Little House on the Prairie

Season 4 Episode 15

Whisper Country

Aired Wednesday 12:00 AM Jan 16, 1978 on NBC
out of 10
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Episode Summary


Reverend Alden offers Mary her first temporary teaching position in a small, rural community. Mary is unprepared for the mysterious gloom that hangs over the children, and the leading citizen who opposes education.

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  • A gloomy community must decide whether Mary's bipolar behavior or her evening wear is more offensive

    This is a preachy episode that tries to extol the uber-importance of education by painting one-dimensional, knee-jerk people as the backdrop for its sermon. The audience is supposed to believe that an entire region is not only uneducated, but they have no manners, no hygiene, and no kindness as well.

    But what's even more annoying and even a little less believable than the townsfolk is Mary Ingalls and her mood swings. One cringes as she flies off the handle, first at her student Joshua, then at the guy who houses her, then watching her belt Joshua a little later as she hollers at him.

    By the end of the episode, Mary's screaming really starts to work the nerves. You're kind of ready to give her a closeup of a mud puddle before shipping her back to Walnut Grove. Not only that, she's extremely self-righteous in her quest. Her tactics, which we're supposed to identify with as zealous, come across as that of a punk - mouthing off to those who are feeding and boarding her and paying her, essentially. Going low and slow, that is, proceeding in humbleness and kindness, even to the meanies, would probably help her cause a lot better.

    Miss Peel isn't a religious fanatic; she is a witch (which Mary even admits to Pa). Peel exhibits this in her control tactics and also the charm she makes to keep away health issues. The manipulation she exerts over the town is supposedly out of her own ignorance, but it's the essence of witchcraft all the same. There's nothing really religious about her, except for spouting off scripture (which Satan himself does) so the convincing falls flat.

    All in all, if you worship at the altar of education as the answer to all the world's problems, you'll eat up this episode - and Mary's frequent meltdowns.moreless
  • Mary is delighted to be offered a temporary teaching job but her delight soon turns to anger and despair.

    Reverend Alden visits the Ingalls home and offers Mary her very first teaching post. It will be for two months and is located in a backwater community where the local spinster who thinks that any book other than the bible is evil, makes Mary's life as difficult as possible.

    The children clearly want to learn but their parents and certainly the spinster are not at all impressed. Mary finally loses her temper when the spinster, holding Sunday service in the absence of a minister, starts shreiking about breaking the commandments. The townsfolk are justifiably terrified and riveted but Mary soon figures out that the woman cannot read and offers to help her learn if she wishes to do so.moreless
  • Mary's first teaching job is straight from hell when she begins her career in a backwards community where supersticion seems to be favored over education and reason.

    I cannot dismiss "Whisper County" as merely silly or over-the-top (which I certainly found it at times) because it contains the sort of issues that actually exist: the idea of eschewing learning just because the elders are insecure with their own ignorance. Interesting note: having just read a bit of trivia here regarding Melissa Sue Anderson's feeling that the last scene where she goes off on Miss Peel is a bit too much, it appears that she really invested herself in her role, unlike other actors, who just seem to show up for work and go through the motions. I respect the fact that she is thoughful and honest enough to judge the episode on its true merits.moreless
  • Mary goes to teach in an isolated community dominated by an intimidating religious zealot.

    This is a difficult episode to enjoy because the audience is supposed to admire Mary's spunk and determination to overcome the attacks on her character.

    The character of Miss Peel is revealed to have been resentful of the new teacher because she is unable to read herself and is naturally distrustful of any education. However, when she first confronts Mary in the classroom on the first day, she readily extols the virtues and benefits of learning arithmatic (called "cipherin'") for the profit it can bring a man. She considers this and learning the Lord's word the only education the children need. One then wonders, however, why Miss Peel would so resent the children learning anything else, especially reading, as they would need to do so in order to read the Bible. While she may not have much use for history, geography and other subjects, reading would better expose them to the teachings she is attempting to impart to them.

    I suppose one could argue that she doesn't want them learning to read so that they could read the Bible and determine that she doesn't know what she's talking about at these prayer meetings and guess that she doesn't know how to read (One would wonder, however, why not a single adult is apparently able to read either or surely one of them would guess her secret pretty quickly. That being said, even if they are all illiterate, enough of them have had the Bible preached to them to know what it says and what it doesn't. Would this be a case then where some people can read and are just afraid of crossing her?)

    Miss Peel seems to carry a great deal of power within the community. Someone who is used to having this influence is not always willing to give it up. It would seem to me that a more predominate reason for preventing the children from learning is to keep them from expanding their minds beyond their little community and learning that Miss Peel doesn't necessarily have to be the one to heal their diseases and doesn't have the power to burn barns, thus continuing her control over the population. If the children can't read the Bible, they cannot contradict anything that she says is contained within it. That being said, it would then make Mary's revelation that Miss Peel is illiterate not particularly important as the people already knew she despised formal education (Mary states this as though it should be a surprise to them). If losing her power and influence over the community is a motivating factor in opposing the school, it seems rather unrealistic that Miss Peel would shake hands and make up so quickly.

    We are also supposed to admire Mary in this episode, but she comes off so intractable, it's hard to do. Mary was advised by Reverend Alden from the beginning that this was a closed community with little contact with the outside world. Wheras, the real Laura Ingalls dealt with her hostile host family during her first teaching job as best she could, Mary turns combative very quickly. She persists in offending her host by violating the dress code in his household (whether one agrees with it or not, he's providing her free room and board), interfering in his belief system (flawed though it may be) by ignoring his daughter's admonitions and loudly argues with him over relatively trivial facts (to be sure, no one likes to be called a liar, but was the existence of an obscure device such as the telephone to a man who doesn't even know the name of the current President that important to prove?). Though Miss Beadle regularly deals with late students, Mary - who desperately needs students to attend and learn - sends one home immediately for being late and for cracking a joke (something not unheard of in Miss Beadle's classroom either). She does this quite loudly, as well. One would think that she would be very careful about not offending the people who are sending their children to her. There is a difference between compromising one's beliefs and simply making accomodations for the culture of the local community when educating their children.

