) I bet I'll be using that dictionary a lot myself.
      Caroline: I certainly never had anything like that when I was little.
      Charles: Me neither. (pauses) Who am I kidding? She hated it.
      Caroline: Charles, she didn't hate it!
      Charles: Oh, of course she did. Me and my bright ideas--I should have let you be the one to pick out her presents.
      Caroline: It's exactly what I would have picked out. Don't feel bad. She's got to learn to be happy getting what she needs. Besides, years from now, when things like fancy mirrors are broken and long forgotten, she'll still be using that dictionary and thinking what a beautiful gift it was.

    • Charles: All right, what's going on up here?
      Laura: Nothing, Pa.
      Charles: Well, it doesn't sound like nothing to me! Come on, what is it?
      Mary: Laura was mean to Anna!
      Laura: I didn't do anything mean to her!
      Mary: Anna thought you were her best friend, and then you hurt her, just like all the others! You made her cry. And don't try to lie! I was there!
      Laura: I didn't mean to make her cry. I just......wanted to play with Nellie today, that's all.
      Charles: But you did promise Anna?
      Laura: I guess so.
      Charles: You guess so? Now, either you did, or you didn't!
      Laura: Yes, sir, I did.
      Charles: Nellie and Anna are both your friends. I don't see why Anna can't be in the club, too.
      Mary: The club doesn't want Anna because she stutters!
      Charles: Is that true?
      Laura: Yes.
      Charles: I can't hear you! Is that true?
      Laura: Yes.
      Charles: I'm surprised you'd want to be in a club like that. It doesn't sound very good to me.
      Laura: Well, all my friends are in it.
      Mary: Not Anna!

    • Mary: Did you tell Pa how mean you were to Anna?
      Laura: I wasn't mean to her. I still like her--but I like Nellie, too.
      Mary: You didn't like Nellie at all until she gave you that music box!

    • Nellie: (to Anna) A chicken can squawk, and a bird can flutter, but Anna can't talk, all she can do is st-st-st-st-stutter!

    • Laura: (to her classmates, who laughed at and teased Anna) I hope you're proud of yourselves! That was the meanest thing anybody ever did! You never wanted her in your club. You just wanted to trick her so you could make her cry again. What did she ever do to you? She just wanted to be somebody's friend--anybody's friend. You should all be ashamed of yourselves!

  • NOTES (4)

    • In Quarantine, an episode which aired shortly before this one, Laura helps Alicia through a bout of guilt, after Alicia confessed to Laura that she stole a hair ribbon from the mercantile. Laura must have believed her own advice ("God will forgive") as she boldly stole Nellie's music box in this episode.

    • Although "Little House on the Prairie" was always perceived as a clean and wholesome family series (particularly in the early seasons), Laura's three nightmare sequences in this episode are not very suitable for children. They grow increasingly violent as the episode progresses, straying quite a bit from the show's typical "warm and fuzzy" image. We all know that the storylines grew more dramatic and hard-core in the later seasons, but that was not so common in the first few years--but Michael Landon's bravery with certain plot threads really shines through in this episode.

    • Stuttering will also be tackled in Ep 172, "No Beast So Fierce"

    • Katy Kurtzman will return to play young Caroline in Ep 82, "I Remember, I Remember"


    • -: -
      In a way, this episode addresses hazing, an issue that gained mainstream media attention in the 1980s and 1990s following lawsuits against colleges and their fraternities. Nellie doesn't use sex or alcohol to pull her hazing-like stunt, but forcing Anna to quickly read a tongue-twister (the "Peter Piper" one) without stuttering is wickedly cruel.