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The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter

Chapters 1–2

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Chapters 3–4

Summary

Chapter 1

When True Son discovers that he is going to be returned to his original white family, he has difficulty remaining calm and strong even though he has been trained to face physical pain. For as long as he can remember, True Son has been a member of the Indian village of Tuscarawas. The fifteen-year-old boy was adopted eleven years ago by Cuyloga, a Lenni Lenape (Delaware) Indian, in order to replace a child he had lost to "yellow vomit." True Son believes that his Indian father took out all of his white blood and thoughts and replaced them with noble Indian blood, making True Son his child. Because True Son does not consider himself white anymore, he is shocked to find out that he must leave, even though he has heard news for days that the Indians are being forced to return their white prisoners.

In an attempt to stay with his Indian family, True Son blackens his face with ashes and hides in a hollowed-out tree. He refuses to live with the whites since he sees them as enemies. However, Cuyloga soon finds him and embarrasses him by tying him up once they are back in the village. The next day, True Son is led out of the village by his Indian father while the rest of his family members, including his favorite cousin Half Arrow, from whom he has never been separated, watch on.

True Son is very confused during the trip to the white camp. He cannot understand why his wise Indian father is making him leave, and he wonders whether Cuyloga left some white blood in his body. When they reach the whites, the boy is overwhelmed with repulsion. He is sickened by the smell of white people and struggles to be free of Cuyloga's grasp. But when his father tells the white soldiers that True Son is now theirs, True Son finally realizes that there is nothing he can do. He lies face down on the ground until a white named Del tells Cuyloga that all Indians must leave by nighttime. Del can speak the Lenni Lenapi language, and True Son thinks he is called "Del" because "Delaware" is what the whites call the Lenni Lenapi.

As Cuyloga leaves, he tells True Son to behave as an Indian and to give him no shame. True Son listens to his father's footsteps fading away, and he becomes extremely homesick for Tuscarawas. He imagines the beautiful autumn sky and trees of his village, and he can picture his family and friends playing or gathered over a fire in the cool November weather. Curled up in his bearskin, True Son thinks about how his home has never seemed so wonderful to him and begins to cry.

In time, he becomes aware of Del, the guard who has been assigned to watch over him. Del is about twenty years old, has red hair, and wears a hunting shirt and cape. True Son is angered to see that the guard is laughing at him. Full of hatred, the boy vows to kill Del once his hands are untied.

Chapter 2

Del Hardy, a white soldier and True Son's guard, thinks that his mission with Colonel Bouquet will mark the last time he will travel down the Allegheny River. Although he would later serve under several more generals, he will always feel the most loyal to Bouquet, a man he describes as peaceful but "mad as a wolverine." Bouquet leads Del and his troop through dangerous Indian territory as if it were no problem at all. The men march through areas in which Indians outnumber them, and many, including Del, never believe that they will reach their destination at the Forks of Muskingham.

However, the determined Bouquet takes good care of his men and is also fair to the Indians. He orders his men never to attack an Indian unless the Indian strikes them first. Although Del and many others are volunteers who had relatives that were killed or injured by Indians, they obey Bouquet's orders and do not harm the Indian hostages with whom they are traveling. When the whites arrive at the Forks of Muskingham, Del cannot believe that the horrible place is so important to the Indian people. Bouquet becomes very bold and orders the Indians to give back their white captives, but Del, who grew up near Delaware Indians, tells the Colonel that the Indians would never return their prisoners. He knows that once an Indian family adopts a white person, he or she is looked upon as a full-blooded Indian.

Del is surprised to find that the Indians do give up their captives. Although they love their white relatives, they would rather turn them over than lose their precious land to the whites. He describes the scene in which the whites are returned as unforgettable. Many Indians cry and give presents to their white relations. What the white soldiers cannot understand is why the whites do not want to leave their Indian homes and why they have no respect for the soldiers who have come so far to save them. The most resistant of all is True Son, who fights wildly at the sight of the white soldiers. Del thinks that it is ironic that the boy's name is True Son since he is so unwilling to meet his true white mother and father. True Son is described as wearing a large, new, calico hunting shirt and leggings. His hair is black and his skin brown, but his features are clearly English.