    This is hardly a good example of the series at its best.moreless
  • Mary accepts a temporary teaching position in a village that is ruled with an iron fist by an intimidating religious zealot.

    This episode is one of many in Season 4 that helps bridge the character of Mary Ingalls into adulthood. An opportunity to temporarily teach in a nearby community presents itself, and Mary eagerly accepts, only to find that everyone in the town is under the "spell" of Miss Peale, a spooky, shrieking religious fanatic, who objects to everything about Mary, from the way she dresses and speaks to the subjects she chooses to teach. It doesn't help that the father of the family Mary is boarding with is one of her biggest followers. When Miss Peale witnesses a boy trying to steal a kiss from Mary (who responds with a slap), she labels Mary a "Jezebel" and drives Mary out of town. Once back in Walnut Grove, she sobs through the details of her experiences. Pa encourages her to go back to the town and confront Miss Peale, which she does in a "showdown" during a church service. Though she spouts hellfire and brimstone, Mary proves that Miss Peale can't even read the bible she so often (mis)quotes from. The boy who stole the kiss confesses to his actions, and the townsfolk see the light. Miss Peale is forgiven by Mary in a final, touching scene.

    This episode is a departure from the usual LHOTP. It includes mostly characters never seen before or after appearing here. Laura does not even surface. Mary, however, really comes out of her shell and her maturity is evident as she skillfully teaches the class, and later lets Miss Peale have it. Not "one of the best", but worth viewing.moreless
Dabbs Greer

Dabbs Greer

Reverend Alden

Melissa Sue Anderson

Melissa Sue Anderson

Mary Amelia Ingalls/Kendall (1974 - 1981)

Michael Landon

Michael Landon

Charles Ingalls (1974 - 1982)

Karen Grassle

Karen Grassle

Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls (1974 - 1982)

John McLiam

John McLiam

Caleb Fisher

Guest Star

Sandy McPeak

Sandy McPeak

Jacob Bond

Guest Star

Mark Neely

Mark Neely

Joshua Bond

Guest Star

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (5)

    • Notice that Mary correctly refers to 'Thou shalt not bear false witness' as being the ninth commandment. But in season 5's "Harriet's Happenings", Charles mistakingly refers the same commandment as being the eight commandment. The eight commandment from the book of Exodus is 'Thou shalt not steal.'

    • Laura and Carrie appear briefly in the opening scene of the episode, but they do not have any speaking lines and are not seen again after that.

    • Goof: In the opening scene at the Ingalls' home, Reverend Alden, Charles and Caroline all refer to Mrs. Simms as Miss Beadle. They all seem to have forgotten that she was married three episodes earlier, in Here Come the Brides, and we know from later episodes that she definitely took her husband's last name.

    • In this episode, Mary has just about the most difficult first teaching job that a young girl can possibly have. Her experience is much more indicative of the one that the real Laura Ingalls had when she got her first job, although in Season 6's "Sweet Sixteen," Michael Landon chose to portray Laura's initial teaching position as a sunny and happy one.

    • The pivotal final scene of this episode marks one of the very few occasions where Mary really loses her cool. In a 2005 interview, Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary) discussed this scene and admitted that she felt it was too overdone--although many fans believe that it was a testimony to Mary's typically hidden strength of character. Still, Anderson says she dislikes this episode and can't stand to watch her acting in that final scene.

  • QUOTES (3)

    • Mrs. Fisher: Caleb said that's not a proper dress for teaching.
      Mary: I know, but I happen to like it. (keeps walking)

    • Mary: (to a student who is goofing off in class) Go home.
      Joshua: But my Pa said--
      Mary: I don't care what your Pa said! I say go home!
      Joshua: I don't--
      Mary: Look, we are not here so you can goof around and make silly jokes. I'm here to teach, and these students are here to learn. You come back when you're ready to learn, and not before. And be here when the bell rings, or don't come at all!
      Joshua: But my Pa told me--
      Mary: You tell your Pa to come to me. I'll be glad to tell him why I sent you home. Go on, get!

    • Mary: We're gonna have a talk, Miss Peal. We can start now, or after the meeting.
      Miss Peal: I have nothing to say to you, Jezebel!
      Mary: Oh, but you have! You're going to tell me, and you're going to tell my father, and you're going to tell all these people how you dare to call me that!

  • NOTES (4)

    • This episode is loosely based on events in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book "Those Happy Golden Years", although, in the book, it was Laura who had the experiences, not Mary. In the book, Laura went to her first teaching position 12 miles away from her town, and had some misgivings about the family she boarded with as well as the students. She returned home on a weekend distraught, but returned to the school and finished the job. The book was again revisited in the series during the end of the seventh season (the episode entitled "Sweet Sixteen" portrayed Laura's first teaching experience), although the storyline about her boarding family was not portrayed.

    • Anita Dangler (Miss Peel) went on to appear in one episode during Season 2 of 7th Heaven, another family-oriented television show that ran for over a decade (1996-2007). Dangler died of cancer in 2000, shortly after appearing on 7th Heaven.

    • Featured character: Mary Ingalls

    • Actress Michelle Downey, the blond-haired little girl who plays one of Mary's students (Sarah Miller) in this episode, went on to have a recurring role as Susan Goodspeed, one of Mary and Adam's blind students, in later seasons.