Little House on the Prairie

Season 4 Episode 15

Whisper Country

Aired Wednesday 12:00 AM Jan 16, 1978 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (5)

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  • 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.
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