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The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter

Chapters 7–8

Chapters 5–6

Chapters 9–10

Summary

Chapter 7

The night of his arrival at the Butlers', True Son lies awake in a strange room as Del sleeps nearby. The boy feels as if he is in a grave because the air is so stale and constricting. He thinks about how living in such confined spaces must cause the white people to be so colorless, and he considers how different Indians are from the English.

True Son cannot sleep because he can feel the presence of the whites around him. He keeps thinking about the story his Indian father told him about the Peshtank or Paxton boys. During the month of December, these white men massacred a group of Conestoga Indians who had converted to Christianity and were living peacefully in a white community. The surviving Indians fled to the white town of Lancaster and begged for help and safety, but the whites refused to recognize the Conestogas as brothers. A few fays after Christmas the Paxton boys struck again, this time killing innocent children and maiming their victims. As True Son remembers the story, he becomes full of rage. He is unable to sleep until he finally slips off the bed and lies covered by his bearskin on the floor.

When True Son comes downstairs the next morning still wearing Indian garments, his Aunt Kate orders "Johnny" to wash and change into proper English clothes. Although he despises his aunt and feels disgraceful carrying the bucket of water upstairs like a woman, True Son finally concedes. He regards the clothes with repulsion since they further imprison him in white culture.

Later in the day, True Son is called down to meet a dozen of his white relatives. He is eventually left with his Uncle George Owens and his fat and strong-looking Uncle Wilse, whom True Son has learned was a leader of the Paxton boys. Uncle Wilse remarks with suspicion that True Son still looks like an Indian; he clearly does not trust the boy and says that True Son is probably scheming of ways to steal and kill at that very moment. When True Son is unresponsive to Uncle Wilse, the man asks whether True Son only knows "scrub" Indian language. True Son finally speaks to his uncle through Del's translation, angrily stating that his Indian father has showed him how Delaware is a rich language and that white men use some Delaware words.

In response to this speech, Uncle Wilse makes a harsh statement about Cuyloga, causing True Son to become incensed with hatred. In broken English he talks directly to Uncle Wilse, accusing Uncle Wilse of killing Indian women and children even though he claims to be a good Christian. Uncle Wilse bursts with rage, declaring that the Indians got what they deserved. He tells True Son's white father to watch out for his evil, deceptive son, and he warns True Son that his Indian friends had better not show their faces in Paxton Township. For the first time in the conversation, True Son's other uncle speaks. He tells True Son that he, Uncle Wilse, and Mr. Butler are good, Christian citizens, but that their experiences with Indians have forced them to take the law into their own hands. Uncle Owens explains that if an Indian kills a white he simply goes to Buck's County or Philadelphia where he is not punished. If a white kills and Indian, however, it is considered murder and the white person is hanged.

The words of Uncle Owens do not seem to affect True Son. In a scornful tone True Son asks Uncle Wilse if Wilse is the brother of David Owens, a white man who killed his Indian wife and children for scalp money. In response to this Uncle Wilse violently slaps True Son in the face. He says that he wishes he was the brother of that David Owens since the man had been loyal to his country and believed in "getting rid of vermin." True Son eventually regains his composure, but tells himself that he must not say anything more that day.

Chapter 8

That night True Son pulls off the English clothes and refuses to ever put them on again. A few days later, a tailor and a shoemaker come to make new suits and shoes for True Son. The boy is especially frustrated with the new shoes because their heaviness weighs him down. He tries to go back to wearing his moccasins, but one night Aunt Kate takes away all of his Indian garments while he is sleeping, forcing True Son to wear the English garb.

By this time Del Hardy has returned to his troop. Although True Son was happy to see him leave, he now misses the soldier because Del was the only person with whom True Son could speak Lenni Lenape. True Son finds his life with the whites thoroughly tedious and horrible. He detests being forced to learn how to read every weekday and hates going to church on Sunday. He cannot understand why white people think God would want to be cooped up in a church as opposed to roaming free in nature. At times True Son becomes so depressed with his life that he thinks God has forgotten about him. When this happens he remembers the words of his great-uncle Kringas, who told him that God makes Indians suffer so that they will appreciate how much they are dependent on him.

