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Literature Study GuidesThe Light In The ForestEpigraph And Acknowledgements Summary

The Light in the Forest | Study Guide

Conrad Richter

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The Light in the Forest | Epigraph and Acknowledgements | Summary



The epigraph is a quotation from British poet William Wordsworth's (1770–1850) poem "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." It describes a young boy facing "shades of the prison-house" as he grows up, rejoicing in the light he can see.

Richter mentions the sources he read to learn more about Pennsylvania in the 1700s. His purpose for writing The Light in the Forest is to authentically describe American colonial life in the prerevolutionary years. In his research he uncovered stories of white children who were captured and raised by Indian tribes, like his character True Son. When the children were returned to their biological families later in life, many of them tried to run away. They wanted to live with the Indians again.

Another purpose of the book, Richter says, is to demonstrate how many freedoms white American settlers lost. By developing a new, more restricted way of life, they sacrificed many of the liberties Indians enjoyed. In the book, he describes American colonial customs from the perspective of Indians who are repelled by the white way of life. He hopes that white American readers will see their lifestyle from a new perspective and understand how other countries view them.


The epigraph, a quote at the beginning of a literary work, often identifies major themes the work will address. The Wordsworth quote speaks to the novel's coming-of-age theme. Wordsworth's poem reflects on the innocence a young man loses as he grows older. The image of the prison-house suggests the confinement, isolation, and restricted opportunities many people feel as they grow into adulthood. The promise and opportunity of childhood seems to disappear. The second two lines, however, indicate that there is still light and hope.

True Son, the 15-year-old protagonist in the novel, faces literal confinement. After being raised in the forest by an Indian tribe, he is restored to his white biological family. He is miserable in the family's house and feels as trapped as he would in a prison. But he finds the inner light of his conscience and convictions. His eventual return to the forest exposes him to the literal light of nature, and he once again feels at home.

Though Richter's book is fiction, he considered his novel-writing process to be similar to writing history. He did extensive research so that readers could relive the past. Several characters are based on real people, plot points are real events, and the settings closely follow real geography.

A lover of nature who was raised on a farm, Richter believed in living off the land. He felt technology and industrialization had a negative impact on American life. The book frequently contrasts the freedom True Son enjoys in the woods with the stifling isolation he feels in Pennsylvania's white settlements.

Since Richter was writing in 1953, he uses many words that appear derogatory or offensive to the modern reader. The word savages has negative and racist connotations. Several white characters in the novel use the term to disparage Native Americans. When Richter describes the views other cultures might have of the contemporary United States, he uses the word perverted, a term implying that these views are skewed or incorrect.

However, a main goal of his book is to increase cultural understanding. Richter is a white man descended from European settlers in the United States. He assumes that his readers will have a similar background, and he creates characters from different backgrounds to challenge the idea that white industrialized culture is superior to other cultures. In the 1760s—when The Light in the Forest takes place—white European settlers had landed in North America and begun to transform the frontier. The practice of colonialism, or occupation and control of another country, meant that the Native Americans had little say as original inhabitants. They were forced to accept white industries, white religions, and white technologies. Many Native Americans, such as True Son's Lenni Lenape tribe, felt these changes were not necessary.

Another goal of Richter's book is to apply historical lessons to modern times. The Light in the Forest includes scenes of conflict and violence caused by racism and cultural collisions. He wants readers to understand that similar conflicts can happen in their time. Their culture, values, and lifestyles can seem strange and even wrong to others. By reminding readers that their point of view is not universal, he hopes to broaden their perspectives and encourage empathy.

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