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The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Chapter 2 | Summary



This chapter is told from Del's point of view. A young soldier on his first army tour, Del is serving under the respected Colonel Bouquet. Under the colonel's direction, the troops marched over 100 miles from Fort Pitt to the Forks of the Muskingum. They traveled through wilderness and Indian territory. Del feared he'd die on the journey, since the Indians were known to be hostile to white men. However, the colonel was careful about his soldiers' safety. He instructed them never to "lay hands on [an Indian]."

Reflecting on the journey later, Del says many soldiers had lost relatives to Indian tribes. They'd volunteered for the army mission to get revenge. Still, they follow the colonel's commands. When the colonel insists that the Indians return white prisoners, Del—who spent time himself living with Delaware Indians—warns him that the tribes won't obey. Most captives were raised to replace dead loved ones, and the Indian tribes considered them family.

To Del's astonishment, the Indians reluctantly surrender their captives. They fear the army presence means that the white men will take over Indian territory. Del is also surprised when the returned captives show resentment, not gratitude. True Son is the most rebellious of all.

When Del looks at True Son's skin and facial features, he can tell True Son was born to white parents. Del tries to tell True Son he will be returning to his biological family. However, True Son resists, saying he is an Indian who hates white people. True Son also refuses to go to Pennsylvania with the troops. Instead, he tells a confused Del that he plans to go somewhere "where you can't tramp me with your big foot."


Del is fictional, but Colonel Bouquet is based on the real Colonel Henry Bouquet, a Swiss military commander and a leader during the French and Indian War. In 1764 the war had just ended in a British victory. Still, Native American tribes were uneasy about the increased military presence in their territories, and a tribal chief named Pontiac began a rebellion.

Bouquet hoped to end the rebellion without violence. He brought troops from Pennsylvania, a colony with many white settlers, to Ohio country, where there was an extensive Native American population. To European settlers in 1764, Ohio was still the frightening western frontier. Bouquet threatened to destroy the Native American villages if their residents didn't surrender peacefully and return their captives.

Native Americans and Europeans competed for land and limited resources throughout the 1700s. The tensions frequently ended in bloodshed. Desperate to protect their territory, the Native Americans feared losing even more space to European invaders. Changes in the landscape—trees felled by axes and cattle grazing in the fields—meant permanent changes to the tribal way of life.

Many Native American fighters sided with the French, who were better allies to the tribes than the British, and fought on the French side in the war. As Del mentions, many British soldiers had experienced violence and death in the war and considered all Native Americans the enemy.

Del, like True Son, is a young man whose background shapes his perspective. He also demonizes a group he considers the "other." In fact, his language indicates that he doesn't see Indians as fully human. He and other white settlers call the Indians "savage," a racist insult implying the Indian lifestyle is less civilized. The presence of Indians makes him nervous, and he compares them to dangerous animals such as venomous copperhead snakes. Colonel Bouquet has trouble viewing Indians as people with emotions and is surprised to see Indian parents crying when they give up their children. Richter explores the dehumanizing effects of racial division through two distinct societies: white and Indian.

Along with the other white characters, Del is convinced that white civilization is inherently superior to Indian civilization. He views the return of the captives as a daring rescue attempt and an act of compassion by the European army.

Del has spent time living with the Delaware Indians, and he has a unique perspective. For instance, he understands why hostages become so important to Indian families—they replace dead biological children. He expresses sympathy for the "Indian feelings" True Son experiences. The two cultures have distinct ways of expressing emotion. True Son has been trained not to show his grief and sadness, but Del recognizes that those feelings are still there.

However, Del believes racial identity comes from biology and birth. The name "True Son" becomes important again as Del wonders why the boy doesn't want to go back to his "true" father and mother. True Son believes his racial identity comes from the family and culture in which he was raised.

The two also debate which country True Son belongs to. The use of the word "country" demonstrates that Europeans and Indians didn't view the American colonies as a nation in the 18th century. Characters see two separate nations—the country of the white settlers and the country of the Native Americans.

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