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The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter

Chapter 15

Chapters 13–14

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

True Son does not realize that he has betrayed his Indian family until he turns back to the bank. Nobody, not even Half Arrow, welcomes him. Thitpan is especially angry with the boy, but True Son is unable to explain why he betrayed them because he does not understand why himself. When he starts to take off his dripping wet clothes, Thitpan tells him to keep them on since they are fitting to him; he says that maybe they will become dry soon enough. Thitpan and Disbeliever grab True Son and bind his hands and feet. They blacken half of his face with charcoal from a fire and put white clay on the other side. True Son knows that this means the council is divided about whether to burn him to death for betraying his brothers. Strangely enough True Son has never felt more like an Indian at this time. He remembers everything he has been told about remaining calm and composed; he thinks that life cannot mean anything to him since he has already been condemned by his people.

Thitpan votes first in favor of burning True Son. He shows his choice by throwing a stick into the fire. After many men have thrown sticks into the fire, Half Arrow turns and stumbles off into the forest. Cuyloga waits until the end to cast his vote. After pausing for a moment, he walks to the fire and picks up one of the blackened sticks. Without a word he blackens both sides of his face with the stick as everyone stares in amazement. Cuyloga finally speaks, announcing that if True Son is a spy than he too is a spy since he raised the boy. He says that he cannot watch as they kill his son and that it would be easier for him to protest the burning than to tell his wife that True Son has been burned. Cuyloga then cuts True Son's bonds and waits for the others to attack. When it becomes clear that the fascinated onlookers are not going to strike, Cuyloga turns to True Son and speaks with harsh dignity. He tells his son that when he adopted him he tore apart the "old rotten vines" that tied True Son to the whites. Cuyloga says that he taught True Son how to be a good Indian and that he believed True Son to be the loyal son that would take care of him when he becomes old. Now however, Cuyloga realizes that the old vines have gained new strength and are tying True Son back to the whites.

True Son protests his father's words, stating that the whites are his enemies and that he will never go back to them. Cuyloga looks at True Son a long time before answering. He says that True Son may not go back now, but that after a while he will return to the whites. He says that True Son's heart and head are Indian, but his blood is thin like that of the whites. Cuyloga tells True Son that they will leave together and that he will take True Son to a point in the road at which they will part from each other forever. Cuyloga will go one way and True Son will go the other, and they will no longer be father and son. True Son is told that they must kill each other if they ever meet in battle.

True Son is stunned by his father's words. Even Thitpan and his kin are moved by the speech, although True Son wonders if they will ambush his father later. In the afternoon, Cuyloga and True Son travel off together. Near noon the next day they stop at a river where Cuyloga says they must part. After a while True Son moves toward the water, but he soon turns around and asks his father if they are going to say good-bye now. Cuyloga harshly tells True Son that enemies do not say goodbye and that they are no longer father and son. In response the boy cries out, "Then who is my father?" True Son quickly turns to hide his tears and slowly steps into the water. He thinks about how this is the second time he has been forced to die while he is still alive. The first time he had been taken away from his family by the whites, but he would give anything for that time since he still would have a chance to go back to the Indians. Alone, True Son stares ahead at the road that leads, he knows, to the empty and restricting world of white civilization.

Analysis

During the falling action of the novel, we see that True Son has very much changed from the violently rebellious teenager he was in the beginning of the book. For years True Son has longed for the chance to prove his courage as a warrior and to make his father proud, and now, when he finally gets this opportunity, True Son fails. Although at first True Son is wrapped up in the bloodthirsty spirit of the war party, his mind later becomes consumed with scared and compassionate feelings unlike he has ever experienced. Once again his passionate character prevents him from being the ideal stoic warrior; he cannot overcome the emotion he feels at seeing the white child on board the boat. Like the scalping of Uncle Wilse, the action True Son commits against his tribe is very serious, and he must be tried and punished as an adult. But instead of protesting his fate or attempting to explain his feelings, True Son remains stoic and accepting of his destiny. In this sense we see that he has grown up; once this virtual death appears inevitable True Son finally understands how to remain calm and collected like his father, Cuyloga.

Cuyloga's touching speech in which he risks his life for True Son's freedom further portrays his honorable and brave character. Cuyloga truly lives up to the principles of bravery and allegiance that he has taught True Son to follow. However, even Cuyloga cannot fully protect True Son from the battle between the whites and Indians. Cuyloga may be able to save him from death, but he cannot forgive True Son for his betrayal of the Indians. Thus we begin to see that Cuyloga may not be so perfect as True Son would have us believe. In a way, Cuyloga is even to blame for True Son's tragic life; had Cuyloga not kidnapped True Son or had he refused to give him up in the first place, Cuyloga would have kept the boy from being stranded without a father or identity. The Indians, in addition to the whites, refuse to understand the conflicting feelings they have inspired in True Son.

True Son's final mournful statement, "Then who is my father?" is perhaps the central question of this novel. As a white boy raised by Indians and then returned to his white family, True Son experiences an unsettling search for his true identity. Although he feels allegiance only toward his Indian father, Cuyloga, True Son cannot escape the fact that he his white. His relationship with Gordie and the realization that his Indian brothers do indeed kill white children confuses True Son's loyalty to the Indians enough for him to ruin their ambush attempt. Having betrayed his Indian family, True Son is saved from death by Cuyloga, the only father he loves and recognizes, only to be abandoned by Cuyloga in the end. Even if he wants to, True Son cannot return to his white father either since True Son has scalped his Uncle Wilse. Ultimately, the boy is left without a father and hence without an identity; both Cuyloga and Mr. Butler have failed him. In the end, True Son is portrayed as the real victim of the battle between whites and Indians; his destiny, like all the destinies of frontier children, has been ruined by the senseless war and intolerance of his elders.

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