The Light in the Forest
Once Half Arrow and True Son pass Fort Pitt, they are in Indian country and no longer have to hide from the whites. For mile after mile they gaze at the beautiful and untouched Indian forest. At night they finally drift up onto a bank and in the morning the boys make a brush net out of small maple branches and happily catch fish in the creek.
The cousins do not leave for several days because they enjoy their freedom in the woods so much. For so long they have yearned for the chance to be independent, to fish and hunt all day free from responsibility. Together they do not have to worry about the past problems of their lives; they live only for the present and the future and are able to survive peacefully with nature. The boys are able to tell the weather from the moon, and at night they sleep snugly under their upturned boat, listening to the rain. When they grow sick of fishing they hunt or sit over a fire and cut each other's hair.
Although they are in no hurry to leave, the boys know that they cannot stay forever. Summer is approaching, and they know that their families must be worried about them. The first thing the cousins do when the reach the mouth of the Muskingham River is bathe in the water of their homeland. As they pass through into Tuscarawas True Son trembles at the sight of all the familiar signs of home. He hears dogs barking and sees many recognizable faces as they ride by, such as Nungaza, the girl who always used to stare at him, and Tsuchechin, a fat Indian woman who once protected True Son from being punished by Cuyloga.
By the time the cousins reach their dugout, a small crowd of people has come to greet them. The two feel like dignified men as they walk proudly up the bank to the village. True Son is first greeted by his younger sister, A'astonah, who cannot believe that he is finally home. He also sees his older sister, Mechelit, but all he can do in response to seeing his sisters is stare at them with love. By the door to his cabin, True Son sees his overjoyed Indian mother waiting for him. Instead of coming up to greet him, however, she stands aside to let True Son see his father, Cuyloga. Although Cuyloga's face is as rigid and unemotional as ever, True Son thinks he can see a sign of welcome in his father's eyes. Cuyloga and True Son embrace as the villagers watch, and Cuyloga asks his son whether he is at home to stay.
At night true Son sleeps with his family in his usual place, surrounded by affection and the familiar sings of his old Indian life. For several days after the boys' return, the village celebrates with games, special feasts, and laughter. True Son feels happiness in being at home, but there is still some darkness cast on the festivities. Little Crane's family does not take part in the rejoicing nor do they greet True Son when they see him pass by. The boys are especially nervous when Little Crane's brother, Thitpan, comes to Tuscarawas with some of his cronies. The men are carrying rifles, mallets, and tomahawks. They go to the council house where they beat a drum, calling for war.
True Son knows from the look on his father's face that this is a very serious matter. Thitpan calls for vengeance against his brother's death. True Son's mother and sisters are clearly worried, but Cuyloga and Half Arrow's father feel that they must take part in the battle since their sons had been Little Crane's companions. True Son's mother protests Half Arrow and True Son's joining the fight since they are only boys, but Cuyloga tells her to stay in her place. He says that if True Son does not fight it will look as if he does not have loyalty to the Indians. In the end he gives True Son the choice of coming and with a burst of excitement True Son accepts the offer.
As the war party marches off together singing war songs, True Son feels a "savage sweetness" he has never experienced before; he sees red and everything seems to be covered with blood. Thitpan chooses Disbeliever to be the guide for the group. At one point the group divides into two groups: one including Cuyloga and Thitpan that marches south toward white cabins and another including the boys that marches farther along the path.
Later that day, once the two parties have met up again, True Son notices with a chill that Thitpan is carrying the scalp of a white child. That night the warriors go over every aspect of their plan for ambush, in which True Son is going to lure a white boat toward the shore. The boys watch as the scalps are stretched out and sewed onto red hoops. As he thinks of the girl's scalp, True Son tries to forget that he had told his white mother the Indians did not kill children. Before he goes to sleep he asks his father whether the white children are the enemies of Indians too. Cuyloga does not reply and looks at True Son as if he has had nothing to do with what happened. Thitpan responds, however, saying that the children are enemies and pointing out that Little Crane was practically a child when he was killed. When True Son says that he is sorry and that he did not know the Indians fought children, the rest of the party seems resentful. Thitpan replies that he does not fight children but that it was easier for him to scalp the child than to take her as prisoner.
