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The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter

Chapters 3–4

Chapters 1–2

Chapters 5–6

Summary

Chapter 3

On the third day of camp, the white soldiers become excited and work very quickly. True Son discovers that this is happening because they are leaving for Pennsylvania the next day. The news makes him very depressed, and he feels as if his life is coming to an end. He cannot imagine going to live with enemy people whom he sees as undignified.

As he thinks of a way to escape, True Son remembers a story about Cuyloga's friend, Make Daylight. Make Daylight's wife left him for another man and took their children with her. Instead of facing disgrace, Make Daylight committed suicide by eating the root of a May apple. True Son believes that if he kills himself he will be seen as brave and victorious over the inferior whites since they will be unable to take him away from the precious Indian land. True Son even envisions his Indian family mourning his death. However, Del prevents True Son from finding a May apple root that day, and the boy eventually decides to find one during the march to Pennsylvania.

The next morning, the white troops lead the captives down part of the path through which True Son and Cuyloga had come. For a moment True Son is happy because he feels as if he is going home. When the trail finally splits, True Son wants to cry out; he imagines himself running home free as a bird, but he is unable to escape from the white soldiers.

As they walk along, True Son hears a familiar voice call out through the woods. He is surprised and overjoyed to see his cousin, Half Arrow, standing partially hidden in the trees. Half Arrow does not understand why True Son is bound since he is supposed to be among his white brothers. He tells True Son that their friend, Little Crane, is marching with his white wife who is another of the prisoners being returned. Half Arrow decides to walk in the woods near True Son as well, even though it may be dangerous.

As the boys march together, Half Arrow jokingly asks how they are going to murder the nearly 2,000 white soldiers in order to set True Son free. True Son warns Half Arrow that some of the whites can speak Lenni Lenape, but he is still grateful for this Indian humor. The boys talk for a long time since they have been apart for three days. True Son feels healed by Half Arrow, and he no longer thinks about suicide.

Although at first Half Arrow fears being shot or scalped by the white soldiers, he gradually comes closer and closer to True Son until they are marching side by side. True Son shares his beef with Half Arrow, but the Indian boy finds the meat stringy and remarks that this is why white people are so bland. At night, Del orders Half Arrow to sleep apart from True Son since he does not trust any Indians. Before he goes off, Half Arrow gives True Son presents from his Indian family. True Son's uncle has sent him corn so that he will not go hungry; his mother has sent him moccasins embroidered in red so that he will remember his mother and sisters and be well-dressed for the white people; and his father has sent him True Son's old bearskin bed so that he will be warm and remember his father.

The gifts make True Son very homesick. He worries that Half Arrow will be cold during the night, but Half Arrow assures him that he will make a nice, warm bed out of leaves.

Chapter 4

As the party nears Fort Pitt, True Son tries not to think about the time when Half Arrow must leave him. When Half Arrow finally brings up the subject, the two decide that he and Little Crane must leave the next day. Half Arrow boasts that he will be safe on the trip home since no whites can catch his nimble body.

After discussing this, the boys talk about a number of more pleasant topics, especially the different ways they would love to kill the white soldiers. At times Little Crane joins them, and the three discuss the weird and silly things white people do. Little Crane says that the whites are foolish because they are not an "original people"; unlike the Indians, whites are mixed of all colors and this is what makes them bothersome. In addition, the "Great Being" needed to give whites a "Great Book" in order to teach them right from wrong, whereas the Indians do not need to read in order to know the ways of the world.

The boys come up with many more reasons for the peculiar nature of the whites. Half Arrow thinks that they are nearsighted, and True Son thinks they cannot hear well since they talk loudly and unintelligibly to one another. Little Crane points out that because whites are a new people they act like children. They worry about money even though it will not mean anything once they die, and they have to build barns to hold all of their possessions. Half Arrow says that if the whites shared with each other as Indians do they would not have to put locks on their doors.

