The power of Monopoly and Laura Ingalls Wilder
So here we are on a rainy summer holiday in Cornwall. With no television, internet or decent weather. Incidentally, forget the sunglasses in this picture. They are being worn for Joan Collins-style glamour. The picture shows Honey playing Monopoly. If she could, she would play this game 24/7. Maybe she’s getting dangerously addicted to the thrill of buying bricks and mortar. Maybe. Of course, Monopoly is the answer to any family holiday. It is the perfect game for us since it goes on for HOURS and can be played by anyone aged 5-85. Everyone knows the rules. Everyone understands the dreadful command “Advance To Mayfair”. Everyone knows that the Utilities, frankly, aren’t worth bothering about.
Interestingly the game of Monopoly was patented in 1935, at the height of the American Depression. At the same time (1932-1943) Laura Ingalls Wilder brought out her phenomenal seven-part series of books, generically known as Little House on the Prairie.
Both diversions became instant successes; one celebrating the power and thrill of owning property; the other proposing the strict work ethic of the American Pioneer. Both cultural initiatives seem to be countering one another, but both yearn after the same thing; just as players go around the board, hoping to buy house after house, so does Pa Ingalls move constantly across the continent, building houses as he goes, while Ma stays in the various kitchens he builds for her, yearning for security and practicing an astonishing policy of imaginative thrift (her pie made out of green pumpkin springs to mind).
Houses, in both the board game and the books, are seen as the answer. They are the goal, the way to success.
Meanwhile Monopoly (and board games) and novels were of course a cheap way of amusing and entertaining the family, especially when times were crushingly hard.
These ideas (and more) are brilliantly discussed in Ann Romines’ Constructing The Little House, an academic, feminist analysis of both the Little House books, and Ingalls Wilder’s contribution to American literature.
I have spent my days playing Monopoly and my nights reading Romines. It’s been a rather inspiring combination, and one to be highly recommended, particularly during a long wet summer.