An Anthology of book reviews on Sarah, Plain and Tall, and Ballad of Lucy Whipple

Several book reviews submitted by previous members of this class appear below in draft form. I have not included any revised drafts here. Works Cited pages are provided when the author included them.



Elisa Song
Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall, a historical fiction written by Patricia MacLachlan, offers a clear depiction of why people moved west, what kind of people moved west, and what it was like to move west. This book is about a lonely widower, Jacob Witting, and his two children, Anna and Caleb, who decide to put an ad in the paper for a mail-order bride. Sarah Wheaton of Maine responds to this ad and decides to move in with this family for a thirty day trial period. Though she misses her comfortable seaside home back in the east, Sarah learns to adapt to this new, western lifestyle and chooses to stay with the family. The story is told from the perspective of Anna, but analyzing it from Sarah's perspective allows for a clearer representation of what it was like for those who moved west. From the story, we can see that it is Sarah's brave and strong character that first pushes her to move west then sustains her as she adjusts to the different frontier life. Though the strong and ambitious Sarah Wheaton is a fictional character, her attitude parallels the historical mindset of the Americans in our past who have ventured to journey west.

The development of Sarah's character is crucial to our understanding of her actions. She is first introduced as some lady from the east who answers an ad to be a wife and mother. The act of even responding to the ad is one of odd peculiarity and great courage. We can assume that she wants and needs something different in her life. Our assumptions are validified when we hear of her need to move on from her old life of living with her brother who is about to get married. Mixed feelings of not feeling needed anymore and also wanting to get away from her ordinary Maine life brings her to the idea of moving out to the west. One can only imagine what may have been going through her head when answering to the ad. By her responding, she was subjecting herself to the possibility of romance and the responsibility of motherhood. On top of all this, she also had to adapt to a completely different environment, one that was far away from her beloved sea. This move to the west would definitely add a burst of flavor to her dull life, and playing the role of wife and mother would make her feel needed again. So, the journey west, though filled with its many unpredictable changes, would ultimately fulfill all that she was wanting to experience.

Just as the west offered for Sarah the fulfillment of adventure that she longed for, it also served as a source of fulfillment for many of the Americans who wished to move west. In a lecture on the place of the west in American history, Dr. April Summitt spoke of the American desire for conventionalism and the fulfillment of it by the journey west. Moving west was thought of as a liberating thing to do. Thoughts of the west always brought about feelings of adventure and grand opportunity. Sarah had her own personal reasons for moving to the west, just as every individual had their own. But, whatever reasons people may have had, they all shared the common underlying desire for fulfillment in their lives.

It wasn't just anybody that was suited to make this great move to the west. Many may have had the desire to start anew, but only a select few were determined enough to actually make the move. They had to be ambitious, tough, and self-reliant. These traits were well exemplified in Sarah's strong personality. Throughout the book, readers can see that she is no ordinary woman. In her letter to Jacob, she stated, "I am strong and I work hard and I am willing to travel. But I am not mild mannered." (9) It is quite peculiar how she describes herself to her possible future husband in this way. She talks with such bold confidence and crude honesty. With the added description of herself as plain and tall, readers presume this woman to have a simple yet dynamic character. Presumptions prove to be true as Sarah's developing character continues to unfold. Though she can cook, clean, and braid hair, Sarah oddly prefers to build bookshelves and paint. While wearing Papa's overalls, she diligently tries to fix the roof. Bravely, she goes outside to save her chickens during a dangerous squall. She also wants to learn how to ride a buggy, one that is pulled by the sly horse, Jack. All these actions and characteristics make up the fearless character of Sarah. This portrayal of a fictitious journeyer gives the readers an idea what kind of people actually went west.

The reason that the people who journeyed west had to be strong was because of the many hardships that they had to encounter whether it be physical or mental. The book focuses mainly on the struggles and worries of the Witting family. But, through careful analysis, we can conclusively deduce that Sarah too had her share of trials, most of them stemming from her initial reluctance to adapt. Leaving her comfort zone to a strange new environment with unfamiliar surroundings had to induce feelings of loneliness, possible regret, and stress. On top of all this, she also had to try to meet all the expectations of the new family. She definitely had to learn to adjust to and accept all the wonderful opportunities that this new frontier life had to offer her. Strong and flexible characters were needed to carry the adventuresome pioneers through the many hardships that the west had in store for them.

Though a short and simple book, Sarah, Plain and Tall tells us a great deal about our American history. Through its main character, the plain and tall Sarah Wheaton from Maine, we learn of the typical journeyer to the west. It can be concluded that people moved out to the west to experience a new life of adventure and to fulfill a need in their lives. Those who ventured to go on this quest definitely had strong, flexible, and bold personalities. This of course was needed to endure through the many challenges and hardships that came along their way. All in all, it is the strength in character, aptly illustrated in Sarah, that drove people to move west and that sustained them in their new adventuresome life. Benefits of fulfillment definitely outweighed the cost of hardships. In the end, Sarah truly begins to love her new life. With the satisfaction of fulfilled dreams compensating for the hardships, those Americans who journeyed to the west in our past would most undoubtedly consider it a success.

