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The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

Describe how True Son's character changes, if at all, by the end of the novel. What do you feel causes these changes?

Although True Son attempts to be a stoic warrior resistant to the white customs inflicted upon him, it is clear that he becomes affected by white culture as Bejance predicts that he would. By the time Half Arrow comes to rescue True Son, the boy has given up his once vehement protests and has begun to speak and walk less like an Indian. In addition, the boy's relationship with Gordie makes him slightly regretful to leave Paxton township; he feels as if he is betraying his young brother. Despite his efforts to remain unattached to his white family, True Son feels enough compassion toward Gordie to ruins the Indians' attempt to ambush a group of white settlers. True Son imagines that his white parents and Gordie on are on the boat, and he feels as if he must save his brother from being killed. Although he still feels love and loyalty only to his Indian family, True Son has established a bond with his young brother that momentarily confuses his Indian allegiance.

In many ways True Son has finally grown up by the end of the novel. The act True Son commits against the Indians and the violent attack on Uncle Wilse are unforgivable; he has finally crossed the line between child and adult and must face the consequences as a warrior. In addition, True Son must accept the disillusioning reality that the Indian people he loves and respects so much do indeed scalp white children, as Parson Elder attests.

How does the Indian idea of freedom as presented to us in the book compare to the white belief in civilization. Does the author seem to favor one way of life over the other?

Throughout the novel, Richter clearly differentiates between the natural, free world of the Indians and the restricting, civilized domain of the whites. Whereas Indians roam the land free from the burdens of earthly goods, whites are concerned with creating stable settlements in which they can set up industry. As Bejance points out, white people gradually force you to conform to their standards of behavior. As True Son eventually discovers, outsiders lose their freedom little by little; before they know it they are living in a house, sleeping in a bed, and eating with knives and forks. Furthermore, whites are portrayed as more intolerant and exclusive about who can exist within their "civilized" society; they betray Indian converts and enslave blacks. As Bejance and True Son's stories suggest, Indians are willing to include members of any race in their free culture so long as they are loyal to the Indians.

Although Richter is critical of both societies, he clearly seems to favor the world of the Indians. This bias is suggested by the author's long descriptions of the beautiful and rich nature of Indian country. The imagery he uses, most notably in Chapters 12 and 13, far exceeds any descriptions of Paxton Township. The last paragraph of the novel also leaves us with a particularly ugly vision of white society.

Discuss how Richter manipulates language and point-of-view throughout the book. How does this affect the perspective we have of True Son's story and/or frontier life?

Although the point-of-view of The Light in the Forest always remains in third person omniscient, Richter often portrays the story's events through the eyes of several characters. In order to create this effect, the author concentrates on different characters' personal feelings in separate chapters in addition to adopting the tone and language used by these characters. For example, in the fifth and sixth chapters of the novel we are introduced to Fort Pitt and Carlisle from True Son and Del Hardy's viewpoints, respectively. The words used to describe the settlements in Chapter 5 are indicative of True Son's negative attitude toward white civilization; the houses are referred to as prisons and the settlements themselves are called gloomy and ugly. Conversely, the language of Chapter 6 reveals the thoughts of Del Hardy; houses are referred to as welcoming signs of superiority and phrases such as "you'd reckon" are included to get the sense of Del's uneducated speech. This technique is effective in giving us a multi-dimensional perspective on True Son's story and the life of the frontier.

Suggested Essay Topics

What do you think is the purpose of Parson Elder's role within this book. Why is he an important character even though he appears in only one chapter?

Compare True Son's character to that of Del Hardy. In what ways are their characters opposite from each other? Compare True Son's character to that of Uncle Wilse. How are they alike or different?

How is racism displayed by whites and Indians in this novel? What does this suggest about the frontier life of the eighteenth century?

Is True Son betrayed by his family or families? How is he betrayed?

Who is True Son's real father, or does he even have a real father?

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