The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

Although the village celebrates True Son's return for days, True Son notices that Little Crane's family won't celebrate with them.

Soon, several village members—including Cuyloga and Little Crane's brother, Thitpan—gather for a council. They call for war to avenge Little Crane's death. True Son and Half Arrow are eager to join the war party. True Son's mother protests, saying the two are just boys. However, Cuyloga argues that if True Son refuses to fight, the other men in the tribe will accuse him of being loyal to his white family.

Once True Son joins the war party, Little Crane's relatives forgive him. Thitpan, who first proposed war, leads the group. True Son feels fierce and ready for war. He wears the face paint and carries the weapons of a warrior.

When the war party takes their first scalps, the fighters rejoice. Though True Son celebrates, he recalls telling Mrs. Butler that Indians never scalp children. He is uneasy when he realizes Thitpan is carrying a child's scalp. Later, he asks Thitpan if the warriors consider children their enemies. Thitpan replies that he doesn't fight children but the child's scalp was easier to carry than her body. Besides, his dead brother, Little Crane, wasn't much older than a child when a white man shot him.

The next day the group plans to ambush a boat full of white travelers. Thitpan decides True Son will lure the travelers into shallow water by pretending to be a white boy in trouble. That night True Son dreams of his white family then dreams of a white mother and child in a boat approaching a waterfall.

Preparing for the ambush the next morning, Thitpan and fellow warrior Disbeliever dress True Son in the stolen clothing of white people. Thitpan instructs him to fool the travelers by acting like a white person.

True Son goes into the water and waits until a boat's passengers see him. He calls out to them, telling him he's English and urging them to save him. The travelers argue about whether or not to trust him. A woman urges the other travelers to save True Son, and the boat comes closer.

Then True Son notices a small boy about Gordie's age on the boat. He remembers his dream and briefly wonders if the Butlers are on the boat. The child speaks in a soft voice to his mother. Suddenly, True Son cries out to the travelers to warn them of the ambush. The boat quickly retreats, and the Indian warriors can only fire a few shots.

Analysis

Even though True Son didn't intend for Little Crane to be murdered, the death is still a consequence of his friends venturing into the white world to find him. There is a sense his tribe holds him responsible. He gets several uncomfortable reminders that the tribe associates him with white people. Cuyloga calls Paxton Township "my son's own white village." His family has fallen in status. Being part of the war party is a chance for True Son to prove again that he belongs.

Moreover, he wants to become a man and a warrior. Fighting is a coming-of-age ritual and a sign of dignity and maturity that he feels he's earned. He dresses as a warrior with face paint for the first time. As the group moves through the forest, True Son taps into the deepest part of himself. He has a desire to be connected on a blood level with his Indian community and to share the bonding ritual of going to war.

He is also watching Cuyloga for cues about how to behave. Though Cuyloga is the superior guide, he gives the job to Disbeliever, a member of Little Crane's family. True Son admires how his father shows leadership by putting the needs of the collective above his own pride.

The raid is more than vengeance for Little Crane. It's an assertion of Indian power in a world in which white settlers seem to have all the authority. Cuyloga identifies the hypocrisy of white men attacking Indians after demanding Indians be peaceful themselves. He thinks their actions are violating a universal moral code.

As the war party progresses, True Son comes to his own moral realizations. He sees the real stakes of conflict when he notices children's scalps carried by Thitpan's party. His conversation with Thitpan resembles his Chapter 9 conversation with Parson Elder. Both men took actions they'd rather not have taken, and both justified their actions as necessary to survive. Thitpan killed a child rather than take her prisoner, and Parson Elder allowed the Paxton Boys to massacre the Conestoga Indians. Once True Son realizes what will be asked of him as a warrior, he's reluctant to participate.

The dream reflects divided loyalty. He's never considered the Butlers his parents, but he did come to see them as human beings. The fear on the child's face reminds him that children have no say in war. They are innocent victims on both sides.

True Son knows the travelers in the boat aren't guilty of the crime against Little Crane. But they're part of the structural racism and colonialism harming Indians. Additionally, the boat is a sign of white industry taking over the land. Similarly, True Son is dressed in white men's clothing because the passengers will have sympathy only for a fellow white person. White travelers don't see Indians as fully human. This situation hints that the deception is a survival tactic for Indians whose opponents don't see them as worthy of life.

True Son's disguise has an additional significance. True Son now appears white to his tribe, which he didn't before. He's even given a Bible to represent the white Christian version of morality.

In the climactic moment, True Son's personal morality kicks in. He has an instinct to protect a vulnerable child who reminds him of Gordie. As much as he wants to be a warrior, endangering innocent women and children is a step too far. Richter indicates True Son doesn't fully understand his actions himself. Still, his deeds point to a permanent change in his character. His desire to belong to the Lenni Lenape is no longer the guiding force behind his decisions.

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