Works Cited

MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1985

Summitt, April. "The Place of the American West in our History." Andrews University, Berrien Springs. 29 August 2001



Stacie Knudson
Sarah, Plain and Tall

Patricia MacLachlan in the book, Sarah, Plain and Tall, shows how loneliness affects most people in the west. She tells how Mr. Witting's family is lonely and in need of a mother to care for him and his children. After Sarah the mail order bride comes, she tells how she misses the east and the ocean. But through the story she shows how loves and the sense of being needed can overcome a person's loneliness.

Did mama sing every day?" This was Caleb's favorite line that he asked over and over. To Anna this question only brought back sad memories of when her mother was alive and how mama and papa were always singing. She remembered how she had forgotten to say "good night" to mama because she didn't like the way Caleb had looked. These memories only brought loneliness. She missed her mother deeply. Caleb too was lonely because he never knew his mother and he wished that he had one. They had had many housekeepers but it wasn't the same. So Papa decided that it was time to find a wife. A woman in the east had answers his advertisement. The children upon finding out that she sings liked her immediately.

Upon arriving in the west, Sarah was lonely. She missed the sea, the shells, the birds and her brother. Every thing was different. But with Caleb's over abundance of energy and questions she couldn't be lonely for long. He made sure that she didn't feel left out of any event and was always asking her to tell him about the east. Because of Caleb's questions Sarah found the sea in the west. The pond was like the sea, the wind blowing the grass was like the waves and the haystack was like the dunes. In a way she didn't need to miss the sea because she had found new objects to replaces the emptiness she felt.

When Matthew and Maggie come to help plow up a new field, Sarah discovers that Maggie too was a mail order bride. This comforts Sarah. Sarah realizes that Maggie too sometimes is lonely for her hills of Tennessee. To Sarah hills and the sea are not the same. But Maggie points out that; "There are always things to miss no matter where you are." So to help Sarah feel like more like she belongs, Maggie insists that she have a garden. As a start for her garden Maggie gives her zinnias, marigolds and wild feverfew.

Sarah, being the strong headed woman that she was didn't like to be told what she could and couldn't do. She wore overalls even though women didn't wear them. When she decided that she wanted to learn how to ride a horse, her plans were put on hold because Jacob needed to fix the roof before the storm came. Seizing the opportunity Sarah said, "We will fix the roof." Together she and Jacob finished the roof just before the Squall appeared and everyone including the animals had to seek safety in the barn. After the storm, everything was quiet; the white hail crunched beneath their feet as they walked and as far as they could see the ground looked as glass. "Like the sea."

Early one morning, after Sarah had learned to drive the wagon, she decided to go to town. Caleb thought for sure that Sarah wasn't coming back. She has gone to buy a train ticket to go away," cried Caleb. For Anna Sarah diving away in the wagon brought back memories of her mother being taken away on a day like that and never returning. Once again they felt sad and lonely. That night Anna trusted that Sarah would come home so she set four plates on the table. At dusk, Lottie suddenly began to bark and Caleb saw the dust from the road. When Sarah finally pulled in the driveway Caleb burst into tears, though he claimed that her cat Seal was the worried one. Then Jacob told her that they had thought she was leaving them because she missed the sea. Sarah's reply was, "I will always miss my old home, but the truth of it is I would miss you more." It was then that they knew she was staying for good and that there would soon be a wedding. That night they ate by candlelight. With the green, blue and gray pencils that Sarah had bought in town, they finished the picture of Sarah's sea.

Even though the house is small, there isn't an ocean and there aren't any dunes Sarah still find ways to be happy. She fills the empty spots with new memories. Now she finds happiness in her family, her pictures, the garden and her chickens. Jacob, Anna and Caleb are also happy because they have found a wife and a mother. The once sad and lonely home is now overflowing with laughter and music, proving that a person can overcome loneliness.

Work Cited

MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985.



Paul Weber
Thinking Critically about The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

Lucy Whipple takes a journey from her home in New England to the mining camp called Lucky Diggins,' California where she discovers her identity as well as her new home in "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple." The story was arranged not only for the historical fiction buff's entertainment, but also offers some guiding principles valuable to everyone. The notions of being happy with the uncontrollable circumstances of life, respect and love for family and friends, as well as learning responsibility are discovered by Lucy throughout her stay in Lucky Diggins.

