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The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

When you put these on, will you give me your Indian clothes, True Son? … Then I can be an Indian.

Gordie asks this of True Son in Chapter 6 as he and True Son walk to their rooms on the first night after True Son's arrival. True Son has been given English clothes to wear, and he cannot imagine putting them on since to him they represent the evil ways of the whites. Although he does not respond in words or actions to Gordie's comment, True Son seems to understand his brother for a moment. Gordie is the only white who does not judge True Son for his strange, Indian ways. On the contrary, Gordie emulates his older brother; he embraces the Indian culture that so disgusts his family. This quote sums up Gordie's feelings about True Son and represents the first time True Son truly connects with his brother, or any white for that matter, on an equal, respectful level. Their burgeoning relationship will have a profound effect on the decisions True Son makes once he returns to his Indian family later in the novel. Gordie is a child, and the only white for which True Son has compassion; he cannot bear to think of Gordie's life endangered by the war between whites and Indians.

The innocence captured in Gordie's words also expresses the one hope we see for acceptance and brotherhood on the part of the white race. Gordie is oblivious to the concerns of his white relatives; he does not view the Indians as evil or savage. Richter demonstrates the tragic effect that frontier life had on innocent children. Kids were not born with feelings of hatred toward other races, yet they became victims of racial violence and eventually learned how to hate.

I'm never free from white folks. And neither are you and your brother….

This statement to True Son and Gordie spoken by Bejance in Chapter 8 summarizes the way in which Indians and many blacks viewed white culture in the eighteenth century. Throughout the novel we see countless examples of how the Indian way of life is much more natural and free than that of the whites. Indians are not confined by fences or stone houses; they do no have to wear awkward clothing or shoes, and they do not have to destroy the forest in order to settle down. Bejance describes how white culture eventually imprisons you; even the whites themselves are suffocated by their way of life. Once you are under the control of white society, as the slave Bejance and the children clearly are, you become powerless to resist its restrictions. This quote represents an answer to one of the novel's main questions: is the white way of living really more civilized and free than that of the Indians?

Bejance's quote also foreshadows True Son's experience living in Paxton Township. As the slave predicts, True Son loses his old freedoms little by little. He is cut off from his Indian family, he is separated from anyone who can speak Lenni Lenape, and he is forced to wear white clothing. In spite of True Son's attempt to resist change, his Indian customs become weaker as time goes on.

Now go like an Indian, True Son. Give me no more shame.

These are the last words directly spoken to True Son by his Indian father, Cuyloga, before True Son returns to his white family in Chapter 1. They are significant because they are the guidelines by which True Son tries to live during his stay with the Butlers. True Son constantly tells himself to conceal his emotions and to act as if Cuyloga were watching. He desperately wants to live up to his Indian father's expectations and tries to be the calm and strong warrior he sees in Cuyloga. As we learn, however, it is difficult for True Son to follow these instructions. Like many naturally rebellious and passionate teenagers, True Son often speaks out against the elder whites he is supposed to respect according to Indian custom.

It is not only the white man who breaks the sixth commandment…. Evil and ugly things have been committed against the will of God on both sides.

Parson Elder directs this quote towards True Son during their conversation in Chapter 9. It is the only point in the novel in which a character speaks out against the violence perpetrated by both Indians and whites, and yet it expresses a crucial truth about the frontier and the novel itself. Although the whites were greedy settlers who encroached upon Indian land and murdered many Indians, they too did not deserve to have their innocent children massacred. The perpetual violence caused by both sides has simply led to more despair, and Parson Elder, although he clearly has a bias toward white culture, is one of the only characters to understand this. At the time Parson Elder tells him this, True Son vehemently denies that Indians have done anything wrong. The point at which he realizes that Indians have been killing white children drastically affects True Son's way of thinking.

Then who is my father?

This question, mournfully expressed by True Son at the end of Chapter 15, is perhaps the central question of this novel. As a white boy raised by Indians and then returned to his white family, True Son experiences an unsettling search for his true identity. Although he feels allegiance only toward his Indian father, Cuyloga, True Son cannot escape the fact that others see him as white and that he has a white family. His relationship with Gordie and the realization that his Indian brothers do indeed kill white children confuses True Son's loyalty to the Indians enough for him ruin their ambush attempt. Having betrayed his Indian family, True Son is saved from death by Cuyloga, the only father he loves and recognizes, only to be abandoned by Cuyloga in the end. Even if he wants to, True Son cannot return to his white father either since True Son has scalped his Uncle Wilse. Ultimately, the boy is left without a father and hence without an identity; both Cuyloga and Mr. Butler have failed to protect him from the war between Indians and whites.

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