The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter is told from Del's point of view.

After days of traveling through the forest, Del is relieved to see Fort Pitt. He finally feels safe and at home among the log barns and open fields. His favorite sights are the Susquehanna River and the Blue Mountains.

Now Del is accompanying True Son and his white father, Mr. Butler, to the Butler home. True Son, whom Del calls "[the] Butler boy," remains defiant. True Son says that the Susquehanna River was stolen from Indians. Mr. Butler replies by pointing out Paxton Township, where True Son was born. Alarmed, True Son asks if Paxton is the home of "Peshtank white men." Proudly, Mr. Butler replies that Peshtank is another word for Paxton and "the Paxton boys" are True Son's relatives. After hearing this news, True Son goads his horse forward and escapes. Del tracks and catches him.

Eventually, the travelers arrive at a large stone house. Del notices that Mr. Butler is uncomfortable; this was not the homecoming Mr. Butler planned. Mr. Butler introduces True Son to his younger brother Gordie and his Aunt Kate. A servant girl who works for the Butlers also comes to greet True Son. Only Gordie seems delighted. The others are nervous.

When they enter the house, True Son is initially puzzled by the large staircase. Following Gordie's example, he finally climbs the stairs and enters a room where his mother, Mrs. Butler, sits on a couch. She greets True Son lovingly and calls him John, but True Son is cold and distant. Mr. Butler explains that True Son speaks limited English, though they don't know how much he understands. Slowly, Mrs. Butler tells True Son that he needs to learn a new life, starting with the English language. She asks him to repeat his name: John Cameron Butler. True Son is silent even when she begs him to say the name. At last, he tells her his real name is True Son.

Mrs. Butler gives True Son a jacket and pantaloons—trousers—to wear. However, True Son silently thinks the garments represent the white man's crimes. Gordie excitedly asks if he can wear True Son's Indian clothes and be an Indian. True Son and Gordie share a brief look of understanding.

Analysis

Again, Richter contrasts white and Indian culture by giving two different impressions of the same scene— Fort Pitt—through True Son's and Del's eyes. Del sees Fort Pitt as a sign of British triumph in a hostile new land. The British flag, which means oppression to True Son, means home and unity to Del. The cleared fields don't signify destruction. Instead, they become a confident display of white settlers' ability to survive on a risky frontier. Meanwhile, True Son's beloved forest home is a place where Del fears for his life. Their two visions demonstrate how white settlers and Native Americans had different dreams and ideals for the country.

True Son still sees theft and death all around him. Since he feels a connection to nature as part of his Indian identity, he's personally upset by the effects of white development on the Susquehanna River.

Moreover, the story of the "Peshtank white men," or "Paxton boys," is infamous. The Paxton Boys' attacks of 1763 were a landmark moment in the Pennsylvania conflict between white settlers and Indians. A group of white men from Paxton, Pennsylvania, murdered 20 Indians from the Conestoga tribe. Mr. Butler is proud of his relationship to the Paxton Boys, indicating that he sees them as role models in the community.

True Son confirms what he's already suspected: his new family won't accept his Indian identity. Even sympathetic, loving family members such as Mrs. Butler have prejudice against Indians. Her references to True Son's "hard fate" and "heathen darkness and ignorance" are completely different from True Son's actual experiences. Her conception of Indians is shaped by stereotypes white Christian settlers pass to one another—combining racism and colonialist impulses to civilize the "savages." Aunt Kate remarks that True Son is so ignorant of white traditions that he doesn't even recognize the days of the week.

The only Butler family member to approach True Son with enthusiasm is Gordie. He's still young enough to admire and accept difference rather than fear it. True Son—who doesn't have a brother in his Indian family—notices how Gordie already looks up to him and embraces his Indian connections.

Other family members pressure True Son to change himself. Names are one of the most significant aspects of identity. True Son's resistance to adopting the name John indicates a refusal to accept his birth family.

Clothes are another important identity symbol. The clothing True Son's family provides covers more of the body and cultivates the appearance his upper-class relatives want. However, True Son sees the clothing as a betrayal of who he is. He compares himself to a deer, a defenseless creature, and the white people to a wolf, a vicious predator. Richter switches back into True Son's point of view to highlight how much of his selfhood True Son's required to sacrifice.

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