Lucy, who's real name is California, is a very family oriented person. She values her brother, sisters, mother and especially her grandparents who are back east. Although she has many differences with her mother generally she obeys and performs the tasks her mother requests. The few arguments that result from disagreements are settled quickly by her mother's strong will which is ever present in Lucy. The ideals that are laid out by the daily interaction with her mother and siblings are important, even necessary for family life. The first is the vital role of a parent raising a child without means of a babysitter or daycare and caring for their needs personally. When parents invest more time as a family their children tend to feel more accepted and do not cause as much trouble. Being able to sit down and talk out problems helps the children to develop social skills needed for school or work. The second is children obeying their parents and doing what they are told. The bible states this in several places, one is Exodus 20:12 which says "Honor thy father and mother...," another is Ephesians 6:1 which reads "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." Since the Lord regards obedience to one's parents so highly it is right to think that we should also obey our parents. I feel that this is a major problem with today's society, that children are not taught obedience from the time that they are born. Many are encouraged to disagree or even file lawsuit against their parents which undermines the basic principles of a family. I suggest that a large majority of family problems exist as a direct result of society displaying the modern family as dysfunctional, having divorced parents, or parents who have no responsibility to their family. If the media would portray families as positive many families today would be much healthier and happier. I'm glad that this book portrays family as an important part of Lucy's life. The last is a relationship with one's siblings. Lucy, being the oldest child, develops the idea that she is partly responsible for watching and caring for her younger brother and sisters. Despite good intentions she does a poor job of tending to the needs of her family. She forgets her mother's orders to collect food and instead chooses to read a book which in turn forces her brother, Butte, or sister, Prairie, to do her work. An important part of a family is sharing chores and tasks that are required to maintain property, prepare meals and any other tasks that may need to be performed. In many families it is thought, by the children, that it is the parents job to take care of the house and property, but children should help their parents not because it is required of them but because they love their parents.

A second idea that is portrayed in the story is the idea of maturing and becoming more responsible with age. Lucy begins telling the story as a child throwing a temper-tantrum about moving to the west with her mother and siblings. She does not want to change how her life was and live in a new place that is not as comfortable or up to her New England standards. But over time she becomes more comfortable with her new surroundings and eventually learns to appreciate them. As she ages she develops a reasoning attitude which makes her more cautious in her decisions and less spontaneous. She realizes that although people are different than out east their hearts are the same. This helps us draw up a couple thoughts, one maturity comes with age, social interaction, and observing those around you, and two maturity develops a reasoning that allows one to make carefully thought, lacking spontaneous decisions. The first lets us understand that as we age we develop knowledge that helps us better interact with others. This is important because a large amount of our daily life consists of involvement with other people. By becoming more responsible we can shoulder some of the problems that coworkers, friends and families share. The second allows us to understand our conflicts with others and reach a more civil decision than a child would make. For example, instead of throwing a fist at an enemy we might be able to work out our differences and settle things in a non-physical manner. A hot tempered person is most likely lacking the maturity needed to make smarter decisions and most likely allows emotions to control the situation. Maturity could be defined as the self-control of emotions and decisions for the betterment of social interaction. As Lucy ages she displays maturity by offering reasons for her feelings and explaining her choices in a well thought out method.

With her growth in maturity she learns to deal, and remain cheerful with her mothers decisions for their lives. This is not in her control, but she maintains composure and deals with her unpleasantries. Over the course of the story events befall Lucy that cause her to become unhappy with her mother for bringing them to California. Part of being a good partner, or leader is the ability to "roll with the punches" and still come out on top. Trials in life are sometimes put in place to make us stronger. When Lucy moved to California she was faced with the trial of being in a new place with new faces and a different way of life. While there she experienced hardships like long harsh winters, the death of her brother, and the town being burned to the ground, but this made her stronger. Eventually she realized that the place she hated so much was her favorite place on earth. Once she learned to deal with the problems and turn them into something positive she was able to live happier. Catastrophes can occur at any point in time. There is no predetermined place, person or time which something bad is to happen. But bad things always seem to catch us off guard and cause a boatload of pain and sadness. Just recently the World Trade Center was attacked by people willing to sacrifice their lives as well as thousands of innocent others. The pain and suffering caused could hardly be deeper. But despite all the sorrow we as a nation are now stronger and more prepared to handle drastic situations. Difficult times often spur maturity and a new understanding about life, much like the story of Lucy Whipple where bad things often happen to the Whipple family.

The ideas imbedded in "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" can be analyzed and practiced by many children growing up. Stories like this one show good moral foundations of a family. The ballad makes the point that families are very important for growth. It also hints that hardship is a tool to encourage maturity, and that learning responsibility is valuable to everyone especially children. If children were raised in families that care, love and encourage them our society would be a better, more friendly place which I believe is one of the main goals of this story, "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple."