Once the Indians have left, Del finds True Son trying to bite through the knots that hold him down. He warns the boy that he should know better, but True Son is angry and says that he spits on whites. When Del tells him to remember that he is white too, the boy declares that he is Indian. Del does not laugh because part of him understands these feelings since he grew up nearby Indians. He tries to make True Son see that the parents he was born to are white, but the boy refuses to accept that they are his real parents. He even insists that his skin is not white and hits the guard's hand when he tries to lift up the boy's shirt. When True Son emotionally cries out that the Indian country is his home, Del finally leaves him alone.

In the morning, Del tries to make True Son eat, but True Son refuses. The soldier says that the boy will need the energy for the trip back to Pennsylvania, but True Son replies that he intends to go to a place where "you can't tramp me with your big foot." Del is puzzled by this comment, but the boy will not say anything more.

Analysis

As a white boy who has been raised Indian since he was a toddler, True Son does not have any concept of his white identity. He has been taught to see himself as Indian and to view whites as enemies, so to be returned to his old family seems traitorous and incomprehensible. Even though True Son is a "prisoner" of the Indians, he is treated as a family member and loves his way of life. In fact, True Son feels that by returning to the whites he is going to become their prisoner; he does not see his biological white family as his real family since he does not even remember living with them. When True Son blackens his face with ash he is desperately attempting to make others see him as an Indian, which is the way he sees himself. This conflict between what True Son believes his identity to be and what the people around him see as his identity is a central theme of the book. No matter how hard True Son tries to be a real Indian, the fact remains that he is born a white boy from a white family.

This conflict is made all the more difficult for True Son since he is at a point in his life when most kids are struggling to discover who they are for themselves. We get a particularly good idea of True Son's character since this first chapter is mostly told through his perspective. As a typically rebellious teenager, True Son tries to act like a man even though he is still a child. He has been taught to cope with hardship and pain, but his emotions often get in the way of his actions. Blackening his face, resisting his father with kicks and shouts, and pouting and crying are all childish attempts to gain command over his life. True Son resents the fact that white adults are trying to control him, and we begin to see how he plans to regain this control through violence.

True Son's admiration for Cuyloga reveals that his Indian father is the most important person in his life. We can imagine how strange it must feel to be given up by the person he believes to be his only father and by the person he has grown up idolizing. This is one of many experiences True Son faces in which he must learn to grow up and see his world for what it truly is. Although his father loves him, he is not perfect and True Son must accept that Cuyloga cannot protect him from everything. His father's last words are very important because they are the guidelines by which True Son will try to live his life.

In describing the chapter through the eyes of Del Hardy, the author gives us a more complete perspective on True Son's story and shows us many differences between white and Indian culture. We learn that the whites are not trying to punish True Son as he may believe, but rather they are under the impression that they are "saving" him from the barbaric Indians. This is a confusing idea because it seems unfair to force someone away from his family, but we have to keep in mind that True Son was stolen from his white family eleven years ago. In addition, many whites are ignorant (unknowing) of Indian culture. They have been raised to believe that Indians are bloodthirsty, just as True Son has been raised to believe that whites are evil. Many of the soldiers had family members who were killed or kidnapped by Indians, so they imagine Indians as a very brutal and uncivilized people who have been mistreating their white captives. This idea that the violent actions of a small group represent the values of an entire race is a misunderstanding that both Indians and whites have. Both groups are very ethnocentric, which means that they each believe their culture and beliefs are best.

The language Del uses to describe Indians is very indicative of white ignorance and prejudice. He refers to them as devils, Injuns, and savages as if they are not even human. However, despite his belief in the superiority of the white race, Del is more complicated than the other white soldiers since he at least has some knowledge and respect for Indian ways. For this reason, Del is understanding of True Son's loyalty to the Indian people. His attempts to reason with True Son are made out of sympathy; he truly believes that he is helping the boy, and he is no longer portrayed as the malicious character that True Son views him as in the first chapter. Del also points out an interesting characteristic of True Son's name. Although he is called "True Son," the boy has does not even acknowledge his true white parents.

True Son's last statement to Del is important because it introduces a new theme concerning the differing perspectives white and Indians have about freedom. Del cannot understand what True Son means by a "place where you can't tramp me with your big foot" because, like the other whites, he feels as if he is liberating True Son from the Indians. Del believes, as we do today, that the frontier settlements were places where people could be free; he does not see them as restrictive or oppressive. True Son, however, is used to a different kind of freedom, the Indian life in which you can sleep under the stars and live as one with nature. When the whites take him away from his Indian family, he feels like a prisoner who has lost all of his rights.

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