Half Arrow, Little Crane, and True Son feel that whites are particularly ignorant in their lack of appreciation for nature. The white soldiers march with their heads down, and they do not even know the correct places to camp at night. The boys joke that the only thing they hope the whites do not change is the way they lie at night; the soldiers never check to see if there are any loose branches that might fall on them.

That night, the boys meet a Mohawk who tells them that they are near the river on which Fort Pitt lies. They find the same Mohawk tomahawked and scalped by the road the next morning. Even though Delawares are supposed to have no pity for Mohawks, the boys are angry that the white soldiers have murdered an Indian.

Del tells True Son the next morning that today he and his friends must say goodbye. True Son is upset and questions why his friends must obey the colonel's orders despite the fact that he is not their colonel. Although Del blushes with embarrassment at this remark, he does not back down. When he pushes Half Arrow away with his rifle, True Son leaps at the guard in a futile attempt to grab his weapons. The two tumble on the ground together until Del regains control. Once True Son has been tied up again, Half Arrow gives him a final message from Cuyloga. He tells True Son not to fight or cause trouble in case this causes the whites to scalp him. True Son is also instructed to be wise, brave, and patient like an Indian and to wait until the time is right before making an attempt to strike back. His father reminds him of the time he killed a bear who subsequently cried instead of taking his defeat courageously.

When the men reach the edge of the river, True Son must wade into the river alone, leaving Half Arrow and Little Crane behind.

Analysis

Richter depicts the relationship between Half Arrow and True Son as an example of true brotherhood. When the boys act as innocent kids—laughing together about trivial matters, cheering each other up, or simply enjoying each other's company—they appear to be peaceful friends unconcerned with the problems of their races. The bonds between children are the strongest and least discriminative in the book. It is only when True Son and Half Arrow try to act as adults, fighting back or violently taking matters into their own hands, that they become hopelessly entwined in the boorish, racist attitudes that so consume the elder whites and Indians.

True Son's overemotional teenage nature is further exemplified in this chapter by his attempt to commit suicide. The boy is desperate to appear courageous before his Indian father, but he often mistakes his rebelliousness for bravery. Cuyloga's last words to True Son and the message he later passes on through Half Arrow reaffirm the Indian ideals to which True Son forever tries to live up. The story of the bear is particularly significant since it describes how an Indian must have courage both in triumph and in defeat. What True Son does not see is that by killing himself he would be giving up; he would fail to stand defiantly against his enemy. We understand how True Son's passionate character makes it difficult for him to attain the ideal warrior image he longs to represent.

The conversation between Half Arrow, True Son, and Little Crane gives us a better sense of how Indians and other cultures viewed aspects of white American culture early in our history. Because Indians felt that God would take care of them, they cannot understand why the whites accumulate so many possessions that only serve to restrict their freedom. The Bible puzzles them because they have survived peacefully for years without such a guide. This is a particularly interesting point since the white characters in this novel constantly refer to the Indians as heathens, people who do not believe in God. According to this account, however, it seems as if the Indians have a stronger, more honest faith than that of the whites. Although their religion is not Christianity, they share with one another and live humbly, practices that parallel the teachings of the white man's Christ. Whites, on the other hand, are suspicious of each other and greedily take over the land of the Indians.

However, although the boys' perspective sheds light on the hypocritical and ridiculous actions of the white people, it also demonstrates the kind of dangerous ignorance that Del and the white soldiers display in their treatment of Indians. Many of the boys' observations are correct—whites are not appreciative of the world around them, nor do they have a right to take over Indian land. But the indians' refusal to understand white culture in any way perpetuates the violence that the whites have started and ultimately leads to their own destruction. The talk seems harmless, but it foreshadows the fatal jokes Half Arrow and Little Crane will tell in front of the radically anti- Indian Uncle Wilse.

Furthermore, Richter's imagery of nature clearly idolizes the natural world of the Indians. The woods and the hills of Tuscarawas symbolize the free Indian land that True Son must leave behind. When Half Arrow explains that he will make a fine bed out of the leaves and earth, we get the sense that perhaps all anyone needs is the nature around him. The civilized world of the whites represents unnecessary and undesired restriction.

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