Jon Kim
Sarah Plain and Tall Book Analysis

Hardships and troublesome times; life is full of them. It's through these hardships and struggles that make us come out stronger and persevere in the end. Everybody goes through them at certain points in their life and there is no escaping it. But imagine this, with all our technology today and with all these machines and tools that we own to help cut down the amount of time it takes us to do certain tasks, imagine how life would have been in the American west because even with all this technology we still continue to struggle today. Just imagine all the toils and the hardships that the families and the individuals of the American west era had to overcome in order to survive. After reading the novel Sarah Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan, I came to the conclusion that for the people who lived on a farm during the time of the American west, their focus had to be centered around meeting ones basic need for survival, and also at the same time, maintaining strong familial bonds.

Just to give a quick summary, this story is about two children who are being raised by their widowed father. Their mother had passed away a day after the birth of the youngest child, Caleb. Papa decides that he needs help taking care of the children and doing the household chores so he submits an advertisement in the newspaper for a wife. A woman named Sarah Wheaton who lives in Maine answers his letter. She is invited to come to Kansas to live with Papa, Caleb, and Anna on their family farm. As the story goes on, the reader finds out what life is like for Sarah as she tries to adjust to her new environment away from her home on the shoreline and the sand dunes of Maine.

Although this book was very short, I found many instances of hardship the family had to overcome in order to survive. The first example was found in the very beginning. The family is sitting around the fireplace in their home remembering their late mother and how well she sang and all the memories that they had had with her. She had died the day after Caleb, the youngest child in the family, was born. Like anyone who loses a member of the family or a loved one, it is very hard to go back to your regular life and live as if everything was ok. I could imagine the pain and the emptiness that the family was going through trying to go back to their everyday chores, as Anna remembers "the morning that mama had diedthe days seemed long and dark like winter days, except it wasn't winter" (5). Other reasons for her death could have been because of the lack of anesthetics during that time, the lack of medical knowledge, and the shortage of medical personnel.

Compared to the technology today where we have air conditioning and heating installed in our homes, people in the west could only stay warm by dressing in layers and making a fire in the fireplace. That is how their basic need of staying warm was met. This also meant that they had to have a constant supply of firewood during the long winters in order to survive it and that could have also meant walking a few miles to find a tree to chop down. After chopping down the trees around your home, it would only seem logical to walk to other areas around you to find firewood.

In this story, Papa, Sarah, and the children all lived on a farm. I would think that maintaining the condition of the farm and making everything run the way it was supposed to would have been another difficult task. Living and working on that farm was their life and also a way for them to survive cause through that farm they also grew their own food. The animals had to be fed at certain times of the day and there were always chores to be done. Since they didn't have plows or any kind of mechanical device to help them out with all the work everything had to be done manually. Also no one person can do all the jobs on a farm. There is just so much that needs to be done everyday that without a family or other individuals helping you out it would be very rigorous and back breaking work that might even take all day to finish.

The environment around them would also add on to the complications. When it would rain, they would have to move all the animals to the inside of the barn, and cover up all the hay so it wouldn't rot. Also the roof would need constant fixing because when it rained the water would leak into the house. Sarah and Papa climbed onto the roof one time in the story right before a huge storm hit and Sarah patched it up to a point where it kept the rain out. When the snow would fall, they had to have collected enough food and goods to last them through the winter since food couldn't be grown during that time of the year. If they ran out of food or basic necessities then they had no choice but to hop on the wagon and hope that they make it to the store before more snow falls.

After reading that book, I realized how difficult it was to raise a family on a farm in the west and how hard life was for them. They had to get up early to feed the animals and spend the remainder of the day plowing fields and doing household chores. Though it was hard and life was rough, it was clear that they had no other choice and that they had to do whatever they could to survive and keep their family strong. I came to understand that their family was probably the most important to them during those days because in a place like the west where the Darwinist idea of the survival of the fittest came to play, no one had anyone to lean on to but their families for support and love.



Jeana Benfield
Sarah Plain and Tall"

While reading the book "Sarah, Plain, and Tall" I found that I got a more personal and accurate synopsis of how things really were in the old west. It seemed that life was really lonely, desolate, but still very happy. Sarah Wheaton was a woman that lived in Maine with her brother and felt she needed to take on the challenge of answering to a mail order bride from a man named Jacob Witting. She found herself in a family that tried to forget the memory of their deceased mother and wife. They never sang like they did when their mother was alive and they kept her belongings in a trunk so they would never be seen. When Sarah came into the family she brought music as well as the memory of their past beloved back into the house.

Caleb was the one that wanted to know if Sarah sang, because he always asked Anna if his mother and his father sang. Anna would tell her that both of them sang all the time. For him it was very important that Sarah sang. He was very open to the idea of Sarah because he has never had a mother figure before. He wanted so much for her to love him and accept him as her own child. He was always so curious to know how his mom was and what he looked like when he was born. It was like he had a void in his young life that needed to be filled. I think Caleb was trying to fill it through Sarah. That is why when Sarah gets their house Caleb and her get along right from the beginning. He was anticipating her arrival and she was searching for a sense of comfort and belonging in this whole uncertain situation.

