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The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Chapter 1 | Summary



The book begins in 1764 in the Tuscarawas Valley located in the present-day state of Ohio. This chapter is told from the point of view of True Son, a 15-year-old boy in the Lenni Lenape Indian tribe.

True Son was taken from a white family when he was four. He replaced a young boy in the tribe who had recently died. His Indian father, Cuyloga, adopted and raised him as a member of the tribe. True Son has just learned that the Lenni Lenape and the Shawanose, a neighboring tribe, have been ordered to return any white prisoners. He must leave his Indian family.

True Son is shocked by the news. He recalls the story of how Cuyloga removed his white blood and replaced it with brave Indian blood when he was young. The tribe is his home and family.

Though True Son tries to hide, Cuyloga finds him and takes him to the white settlers' army tents. A white guard named Del watches him. Del can speak Delaware, the English name for the Lenni Lenape language, and True Son overhears Del and Cuyloga talking. After telling True Son to "go like an Indian," Cuyloga leaves.

Recalling childhood memories, True Son weeps with homesickness. He decides to steal Del's knife and kill the soldier as soon as he gets a chance.


True Son's shifting sense of identity is important to the book. In the beginning he feels himself to be thoroughly Indian. He takes pride in qualities he associates with being Indian, including the ability to withstand pain and restrain emotions. Nature and his forest home shape his world view. He identifies months by changes in the seasons. November, for instance, is the "Month of the First Snow."

His adoption story introduces the symbol of blood, which stands for loyalty, connection, and family. True Son isn't biologically related to Cuyloga—they don't share physical blood. But he feels unity with his Indian father and with members of all Indian tribes. Richter uses True Son's perspective to demonstrate how nurture, or upbringing, plays an important role in identity.

Importantly, True Son doesn't think of himself as a captive or hostage. He considers himself a member of the family. The name "True Son" is significant because he is a true, or real, son of Cuyloga in every sense but the biological relationship.

Additionally, his identity shapes how he sees the world around him. Like many characters in the novel, True Son demonizes a group he thinks of as the "other." While Indian thoughts are brave and pure to him, white thoughts are mean. The ugliness and paleness of settler buildings and clothing are contrasted with the natural beauty of the forest.

The invasive presence of the white armies spells trouble in another sense. Both True Son and Cuyloga know that the armies have more power than the Indian tribes. For reasons Richter makes clearer in Chapter 2, Cuyloga and other tribal leaders surrender their captives without a fight. Many returned captives, like True Son, had no memory of their white background or biological parents.

At the beginning of the book, True Son is still immature and impulsive. Though Cuyloga wants him to accept his fate, True Son isn't ready. His first response to the perceived enemy is aggression and vengeance, including plans to kill the soldier assigned to watch him. Later in the book, however, his ideas of the enemy and the "other" will change.

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