That night True Son dreams for the first time about his white family. In the dream it is winter, and his white family is hunting for him in a sled. Suddenly the snow turns to water and their sled turns into a boat and for the first time True Son realizes that a frightened child is on the boat with his white mother. He wakes up in a sweat.
In the morning True Son is given ill-fitting white clothes to wear (he suspects that they belonged to the scalped white girl) and is instructed to wade out into the river when a boat comes. For three days they wait until Disbeliever finally sees that a boat is coming. True Son goes out into the river and calls out to the people on board for help. He says that he cannot swim, and they must come save him from starvation. At first the men are suspicious, but finally a woman on board convinces them to save True Son. As the boat comes closer, True Son sees that there is a boy about Gordie's age on the boat, and he stops calling out. He thinks of his dream and begins to wonder if his white family is on the boat; all he can think about is Gordie being killed by the Indians. Suddenly he cries out, telling the whites "take him back! It's an ambush!"
In panic the startled whites move the boat farther away from the back. The Indians rush out of the bushes shooting at the boat, but they are largely unsuccessful because of the distance.
The time True Son and Half Arrrow spend together in the wilderness marks their last adventure as children free from the war between whites and Indians. When they are together as brothers enjoying a simple existence in nature, they do not have to think about the consequences of their actions. As True Son points out, they finally have control over their lives. At no other point in the book does the Indian country appear more inviting; Richter devotes many lines of imagery to the boys' beautiful and liberating surroundings. He seems to imply that this is the way we are meant to live: free and at peace with our friends and nature.
However, when the boys return to Tuscarawas as "men," they must face the reality of war. Although the women of the village sense that the boys are still too young to face battle, their actions against Uncle Wilse and their friendship with Little Crane have already put them intimately involved with the battle between whites and Indians. Although True Son feels like a proud, strong, and independent warrior as he marches off to fight, we soon realize that he has once again lost control of his life. Appropriately enough, True Son acts as the bait to lure in the whites. Whereas before he was controlled by the white soldiers and restrictions of Paxton Township, he now serves as a pawn for the Indians.
When True Son learns that Thitpan and some of the other Indians have scalped young white children, he is clearly disillusioned by the Indian people he has forever seen as perfect. One of True Son's main grievances with Uncle Wilse is that he brutally killed the innocent Conestoga children and True Son's peaceful friend Little Crane. Now it appears as if Thitpan is not better than Uncle Wilse. Although True Son accepts the explanation of his friend's brother, he begins to doubt the faultlessness of the Indians and feels badly for having lied to his mother and Parson Elder. We understand that this is another point at which True Son is forced to grow up and accept the reality of his world. As Parson Elder told him months before, the war between the Indians and the whites is not a cut and dry battle between good and evil. Both sides have committed horrible deeds, and we begin to see this more and more as the actions of the war party parallel those of the ruthless Paxton boys.
The overall effect of True Son's confusing life with both Indians and whites culminates in the statement, "Take him back! It's an ambush!", which is the climax (the point in which the conflict of the book reaches its height) of the novel. Although True Son still identifies only with his Indian family, he cannot deny the bond of brotherhood he has established with his brother Gordie. True Son still holds to his father's belief that it is cowardly to kill children. When he learns that white children may be victims of the war party's ambush, he becomes so worried that he dreams his parents and frightened brother are on the ambushed boat. True Son cannot imagine Gordie being the victim of atrocity, and this brotherly compassion is enough to cloud his Indian warrior way of thinking at a point when it is most crucially needed. The statement is significant not only because it demonstrates True Son's one link to the white race, but also because it represents an act of betrayal against his Indian brothers. By showing allegiance to the whites, True Son has single-handedly ruined the ambush, an unforgivable action that betrays the Indian principle of loyalty and courage.
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