The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter is told from Mr. Butler's perspective.

True Son has had a fever for several days. Mr. Butler is worried. Dr. Childsley, the local doctor, can't figure out the cause. The doctor claims that Indians are susceptible to unusual diseases.

Mr. Butler wishes his son would talk to him. He longs for True Son to ask forgiveness for his stubbornness and accept his birth family. Though he knows True Son stole his maple rifle, Mr. Butler can't blame him. Sadly, he looks at the clothes True Son wore when he was healthy—including the Indian clothing Aunt Kate returned.

Parson Elder's son startles Mr. Butler when he arrives at the house. He says that two Indians recently visited town and talked to Uncle Wilse Owens in his cooper shop, where he manufactures barrels. One of the Indians drank several mugs of rum and told insulting stories about white people. After sundown, the man who had been drinking was shot in a neighbor's pasture. No one knows who the shooter was. The other Indian disappeared.

Concerned by the news, Mr. Butler keeps it to himself, loading his rifles just in case. He begins to make entries in his account book. The security of cash and property calms him, and he wishes he could pass on this satisfaction to his son.

Analysis

Racism extended to medical practices in the American colonies of the 1760s. Some doctors believed in polygenesis, the idea that human races evolved from separate ancestors. Dr. Childsley's diagnosis and assessment of True Son relies on the belief that people from other ethnic backgrounds are biologically inferior to white people. Mr. Butler has similar ideas. He thinks True Son is sick because he didn't grow up eating food suitable to his white background.

Additionally, the two men think of Indians as mysterious, evil, and prone to superstition. Mr. Butler worries that True Son has been corrupted by the spiritual beliefs of the Lenni Lenape. In earlier chapters, however, True Son felt the Christian religion came from a reliance on an imaginary god. This chapter highlights the gulf between Indian and white thinking. Each group is afraid of the other. White Europeans in particular have racist, biased views about Indians that affect their treatment of True Son.

However, this chapter is also sympathetic to Mr. Butler—showing his genuine desire to bond with the son he never got to raise. He imagines passing down belongings such as the rifle as a part of his family heritage. He especially wants True Son to adopt his own values of hard work, thriftiness, and property ownership, but True Son rejects the Western tradition of land ownership, finding ridiculous the notion that placing a fence around a plot of land means that it belongs to one man or family.

As a new settler Mr. Butler wants a son to carry on his lifestyle in the new world. One of True Son's new suits is cut from the cloth of one of Mr. Butler's suits. It's a visual demonstration of Mr. Butler's desire to carry on his legacy to the next generation.

True Son, on the other hand, thinks of Cuyloga as his father and role model, and he's learned an entirely different value system from the tribe. In Chapter 4 True Son, Half Arrow, and Little Crane wonder why white people guard their possessions and hoard what they could share.

The entire Butler family is beginning to realize that True Son will never think of their township as home. Even Aunt Kate, who was impatient with True Son's inability to adapt, feels repentant and returns his original Indian clothing.

Additionally, the troubling shadow of frontier conflict remains. When Mr. Butler says that the town is at peace, he's remembering the French and Indian War that ended a year before the narrative began. The town is still on edge. Townspeople believe that an Indian presence means a rebellion is in the works, even if the Indians are peaceful. Richter doesn't tell readers who the killer is, but he indicates that the white settlers felt threatened enough to make the first aggressive move.

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