Sarah found herself at first lonely, missing her house, and especially the memory of her sea. She loved her sea and always mentioned it to the children. Sarah tried finding things that would remind her of the sea to somewhat comfort her and make her feel at home. One thing she found was that when the wind blew through the long grass it sounded and looked like the wind blowing through ocean water. One day she and the children decided to go swimming in the lake near by their house and Caleb asked Sarah if the lake was like her ocean back home. She told Caleb that the ocean she came from had a lot of waves, and was constantly moving. To make a joke about it Caleb gave her a little splash to see if the waves were like that. She then described the oceans beautiful colors as being blue, gray, and green.

The relationships of Sarah and the children grew fast and were very comfortable from the being even though at times Caleb thought Sarah was going to leave them. For instance he felt that Sarah did not like the house because it was too small and that he was too loud and obnoxious. Sarah always found a way to reassure them that she did not think they were too loud and the house was not too small or messy. She found herself taking longer to warm up to the father than the children because he was so set in his ways. She found him to be stubborn and ridged with the way he felt things should stay. He was afraid of change where as the children were willing for things to change. He was too grounded in his ways and was afraid to let go of what he found comfortable.

I found it very interesting that through out the whole book you can see her falling in love with the family she was with and the more she fell in love with the family the less she seemed to miss her home and the materialistic part of it. In the beginning she was missed her ocean and her home. I found that she at first lived for herself and for her surroundings like her ocean. Once she was away from all of that she was able to love other people. She came attached to people this time instead of things and in the end that was what made her stay. She knew that she loved her ocean and that she was going to miss it, but she knew she would miss her newfound family more. She could live without her ocean, but she found she would not be able to live without them.

What even made this whole story more wonderful was that she found true love in this whole situation. At first she was just there to make sure the children and household was in order, she was not really interested in the love and relationship part. It would be stressful enough to go in to this situation knowing before you came to the house you were single and had no one to belong to. All of a sudden over night she became a mother and wife. She had to take time and had to warm up to both of the situations. She eventually became a wonderful mother and an even more of a wonderful wife.

This book just went to show that even though the west was lonely and desolate wonderful things can still happen and people could still find happiness in their situation and in each other. As the Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Witting, Anna and Caleb did.



Sarah Woolf
How Can I Keep From Singing?

"'Did Mama sing every day?" Caleb Witting asked Anna, his older sister, this question millions of times, and she always responded with the same answer: "Every-single day." Why was it so important that Caleb and Anna's mother be a singer? How does that help to explain the hardships of living on the frontier? These were some questions I asked myself as I began reading Sarah, Plain and Tall. Now, after a weekend of singing my own heart out, I think I'm beginning to understand the importance of this little boy's question and how it relates to life in the West.

Singing is a way that we express joy, and Caleb was searching to find that joy. He believed that where there was singing, there would be happiness. Sarah, Plain and Tall led me to the conclusion that life in the West was a constant struggle of loneliness and a search for joy.

Life in the West was lonely for a couple of different reasons. First of all, people of the West had to leave behind their homes and everything that was familiar to them to move to the new frontier. Sarah was a prime example of this. She left behind her brother William and her three old aunts. She missed the sea, the seals, the flowers, the shells, and the smells.

People were also separated by distance then. Neighbors lived far away and weren't able to get in contact as often as they liked. I saw how exciting it was when friends came to visit. Matthew and Maggie, the Witting's neighbors, came to help Papa plow his fields. They brought horses to help, children to play with, and a sackful of chickens for eating. Visits were few and far between, so it was always a pleasure for the Witting family to enjoy their company.

Loneliness also occurred if you lost a family member. Many people had a difficult time surviving in the West. Some died on their way traveling. Others were involved in terrible accidents. More died during childbirth. Caleb and Anna lost their mother after she gave birth to Caleb. This incident turned their lives upside down. Now Anna was forced to take over her mother's chores, Caleb would never know his mother, and their Papa became aware of a loneliness like nothing he'd ever experienced before. The music had disappeared from their lives.

Caleb wanted to know why his father never sang anymore. Anna explained that when their mother died, Papa stopped singing. Caleb always wondered about this. He wanted Anna to remember their mother's songs. If Anna could remember the songs, they could remember her. Anna thought hard and remembered music about flowers, birds, and the moon. Their mother had learned to appreciate the West, and she expressed her affection through singing. Caleb wanted to learn how to capture that same outlook.

Papa said he'd forgotten the old songs, but he proposed a way to remember them. He had a wonderful solution: find a new wife for himself and a new mother for his children. How did he go about finding this woman? Well by ordering one, of course. He wrote away for one. Papa didn't like the quiet house. He wasn't content to just keep busy with his chores. He knew his family needed someone to bring the joy back to their family, and he believed Sarah was the one to do it.

