The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

After fighting with his uncles, True Son refuses to wear his cousin's clothing. The family hires tailor Peter Wormley and shoemaker Andy Goff to make him new clothes. Finally, Aunt Kate takes away his Indian clothes and shoes. Del returns to his regiment. With no one with whom he can speak Delaware, True Son feels more isolated than ever.

He begins a new life, learning to read and going to church. He despises this new routine, but he remembers Kringas, an old man in his tribe, telling him Indians should trust and rely on the Great Spirit.

One cold day Aunt Kate sends True Son and Gordie to get a new bushel basket. Bejance the basket maker lives in a small cabin. He's heard of True Son. Bejance, a black man who works for an army captain, tells True Son and Gordie how he was captured as a young boy by the Wyandotte tribe. He lived with the Wyandotte until he was 20. Though Bejance once looked forward to returning to white civilization, he now realizes he'll always be a slave. So will True Son and Gordie, he says. Bejance fondly recalls his childhood in the woods—the last time he felt free.

Eagerly, True Son asks if Bejance can speak the Lenape language. Bejance can't; he can barely remember Wyandotte. The only Lenape speaker left in the area is a man named Corn Blade who lives in isolation on top of Third Mountain. True Son can only see First Mountain, the one closest to Paxton.

Several months pass by. True Son thinks of the months by their Indian names, which refer to changes in nature. February, for instance, is "the Month When the First Frog Croaks." Finally, winter turns to spring. True Son steals a horse, gathers some food, and begins the journey to see Corn Blade. Gordie begs to go with him, and True Son takes him along.

True Son is delighted to be back in nature. But before he gets to the mountains he's stopped by Mr. Butler, Uncle Wilse, and a farmer named Neal. Mr. Butler tells True Son that Corn Blade has been dead for a long time. He then accuses True Son of lying and stealing. True Son is forced to turn back to town.

Analysis

True Son decides to imprison himself in his room rather than adopt an identity he feels is false. This detail reflects the epigraph at the beginning of the book. The poet William Wordsworth describes adulthood as descending on a young boy like a prison.

True Son's self-imposed routine restricts him physically and emotionally. His new shoes hamper his movement. In addition, he's forced to attend what he calls the "Great Spirit's lodge"—the Butlers' Christian church. Contrary to the white characters' impression of the Indians, the Lenni Lenape tribe follows deeply held spiritual practices. Their faith is centered around nature, however, and True Son is cut off from nature in his new life.

Bejance is someone who understands True Son's plight. He's also distanced from the natural world and suffering as a result. By introducing Bejance, a black slave with less liberty than True Son, Richter explores the broader ideas of enslavement and freedom.

According to Bejance, white people confine and oppress themselves. He observes how white settler culture emphasizes an artificial form of achievement. Settlers follow manmade schedules regulated by the calendar and the clock. They center their lives around work, and their work—cutting down trees and putting up buildings—involves laboring against the planet instead of alongside it. By contrast, True Son's calendar marks each month by changes in nature, events he can hope for and observe.

The exchange between True Son and Bejance highlights one of Richter's points in the narrative's Acknowledgments. Richter believes that when Americans exchanged an agricultural lifestyle for an industrial one they lost a freedom that is essential to the soul. Bejance mentions this loss happened to him by accident. Unlike True Son, he looked forward to returning to a world with more physical comforts and manmade routines. Only later did he find it oppressive. The gradual process of losing liberty also applies to True Son's journey toward adulthood. He has greater responsibilities to make decisions for his life, and each responsibility comes with consequences.

After seeing what his future could be like if he continues living with the Butlers, True Son begins to think about escaping. The intriguing possibility of finding another Lenape-speaking Indian gives him the motivation for his first real rebellion. He begins wondering if there is a purpose to his confinement or hope for his future. Moreover, his willingness to take Gordie with him demonstrates his openness to bonding with his brother, despite his disdain for the white world.

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