The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter is told from True Son's perspective.

Still sick in bed, True Son wishes he could receive a letter from his Indian family. He hoped a message would come in the spring, but he fears the Indians have forgotten him. He worries he's lost his Indian soul and become submissive to white men. Mr. Butler taught him to hoe corn—a chore reserved for women in the Lenape tribe. Bejance saw True Son hoeing and remarked that the white people had finally harnessed him. True Son resolves to keep listening to his inner voice. On the inside he will be free, even if he's imprisoned on the outside.

Gordie runs into his room and tells him that Aunt Kate saw an Indian. True Son is hopeful—one of his people is nearby. Once night falls True Son slips into his Indian clothing and quietly leaves the house. He calls to the other Indian in the dark, eventually recognizing the voice as Half Arrow, his old friend. The boys joyfully reunite. Half Arrow says that Little Crane, another friend from True Son's tribe, came along to visit his white wife.

However, to True Son's shock, Half Arrow leads him to Little Crane's dead body. Half Arrow says the shooters came from behind them. He describes how he and Little Crane went to a cooper's shop and asked the white men there, including Uncle Wilse, where to find True Son. Little Crane warned Half Arrow to tell only happy stories, since white men are easily offended. But the two stories Little Crane told the white men both involve Indians tricking white people. Though True Son sees the humor in the stories, he knows the white men didn't laugh.

When True Son notices that Little Crane has been scalped, he becomes outraged. He and Half Arrow bury Little Crane. Then True Son goes to Uncle Wilse's house determined to find out who the killer was. Uncle Wilse says Little Crane is "where he won't do any more mischief." Then he grabs True Son to keep him in the house. Half Arrow charges to True Son's defense and fights Uncle Wilse, eventually knocking him unconscious.

The friends decide to scalp Uncle Wilse. A hired hand appears and Half Arrow wants to scalp him too. But True Son notices that the hired hand is getting a gun, and he and Half Arrow run away. As they approach First Mountain, they hear settlers following them.

Analysis

In this chapter True Son makes a crucial decision to escape. As an adolescent, he's looking for models of manhood, and he contrasts Mr. Butler and Cuyloga, his two father figures. True Son associates manhood with authority and decision-making. He's unimpressed with what he sees as Mr. Butler's inability to lead the family.

More importantly, he still feels confined. The turtle dove's cry of solitude resembles his own solitude, caught between two worlds. To survive he's compromised and adapted in ways he never thought he would. Bejance, who knows about captivity himself, compares True Son to a harnessed plough horse in the field. Like the horse, True Son feels unable to think for himself or decide his own fate.

He sees his white family as captives in their own way. Mrs. Butler, trapped indoors, resembles a rat in a cage. By contrast True Son's Indian parents are compared to trees representing the freedom and dignity of nature.

Without control over his body, True Son decides to take control of his mind. His decision to listen to his inner voice recalls Richter's epigraph from the poet William Wordsworth. The Butler house where True Son feels caged resembles the prison-house of the poem. The confining nature of the white colonial lifestyle—and the additional responsibilities of young adulthood—serve to further trap him. The "light of day" comes from the convictions, beliefs, and memories True Son still keeps. As he finds his inner light to guide him, he decides to return to his authentic Indian self.

This return includes coming back to his Indian family. He thinks of nature as his larger family, describing the night as his aunt and the moon as his uncle. The use of Delaware phrases and animal names shows the importance of language to identity and culture. Language is one way for Richter to reveal more of True Son's world. The way True Son personifies animals and plants, giving them individual names and characteristics, indicates he still has a deep connection to the natural world.

He's also learned a great deal about how the white world of the town operates. True Son becomes Half Arrow's guide to the world of white people. He's the only one who knows white settlers don't have a sense of humor about their interactions with Indians. The stories Little Crane tells are jokes about the stupidity and greed of white people. They poke fun at white people's attachment to land and property. Though they're "happy stories" for Little Crane, they are taken as insults by the white listeners. The men at the cooper shop, who feel threatened by the presence of Indians, see the jokes as aggression.

Little Crane's death is a turning point for True Son. He realizes he can't have anything more to do with his white family. Even if his family members didn't commit the act, they're willing to look the other way while Indians are killed. Scalping Little Crane is a particularly cruel move, marking the death as a revenge killing. Scalps were trophies in wartime. White settlers offered money for Indian scalps; they were considered a prize.

The white villagers would use the scalp as proof of their perceived superiority over Indians and as a warning to other Indians in the town. But to Half Arrow and True Son, Little Crane's death is a loss for the tribe and the greater Indian community, and Half Arrow is bent on vengeance.

At first, True Son is determined to get revenge as well. "The good Indian hate" on Half Arrow's face and the "cold savage rage" in True Son's heart indicate anger at years of exploitation by white colonizers.

However, True Son's shifting loyalties begin to appear in this chapter. He won't let Half Arrow kill Uncle Wilse. Even though True Son doesn't acknowledge their relationship—he and Uncle Wilse despise each other—he considers it a betrayal to kill a family member. Moreover, he doesn't have Half Arrow's unshakable confidence; he knows that white people's guns are powerful.

Still, the scalping of Uncle Wilse is an act of war. It marks the two young Indians as warriors who are willing to take justice into their own hands.

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