TheWittings had one very important qualification for Sarah; she had to be able to sing. Papa wrote and asked her if she knew how to sing. When she wrote back and said, "tell them I sing", it brought a smile to all of their faces.

After Sarah's arrival, Caleb and Anna did everything they could to make her happy. They showed her the animals, made her a dune, introduced her to new flowers, and told her about the different seasons. They hoped to find a way to make Sarah love the West. They wanted her to stay and bring vivacity to their home.

Throughout this book, I began to see the difference that Sarah was making in the Wittings' lives. Caleb began to sing. He made up a silly song about Woolly ragwort all around and woolly ragwort being on the ground. Sarah and Papa looked on in laughter and even the dogs "lifted their heads and thumped their tails against the wood floor" (24).

The first time they all sang together was a memorable experience. Even Papa began to sing. Sarah taught them a song, while they all sat on the steps listening to the insects buzzing and the cows rustling in the grass. It was entitled "Sumer is Icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!" Papa "sang as if he had never stopped singing" (26).

After that day, singing became a more common occurence. Sarah could be found singing when she was learning about the animals. Caleb would be making up songs about going to school. I'm sure even Papa was whistling while he worked!

This weekend our choir sang a song entitled How Can I Keep From Singing and it showed me a new perception of life. When things are going well in our lives, it's impossible for us to keep from singing. We need to be able to express our joy, and we do that through song. Caleb, Anna, Papa, and Sarah knew that they didn't want to live lonely lives, so they learned to love the West. Maggie, their neighbor, reminded them that there are things to miss, no matter where you are. You must learn to appreciate what you have, and not what you're missing.

This new family found each other, and they began to experience music in their lives once again. Caleb, Anna, Papa, and Sarah knew that they would meet difficulties in life, and the only way to get through them was by singing songs, old and new ones. In that old American Folk Hymn I sang this weekend, it reminded me when "the peace from love makes fresh my heart, a song of hope is springing." How can I keep from singing?

Works Cited

MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: Harper Trophy, 1985.

Staheli, Ronald. How Can I Keep From Singing.



Kelly Razzouk
Mail Order Brides, Not such a bad idea?

Today's world of dating is filled with many complex steps. The first of these is finding a "dateable" person (that in itself could take years). If one is lucky enough to find someone worthy of dating he must then endure the game of "does she like me?" "Will she say yes if I ask her out?" Supposing that the person in question actually feels the same as you, or can be persuaded to feel the same; a long a tedious process referred to as "dating" begins. If during this dating period, your relationship survives you are then rewarded with an engagement. Wedding plans, in-laws, and headaches follow this. The good news is, though, after all this is over-you've got yourself a bride!

I believe that the men of the American West really did have an interesting idea when they invented the Mail Order Bride system. In this system there is nothing hidden, as opposed to today's society where the first few dates you are seeing a fašade and often not the real person. The men of the West laid everything out on the table for a woman to answer their call.

In the book Sarah Plain and Tall, Sarah answers an advertisement for a bride. She is very direct and tells her would be suitor exactly what she is like. She says, "..I am not mild mannered." In these few simple words, she is giving him a warning. In today's society it would probably take a few days, weeks, or even months for a man to find this fact out about his girlfriend.

The mail-order bride system also dispelled any ideas of a physical attraction. A mail-order bride wouldn't have to worry about being appreciated exclusively for her outside appearance. A man would have to go strictly by a woman's character and her responses to his letters. It was much more intimate in the sense that two people were pouring their hearts out to one another using the only tools available to them- pen and paper.

The men of the west took a huge risk when they invited a mail-order bride in to their homes, but they also knew so much about her by now. They shared a deep bond with one another, and they were not clouded by the physical aspects of a relationship. They were mainly trying to see if they were compatible for one another. Many relationships of today are jump started by physical attraction, and once that wears out there isn't much left.

The women also had a clearly outlined role in the mail-order bride system. Their would be suitor often clearly outlined what he was looking for and the woman could decide if she could give him those things. In today's society relationships often fail because the couple initially feels they are going in the same direction when individually they want opposite things.

There was no "playing hard to get" in the West. It was all laying it on the line. The whole idea of the West was innocence and simplicity. People were not afraid to share their true selves; they were genuine and they had no reason to put up "false fronts." The West, promoted an honest to goodness outlook. People in the West also didn't waste a lot of time. They realized that they needed companionship on the lonely home front and they wanted it in a timely manner.

Once the mail-order bride agreed to come for a visit, the men didn't go crazy trying to put their best foot forward and change all their behaviors. They did, as we see in Sarah Plain and Tall, put on a new shirt or get a haircut, but they never changed the way they normally acted. They wanted to get to know the "real person" so they were real people themselves.

I think when we hear the idea of the mail-order bride today, we immediately think "how ridiculous", but a closer look at the alternative leaves room for serious contemplation. When we consider how much time we invest in relationships that ultimately don't "pan out", we realize that those precious hours could have been used much more wisely. When we consider the amount of time spent in gaining a mail-order bride vs. the time it takes to court a bride today we see that it is the quality that counted in the West, not the quantity.

