Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Who would they be in the future? Part 2: Kirsten

So I have a strange obsession with Kirsten-it's not so much that I love her character all that much. It's more that I am absolutely obsessed with her era and her clothes. I have a thing about being a pioneer I guess-I wouldn't mind being Laura Ingalls.

The real reason I love Kirsten-let's be honest.

So who would Kirsten have become in the future? So in 1850, life expectancy for ten year olds was only 48. In 1854, she was 9 years old, so we can go with that figure. That means she would have died in around 1894 or so, meaning that she died at age 49.
In my opinion, Kirsten would have spent the rest of her childhood in Minnesota. When she became a teenager, she would be inspired to become a teacher, following the example of Miss Winston. Teaching was one of the only occupations open to women at the time. Kirsten was inspired by her earlier struggle with English to work with children. After all, America was and is a country of immigrants. (By the way, unless you're 100% American Indian, I don't want to hear anything about immigration as a "America for Americans!" and "Why do I have to press 1 for English?" thing. If you want to argue about the effect on the economy or something, I'll discuss it-but I have no time for hypocritical arguments. We are all, except those American Indians I listed above, the product of immigration, and most of our ancestors came here and did not know how to speak English. It's sad that a children's book shows more empathy than adults. If you want everyone to speak English, act like Quebec-they offer free and convenient French language classes. Also the US does not have an official language. Okay-rant over.)

Most teachers quit when they were married, which is exactly what Kirsten does in my imagination. Instead, she becomes a wife and mother on a farm. Life as a farm wife was hard, but it was the life Kirsten was used to.
Kirsten marries a fellow Swedish-American named Anders and then travels west to Oregon with her husband and her two children, one of whom is named Marta after her friend. Her son was named Lars after her brother. Of course, these were the only two children who survived-she had many others that died as infants or in early childhood. That was simply the way things were at the time-in fact, when I did my research on life expectancy, the people under 10 had a lower life expectancy since so many would die as children, bringing the average down.

 It was difficult to leave behind her family, but Kirsten was used to leave taking-that was simply a fact of life. Kirsten lost all sorts of family members and friends along the way (her grandmother, her friends in Sweden, Marta, Singing Rain, etc.)  and of course, this was before telephones were common household items (Bell first patented the telephone in 1876, but that doesn't mean they were common items, and Kirsten would never have had the money to have a telephone in her farmhouse). This was also before the internet, meaning Kirsten would only have been able to communicate with her family through the post. Kirsten never returns, and therefore she never sees her family again.

Keep in mind that traveling West was considered a very American thing to do. "Go West, young man," was a real expression. Americans looking for opportunity went West all the time. She went during the 1860s, when the Oregon Trail was heavily used. Of course, her family went in a covered wagon packed with all their worldly belongings. She had to leave a lot behind, just like when she came to America. Kirsten was a symbol of pioneer strength.

When Kirsten goes West, she encounters a lot of hate for American Indians. However, Kirsten advocates cohabitation since she knows what happens to American Indians when white settlers take over their land. She also advocates for assimilation and schools like the Carlisle school, which sucks. But hey, I'm trying to be realistic, and not all of these characters lived during time periods which were conducive to acceptance and tolerance. I'm not going to sugar coat history just to keep Kirsten innocent as a daisy. She wouldn't have seen anything wrong with it.

Oh, and by the way: one day, people are going to look back on this generation and say we did barbaric things. All of us. Even the people pushing for change will seem unethical in 500 years. I don't know exactly what we will be judged for (possibly inane Facebook posts-can you imagine historians sifting through that to get an accurate picture of our time?) but we WILL be judged. We are all products of our time. I'm not saying this to excuse it-I'm saying because it's very tricky to judge historical people by our own sense of ethics (or other cultures, for that matter).

The Carlisle school (and schools like it) were boarding schools for American Indian children. The original idea of many was to kill the Indians and exterminate them. The "progressives" (so yes, even if you are progressive, you will be judged) thought this was wrong and that we should instead try to assimilate the American Indians into our own, white centric society. The idea was to "save the man by killing the Indian). They did this by cutting the boys' hair (since many wore it very long), forcing them to dress in European styles, preventing the use of native languages (which also happened to Ana in the Rebecca series), and forbidding traditional worship practices.

Was it wrong? Yes. Was it ethnocentric, assuming that white is right? Yes.

Was it the progressive view at the time? Also yes. Was it something Kirsten would have been likely to support? Sadly, yes.

Kirsten would have also lived through the Civil War, but it's not something she would have been as focused on as the American Indian situation. Deep down, she thought slavery was wrong, but she lived in the West, meaning it barely touched her. No one in her immediate family went to war on either side.

People like Kirsten are a big part of what America as we know it was made of. She was a true pioneer who traveled across the ocean to America, to Minnesota, and later to Oregon. She was a farmer, the building blocks of the US. Immigrants made up this nation, and I think our diversity gives us strength.

I'm about to get all patriotic and sappy, but this is who we are. We are a nation of immigrants (and American Indians, but I'm not talking about Kaya right now) and we should embrace that identity.

Anyways, Molly and Emily are next!

P.S. About Singing Bird-I want to end this happy, so I'm going to write that she does find a home out West and lives a long life for the time. She has many children, none of whom go to the boarding schools. Maybe that's wishful thinking and silly, but hey, I'm in charge of this!


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