The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Chapter 15 | Summary



True Son realizes that he's betrayed his brothers. The other warriors are enraged, calling him a snake, a spy, and a bad white person. The war party is divided on how to punish him. Disbeliever and Under-the-Hill use charcoal and white clay to color True Son's face: black signifies he will be killed, while white means he will be allowed to live. Thitpan and his relatives want to burn True Son to death, arguing that his heart now belongs to the white people. Privately, however, True Son has never felt more Indian. He's ready to accept his death with calm.

The warriors take a vote. Many say they should burn True Son. Half Arrow, upset, leaves for the woods. True Son's Uncle Black Fish decides to vote with Cuyloga. Instead of casting a vote, Cuyloga blackens his own face with charcoal. He argues that he raised and taught True Son and he's responsible too. If the council burns True Son, they also have to burn him, and Cuyloga refuses to let his son be killed. The warriors quietly accept Cuyloga's decision.

Next, Cuyloga speaks to True Son. He says he raised True Son to live an honorable Indian life and support his father in old age. He cut off the "rotten vines" binding True Son to his white family. However, these vines have regrown and True Son has betrayed him for the white people—to whom he must return.

True Son vows never to return to the white people. Cuyloga, however, says True Son may change his mind. True Son's head and heart are Indian, Cuyloga adds, but his blood is "thin like the whites." He will take his son to a fork in the road, sending True Son down the white man's road. True Son and Cuyloga will then be enemies.

Stunned, True Son follows his father. Cuyloga indicates that True Son should still wear the shirt and pants taken from the white people. After a quiet day of travel father and son arrive at the fork in the road. True Son offers to say goodbye, but Cuyloga tells him enemies don't say goodbye—he is no longer True Son's father. "Who is my father?" True Son cries. Cuyloga doesn't answer. He leaves True Son alone by the river.

True Son reflects he has twice gone through the "living death" of parting from his people. Now he can never return. He must go back to the desolate life of the white men.


True Son realizes that his conflicted loyalties keep him from being a full member of a community that requires his utmost commitment. His worst fears at the beginning of the narrative have come true. He didn't adapt to the white way of life like Parson Elder thought he would, but he betrayed his commitment to the Lenni Lenape by not acting in the group's best interest. He may even have put the tribe in danger if the white boat passengers seek retribution. He wears his white clothing from now on, signifying an ongoing identity crisis.

Significantly, however, he achieves a calm acceptance of his fate. By recognizing that he must live with the consequences of his actions, he takes a final step toward adulthood and self-knowledge.

Cuyloga saves his life at the risk of becoming a tribal outcast himself. To True Son this action becomes the true sacrifice of a father putting his son's welfare above his own. However, to Cuyloga the tribe comes first. He abides by the Indian group ethic both when he takes responsibility for his son and when he casts True Son out to preserve tribal unity.

In Cuyloga's speech he acknowledges the internal conflict that lingers within True Son, a conflict that isn't resolved by the end of the narrative. True Son loves his Indian family and he feels at home in the woods, but he isn't willing to sacrifice everything for them as he might have been once. Cuyloga's speech also reflects the sorrow of Mr. Butler in Chapter 10 when he realized he couldn't pass a legacy down to his son. As Cuyloga recites all the rituals of hunting and survival he taught True Son, he reveals what these rituals mean to him.

Now, True Son has experiences that his father can't relate to or understand. He must make his own decisions and fend for himself for the first time. This is the final step in his coming of age. The "living death" he dreads at the fork in the road is not only the end of his Indian life, it's the end of his childhood.

Richter leaves the ending ambiguous, or unclear. Readers do not know where True Son will go or what he will do. Though the ending implies he will reluctantly reenter white society, he'll never really belong there. His fate drives home the tragedy of what many captives experienced when they were taken from their Indian families. Caught between two worlds, True Son ends up banished by both of them. The ending mirrors his conflicted sense of identity and his struggle to find a place in a region divided both racially and culturally.

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