Although it would face initial opposition, I think re-instituting the mail-order bride system isn't such a bad idea! Once one got past the initial awkward stage, I think they would find the system to be an effective way of choosing your life partner. After all, the marriages of the West seldom ended in divorce or separation like those of today's society. Having a stack of letters that one could refer to when a problem came up might come in handy for many guys who can't remember what their girlfriend said her favorite color was or her dress size. The letters would serve as both sentimental keepsakes and reference material. They would also document the history of the relationship and special dates (like the 20th letter anniversary) could be easily found. All in all I think this issue should be seriously looked at by Congress, The President, or even the United Nations. Mail-order brides could become the next big thing in our modern society!



Jennifer Heilman
Critical Essay of The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

When we think the women of today we think of them as being strong willed, independent, and self-sufficient. Women today seem to be ok on their own; the notion that they need a man to take care of them and provide for them no longer seems to fit. When we think of the women of the past we typically don't think like this. Most often women are known to be the one who stays home and cooks and cleans while her man goes out and provides for his family. There has never been a doubt that women from the past have had to be strong and enduring just that they typically aren't thought to provide for themselves. The Ballad of Lucy Whipple defies these general ideas that we have of a woman from today vs. a woman from the past. The life of Mrs. Whipple and her children reveal to us a very different type of women, one that we don't often hear about from the 1800's. We see a woman follow her dreams and we see her reap the benefits and the consequences of her decision.

After Mrs. Whipple's husband dies she decides not to let his spirit die as well. It was their dream to take their family out west and create a new and perhaps better life for themselves. So Mrs. Whipple does just that she packs up her four children and leaves the only life they have ever known. They settle in California and realize that they all have a lot to learn. Mrs. Whipple and her family are now in a place that they never even dreamed existed, and they discover that the opportunities of the west have to be discovered, nothing is free or easy out here.

One of the biggest struggles that the Whipple family first had to overcome was working together. They all had to understand that in order to make it they had to work as a team. For Lucy this was a hard concept. Lucy was accustomed to reading in her leisure time and doing other such activities, now she had to work. It became her chore to hunt for food, which Lucy was very unaccustomed to. This pattern is repeated throughout the book especially for the women. They were forced to step out of their comfort zone and take control, this was not an option, it was a way of life. Mrs. Whipple had to take control and run not only her family but also the boarding house, which was home to a number of gentlemen.

Also unlike their life in Massachusetts they had to be tougher, sort of how women today are viewed. Lucy and her mother had to take care of themselves along with everyone else. We usually think of the men doing this, but it was the men who came home to them and wanted to be taken care of. Although they ran a boarding house and cooked and did laundry and the rest of "woman's" work, they had to do the "mans" work to. This included not only the hunting for food but also any mending and taking care of their donkey (while he was there), and taking care of the men's animals when they came back from a day mining.

More than all the work that had to be done, and the toughness that they had to convey, the true story of Lucy Whipple and her family was the search for happiness. That is what began their journey out to the west and that is also what ended the journey and made it home. Lucy was unhappy with everything that was around her, she believed that it was her surroundings that were causing her to feel this way. She blamed it on the heat, on the fact that she didn't have nice dresses to wear, on her name, and not enough time to read her books; in reality her unhappiness was caused by the fact that she wasn't happy with herself. Her and her mother both faced this everyday; they faced the loneliness of being among the very few women of their town and associating only with the boarders and their family. Loneliness became an even bigger trial for them when Butte died, and along with all their other trials they had to learn to go on with life. They had now lost all the men in their life that had ever meant anything to them. Because of this Lucy gave up on men all together, and when the boarders began to fancy her mother she could not handle it; she felt betrayed by everyone around her, especially her mother.

In the end Lucy realized that the only reason she was lonely was because she was causing herself to be lonely, she was not allowing anyone close to her because she left her heart in Massachusetts; she never gave the west or anyone in it a chance. She finally came to terms with her mothers falling in love with the Reverend and was ok when they decided to move away from Lucky Diggins. Lucy decided to stay because this had finally became her home, she learned that she truly could be happy wherever she was as long as she put her heart into it. She realized that nothing could make her happy or make her unhappy and that she could change every thing around her (even her name) and she wouldn't be happy unless she made the decision in her heart to allow happiness to enter.

Although Lucy and her mother both found happiness and contentment in the end, the spirit of a woman is continually shown. Lucy decided to stay in Lucky Diggins all alone, and to take care of herself. Mrs. Whipple decided to marry and take her family to another new place and face the unknown with them there. Her mother also faced the challenge of letting go and letting Lucy begin to live her own life.