One day True Son and Gordie are sent by Aunt Kate to buy a new bushel basket from the town basket maker, an old black slave named Bejance. Bejance works in a log cabin that reminds True Son of his home in Tuscarawas. The slave also has a lot in common with True Son since he, too, was raised by Indians. Up until he was about the age of twenty, Bejance lived with the Wyandotte tribe of Virginia. He tells True Son that he still longs for the years he spent with the Indians since this was the most free and glorious time of his life. He warns the boy that he will never be free of white people; gradually they will buckle him down with their white customs until before he knows it he will be acting just like they do.

True Son hopes that Bejance can speak Lenape with him, but the old man no longer remembers much of the Wyandotte or Lenape language. He tells True Son that the one person left in the area who can speak Lenni Lenape is Corn Blade, an ancient Indian who lives up on Third Mountain. For most of January and February, all True Son can think of is going to see Corn Blade. The boy stares out the window at the First Mountain, imagining the Indian paths that lay beyond it in the forest. As the seasons change he becomes very homesick, longing to see the faces of his Indian father and mother again.

When March finally arrives and when the earth begins to thaw, True Son is very excited. One day he leads Dock, the horse on which he rode to Paxton Township, out of the barn towards the mountains. Gordie asks to come along and the two of them ride together down the road. Uncle Wilse's son Alec sees them leave, and he runs to tell Uncle Wilse, but True Son does not care. He is so preoccupied with the thought of freedom that he almost does not hear the sound of hooves coming up behind them. Mr. Butler, Uncle Wilse, and a farmer named Neal stop the boys and accuse True Son of trying to run away. The men do not believe that the boys were going to see Corn Blade, and they tell him that Corn Blade has died a long time ago. Uncle Wilse finds the bags of food True Son was bringing to Corn Blade and views them as further evidence that True Son is a liar and a thief. True Son tries not to be emotional, but it is difficult for him to go back to Paxton Township after coming so close to freedom.

Analysis

Whereas in the last chapter Del glorified white civilization and the spirit of the frontier, here we begin to discover more and more about the true and ugly side to white settlement. As True Son suggests, the Paxton boys' massacre represents the hypocritical nature of the white settlers; on one hand they claim to be peaceful Christians who embrace Indian converts, and on the other they feel justified in killing innocent people who have come to them as friends. Instead of trying to understand the Indian culture or people, the whites often dismiss them as "savages" and "heathens"; they consider them subhuman or animalistic. The concept of brotherhood between the two races is an especially crucial aspect to the story. White captives adopted by Indians become loved and fully assimilated members of Indian families, as we see in the case of True Son. The Conestoga Indians, however, are never fully accepted into the white community they embrace. Even though they have done nothing wrong and consider themselves Christians, they are brutally massacred by the Paxton bullies. This racist white attitude is also more subtly exemplified by the circumstances of Bejance's life. Bejance used to be free as the wind when he was a boy living with the Indians, but now, after being "liberated by the whites," he is their literal slave. Whereas whites discriminate against both Indians and blacks, Indians will accept members of any race as brothers.

True Son's Uncle Wilse seems to embody the white ignorance and hypocrisy toward Indians; his viewpoints and involvement with the Paxton boys are far more extreme than those of the other settlers. Yet what is particularly intriguing about Uncle Wilse is that his resistant nature parallels that of True Son more than any other character in the book. As True Son's mother points out when she and her son first meet, True Son is stubborn like his Uncle Wilse. Although the two have completely opposite opinions on whites and Indians, their passion for what they believe in is, at least for most of the book, equally strong and, in many ways, equally dangerous and unpredictable. Uncle Wilse has proven that he feels justified in using violence to exterminate "Injuns," and many of True Son's actions and private thoughts (planning to kill Del with a knife, trying to commit suicide, making "plans" for escape) suggest that he may be willing to take drastic measures against the whites as well. Furthermore, we can imagine how confused True Son must feel to be related to Uncle Wilse, the same evil man who terrorized his fellow Indians. True Son firmly believes that he is a full- blooded Indian, but more and more he is being forced to realize that this is not how others view him.

Bejance's ominous speech, "I'm never free of white folks … " 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. The quote also foreshadows True Son's experience living in Paxton Township. As the slave predicts, True Son loses his old freedoms little by little. First he is cut off from his Indian family, next he is forced to wear white clothing and go to school/church, and last he is separated from the last person who can speak Lenni Lenape. True Son's failed attempt to see Corn Blade seems to seal his fate; the whites have almost complete control over the boy's life.

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