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The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter

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Plot Overview

Conrad Michael Richter was born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, on October 13, 1890. Although his parents intended for him to enter the ministry, Richter left Susquehanna Preparatory School at the age of thirteen in order to attend a local high school. Upon graduation, he worked at a variety of odd jobs before settling down as a journalist and fiction writer during his twenties. He often attributed his clear and precise writing style to his background in journalism.

In 1915, Richter married Harvena Achenbach, and the two had one daughter, also named Harvena. Because of an illness that nearly killed his wife, Richter and his family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1928. There he found much creative inspiration in the rich history of the Southwest and wrote many novels concerning the early American frontier. Richter's Pennsylvania-Ohio trilogy, which includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Town (1950), was the most famous work he produced during the twenty years he lived in New Mexico. The Sea of Grass (1937) and The Trees (1940) were also awarded the gold medal for literature from the Societies of Libraries of New York University. In addition to writing fiction, Richter worked on and off as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture studios in Hollywood. After returning to Pine Grove in 1950, Richter published several more novels, stories, and other pieces of literature before his death on October 30, 1968.

The Light in the Forest (1953), whose name derives from a Wordsworth poem that prefaces the book, represents Richter's careful research of the Indian- white relations of eighteenth century Ohio and Pennslvania, and it demonstrates his fascination with the many accounts of white captives who desperately tried to leave white civilization and return to their adopted Indian families. As Richter writes in "Acknowledgements" preceding The Light in the Forest, his aim was to write an objective and realistic novel that could "give an authentic sensation of life in early America." He also hoped that, by giving the reader a better idea as to how the Indians viewed our way of life years ago, he may help the reader gain a better understanding of how other cultures view American society today. The sources Richter used to research his book include John Hechewelder's Indian Nations, David Zeisberger's History of North American Indians, and "Narrative of John Brickell's Captivity Among the Delawares," which was an article that ran in the American Pioneer in 1842.

The story of The Light in the Forest is based on an actual event that occurred in the fall of 1764, during the treacherous white westerly expansion into the Indian territory of Ohio. Colonel Bouquet, who is an historic figure in addition to being a character in the book, marched into Ohio with 1,500 soldiers and ordered that the Indians return the white prisoners they had captured. The troop came back to Fort Pitt on November 9, 1764 with 206 white captives, and, according to certain accounts of the ordeal, many whites were indeed angry about their forced return. In addition to Colonel Bouquet, Parson Elder is another real-life character in the book. The Paxton Boys' massacre was also an actual event that occurred in response to the Pontiac Indian uprising, a number of attacks that Indians wreaked upon Pennsylvanian settlers in 1763. As Richter explains in the novel, the settlers in western Pennsylvania resented the lenient attitude toward punishing Indians of influential judges and politicians of eastern Pennsylvania. These settlers felt that they had to take justice into their own hands.

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