Skip over navigation

The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter

Chapters 9–10

Chapters 7–8

Chapters 11–12

Summary

Chapter 9

Although it is an unusually warm and sunny day in March, Myra Butler lies upstairs in the darkness, thinking, as she often does, about the day Johnny (True Son) was kidnapped. Her husband had been helping people harvest wheat and had brought the boy along with him. The harvesters did not know how long the Indians had been hiding in the woods watching them, but when the harvesters were in the middle of the field they were ambushed with gunfire. One of the men was killed, another woman was injured, and, in the hysteria of trying to escape, Johnny was left playing by a tree. When they came back to find him he was gone. This was the first day Myra Butler took to her bed.

In a little while, the highly respected Parson Elder comes to see Mrs. Butler and Aunt Kate; he has heard that Mrs. Butler is feeling worse than ever. Mrs. Butler insists that nothing more is wrong, but Aunt Kate keeps interrupting her. Kate tells the Parson that True Son's wretched behavior is causing the deterioration of his mother. He is disrespectful and shameful, and she believes that he has stolen some food and an old rifle. Mrs. Butler defends her son, saying that nobody knows whether he stole those items or not, but it is no use trying to convince Aunt Kate. Eventually Parson Elder suggests that he should talk to the boy. When True Son arrives, the Parson notices that there is something strange about the boy; unlike the other children who come to see him, True Son is not nervous and carries himself with a very self-assured intensity.

As they sit down together, True Son is offered some whiskey to drink with the adults. He refuses the offer, however, stating that white people give alcohol to Indians in order to get them drunk and take advantage of them. He says that this is what causes Indians to hate white people and that unless they want him to hate them he should not accept the drink. In response to this statement, Parson Elder says that True Son is probably right about some white settlers and that he, too, does not believe it to be a good practice. The Parson tries to be friendly with True Son, but True Son always thinks that Parson Elder is secretly trying to convert him to Christianity. True Son denies swearing to his parents and says that he always treats his parents with respect. Aunt Kate points out that he is talking about his white baby-killing Indians parents, at which point True Son gets very upset. He says that Indians do not kill white children but the Paxton boys did kill Conestoga Indians; Parson Elder was one of their leaders.

At the mention of the Paxton boys' massacre, Parson Elder's face becomes visibly strained. Throughout the conversation he has tried to remain calm and reserved; now, however, he sadly states with a feeling of great regret that even the best Christians can sometimes act badly. When True Son asks the Parson if he acted badly as well, the Parson states that he did what he could to stop the massacre, but the men threatened to kill his favorite horse if he did not go along with their plans. He says that despite what True Son may think, there are many true accounts of white children who have been murdered by Indians. Even though True Son denies this passionately, the Parson does not press the subject any longer. He talks a little more to True Son but does not ask him any more questions. When True Son leaves the three adults alone, Parson Elder tells the women that True Son's case is difficult since he has been raised with Indians for so long. However, he points out that True Son has already started to change despite his efforts to remain Indian; True Son's English is better and his composure is less like that of an Indian. Parson Elder says that the only thing they can do is be patient with the boy and wait for him to accept white culture on his own terms.

Chapter 10

Harry Butler stands in True Son's room for the first time since True Son has come back. The boy is sick with an unknown fever that Dr. Childsley, the town physician, cannot diagnose. Childsley says that very little is known about what causes Indians to become sick. Although they have the same internal organs as whites, the Indians seem to be more susceptible to sickness. He believes that this is due to the heathen, backward, and superstitious nature of the Indian race, and he thinks that True Son's illness has something to do with his long captivity. The doctor comes to the conclusion that the fever will either take True Son a long time from which to recover or that it will send him to an early grave.

At this news, Mr. Butler is shaken. He clearly feels incredibly guilty (although he later denies this) that True Son did not get a proper Christian upbringing, and he blames himself for having taken the boy with him to the fields eleven years ago. Harry wishes he could tell the boy his true emotions; he yearns to connect to his son and believes that if he could tell True Son everything then True Son might finally open up to his father. He may even confess to having stolen the gun. But True Son continues to regard his white father as a stranger, and Harry Butler never confronts his son. As he looks around the boy's room, Mr. Butler becomes emotional at the sight of his son's possessions. He gazes at the clothes that have been made for True Son out of his old suits and stares at the old Indian garments Aunt Kate had taken out of hiding in a desperate attempt to make the boy feel better.

Finally Mr. Butler goes unhappily back to his office where Parson Elder's son soon interrupts him. The young man has come to warn the Butlers that two Indians have been spotted around Paxton township. He explains that the Indians asked for True Son and were sent by some malicious men to Uncle Wilse's house. Supposedly the uncle was very considerate to the Indians and gave them two or three mugs of rum. However, the Indians told humiliating stories about white people that angered some of Uncle Wilse's friends. After sunset the Indians left, but soon after gunshots were heard and later one of them was found killed and scalped. It was suspected that the Indian had been ambushed from the side and back. At the news, Harry reacts with a range of emotion. He asks whether they know who shot the boy or whether the other Indian has been found yet, but neither question is answered.

After the messenger leaves, Harry Butler thinks for a while about what he should do. He decides that he cannot tell Johnny or his wife this information just yet, since it could worsen both of their sicknesses. Once this decision had been made the man can finally return to the only thing that helps relieve his anxiety: office work. With great satisfaction and solace, Mr. Butler goes over his finances, thinking what a shame it is that True Son cannot appreciate the pleasure of carrying out "honest work." We learn from his journal entry that the date is May 31, 1765.

Analysis

Up until this point in the novel we have learned little about Myra and Harry Butler. True Son portrays them to be pathetic and overemotional in comparison to his Indian parents, but in these last two chapters we begin to understand the intense suffering and hardship the Butlers have strongly endured for the past eleven years. In shifting the focus from True Son's thoughts to those of his mother, Richter is able to give us a better idea as to what actually happened the day True Son was kidnapped. We learn that the Indians violently ambushed the peaceful white harvesters and took the boy; it was not as if True Son was given up or neglected by his white family. There are also many ways in which Myra's love for her son is displayed; the woman was so heartsick at the loss of True Son that she became seriously ill, and now, even though he rejects her harshly, Myra refuses to believe that her son has committed any serious wrongdoings. She desperately clings to the belief that her son will one day embrace her with love and respect.

In Chapter 10 we also see True Son's story through the eyes of his white father. Despite Mr. Butler's inability to relate his feelings to the boy, he sincerely loves him and clearly feels guilty for the boy's illness and unhealthy upbringing since he was the one who took True Son to the fields. Like Myra, Harry tries to keep faith in the belief that True Son will turn around one day; his wishful thinking is a kind of denial of True Son's passionate Indian loyalty. Mr. Butler also has an added burden on his shoulders since he is the head of the Butler family, and he must negotiate between his son and the angry white settlers whom he realizes have killed True Son's friend. In showing us the perspectives of True Son's white family, we realize that they are much more complicated figures than True Son would have us believe. Although the Butlers may be ignorant of Indian culture, they are not evil people. They simply love their boy and desperately want him to love them back.

Parson Elder's statement to True Son, "It is not only the white man … ", is important because it is the only point in the novel in which a character speaks out against the violence perpetrated by both Indians and whites. This message, however, 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 or kidnapped. 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 fact. Of course, the Parson is not innocent of this violence; he, too, played a role in the Paxton Boys' massacre, an experience he deeply regrets. But one of the key points to The Light in the Forest is that, realistically, nobody is completely perfect. Most of the Indian and white individuals in the novel have both positive and negative aspects to their characters.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us