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple truly does an excellent job of showing women's will to survive. You see Lucy and her mother endure so much and in the end discover more about themselves than they ever could have imagined. They also realized that they were a family and that they always would be family no matter where they were because their hearts would be together. This book bridges the gap between the women of the past to the women of today. We see them struggle to support themselves, and survive in a world that was thought to be built for a man.


Cushman, Karen. The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. New York: Harpertrophy, 1996.



Linnie LeBrun
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

"The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" is a story of adventure and loneliness. It centers around the fact that the west was hard on everyone and especially on those who were single mothers struggling to support their families. It showed how a single mother took care of herself and her children on the long trip to California from Massachusetts, and despite many precarious situations, then continued to take care of them. It also showed how we can grow and mature into a new situation even if we don't like it.

"The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" started out with a girl from Massachusetts named California Whipple. When her father and brother died her mother decides to move her family to California so that they can start fresh without so many sad memories. The mother, Arvella faced much opposition from her children on this especially her oldest daughter, California. Upon reaching California, California decides that she despises California the state and as her name, so in her despair, California changes her name to Lucy. In the town of Lucky Diggins where they settle, which is nothing but a bar and a few miners tents. Arvella got a job from Mr. Scatter, who ran the general store and saloon in the town, to start a boarding house. She did this with just a few tents that they had and various other small things. This brought in enough money so that they could support themselves, but at times they were still short on food. Butte, Lucy's older brother obtained a job at the general store stocking shelves and sweeping. This left Lucy at home all day and the oldest, so her mother decided that she would do the hunting for the family. Lucy despised this with a passion, she thought this terrible unfair. So, instead of going out and shooting something to eat so she could go home, she would sit in the woods all day reading her only book, Ivanhoe, and then at the end of the day shooting a couple of squirrels to please her mother. This shows an instance when Lucy was very immature and inconsiderate. She wasn't concerned about anything except for herself, and her desires to read her book and do things her way.

Lucy is always looking for a way to get back to Massachusetts, and one of the ideas that she has is to sell apple pies to all the borders, people in the neighboring tents, and miners along the river. This proves to be a great endeavor, which she handles well, except for the fact that since she is so bound and determined to get to Massachusetts, she doesn't realize that she should be spending her time and money helping her mother support the family. Instead she hoards the money as much as possible. Despite Lucy's nonwillingness to help, Arvella is finally able to build a proper boarding house instead of using tents. This helped her to gain more business. And as she did this the town around them was flourishing and growing rapidly.

In addition to all the building going on, a little more excitement is added to town when Brother Clyde Claymore comes to town to witness to the people of Lucky Diggins. Arvella, despite her hatred for all men of the cloth accepts him as a border. Then one day, Lucy's mother's view of Brother Claymore changed dramatically. It happened the day that he rescued Butte from drowning in the river. Although, Butte was saved from drowning he wasn't better yet. He developed a terrible fever and a sickness that took over his entire body. Eventually it made him so weak that he couldn't even move around on his own. Despite all the attempts to make him better he grew continually worse and then he finally died. This almost killed Arvella. Now she had lost two sons and a husband. What was to happen to her next? Over the next few months, things started to smooth out a little bit, and it seemed like things were getting a little better. Well, don't count your chickens before they hatch. One day while Lucy was babysitting her younger siblings, she heard the screams of "FIRE! FIRE!" There was a fire coming from the west that was coming straight for them. Since they had nothing to stop the fire with it swept across the entire town destroying everything that they had. This was very disappointing and devastating to everyone in the town.

Through all the horrible things that had happened so far, finally something good happened. Arvella and Brother Claymore decided that they were getting married. After they were married n they were going to move to the Sandwich Islands where they could work with the heathens. This mortified Lucy because she was bent on going to Massachusetts. All of her other siblings were very excited to go. Finally, after a lot of deliberation and thought Lucy decided that she really did love it in California despite all the bad memories there, and all of her love for Massachusetts. California was really her home. So her Arvella, Brother Claymore and Lucy's sisters all moved to the Sandwich Islands, and Lucy stayed in California.

I found this story to be very interesting. It showed how even if life gives you rotten apples you can make apple sauce. Lucy's mother always found something good out of the bad. She persevered, even though at times she was discouraged, and felt like giving up too. The loss of her husband and her two sons has to put a great strain on a person. Then to remarry only to find out that you're losing your oldest daughter too. Not to death, but to both of them going their separate ways, had to hurt too. All throughout this book you will see instances when Arvella could have given up and headed back to Massachusetts where everything was comfortable and safe, but she didn't. She was determined that she was going to make it no matter what. I think that in the west in those days, you had to think this way otherwise you would never survive. If you even let yourself get a little discouraged, something would finally be the breaking point and you would give up. So many people that moved west to start new, let themselves think that things would never get better after hardships, and they ended up returning east to where they were from. However, in this story it showed what can happen to you if you stick it out. You can persevere against the odds and still be happy in the end.