The Light in the Forest By Conrad Richter Summary and Analysis Chapter 10

Summary

True Son lies ill for a week with an undiagnosed fever. After Dr. Childsley, a Lancaster County physician, bleeds the boy's feet, he blames Indian diet and lifestyle for the boy's disease. Rapidly worsening, True Son lies motionless on his mattress and replies mechanically to Mr. Butler's questions and concerns as though he were a stranger. To lift the boy's spirits (and salve her conscience), Aunt Kate returns his Indian dress, which she had hidden.

Parson Elder's son rides to the Butler house and warns Mr. Butler that an Indian has been shot at Mehargue's pasture. According to the parson's son, two Indians searching for True Son approached Wilse's place. The Indians supposedly grew bold and insulting after Wilse gave them rum to drink. The parson's son cannot identify who ambushed the Indian. Disturbed by the events, Mr. Butler decides to conceal the news from his wife and Aunt Kate. To relieve his anxiety about the whole affair, he absorbs himself in the account sheets on his desk.

Analysis

The theme of parenthood grows more important in the final chapters of the book. Richter establishes the nurturing side of Harry Butler by placing him at True Son's sickroom door. Filled with regret that he hadn't protected the boy from the raiding Indians who captured his son eleven years earlier and that he hadn't made True Son a present of the gun that the boy is suspected of stealing, the father determines to do better and to pardon his son of all wrongdoing.

True Son's mortal illness even inspires forgiveness in Aunt Kate. Richter suggests that her returning True Son's Indian clothing is both a token of her acceptance of the boy and a way for her to lessen her guilt about how she continually accused and scolded True Son. As True Son faces death, we can see that his white family does love him although they have no idea how to show it and how to get him to respond. Their way of life requires True Son to behave in ways that are foreign to him; they expected that, as a white person, he would automatically behave as a white person despite being raised by Indians. To some extent, his failure now is also their failure.

Another purpose of this chapter is to detail further the interaction and trade among local citizens. Paxton is large enough to have the services of a tailor, boot maker, parson, and doctor, even if the four also serve outlying areas. In addition, Paxton has a cooper shop, mill, and a militia — the standard balance of industry and military readiness that marked the American colonial era. The community's need to have some type of police enforcement is evident in the details of the shooting. Apparently, the Indian was set up to encounter the area's most racist citizen, Wilse Owen. His death from gunshot to the side and back suggests a cowardly ambush from behind, followed by scalping. To these outrageous actions, the ineffectual Harry Butler can only conclude, "Troubles seldom come singly." Although the Indians ask for True Son, either no one makes the connection of friendship or no one cares. The only fear expressed is whether they were an advance party of attackers. Recall Uncle Wilse's earlier warning to True Son about what would happen if any of his Indian friends came seeking him.

In the last two paragraphs of the chapter, Richter stereotypes wealthy landowners like Butler by re-creating the paperwork that colonial farmers and landowners had to complete in order to keep track of their profits and farm operations. In a large, leather-covered daybook, Mr. Butler keeps records on accounts and "active property." Dated May 31, 1765, the day's transaction includes the sale of 521 bushels of grain, bringing in 992 shillings from wheat, 573 shillings from rye, and 82 shillings from oats — a sizable day's income from farm produce. Butler concludes with the comments that his last keg of cider was "Very Potent" and that the sow he bought from Campbell produced eleven piglets.

Mr. Butler's final remark about "the satisfaction and benefits of honest work" reinforces the great emotional and cultural gulf between the money-minded Butler and his woods-reared son. The father fits the Indian stereotype of the money-centered white man who directs his energies toward personal gain. The language of the final sentence, including the phrases "ready cash" and "remuneration and accumulation," perhaps emphasizes Butler's lack of humanity. He's interested more in money than in either True Son or the brutal killing of an Indian in Mehargue's pasture.

Other readers, however, would disagree that Butler is more interested in money than in his son. He clearly is overwhelmed by the entire situation. He wanted his four-year-old son back; he got a fifteen-year-old Indian. Instead of the happy time he expected when his son returned, he's had nothing but grief. He does his books because he's beside himself: He doesn't want to think about the trouble that's bound to be coming, and his son is dying. If his business gives him solace, then it makes sense that he would turn to it in a time of personal turmoil. Again, the problem is cultural: True Son wouldn't understand how Butler can find solace in material things. Harry can't compete with Johnny's Indian father because he and Johnny don't value the same things.

Glossary

gallipot a small, ceramic vessel used to collect body fluids during bloodletting. A lip at one edge enables an apothecary or physician to

pour the contents from the catch basin into a beaker for heating, stirring, examining, or testing.

miasma a forest vapor, fog, or gas thought to bear disease or create an unwholesome atmosphere. A fearful example of miasma is the "bad air" named "malaria," a disease that still claims lives in marshy areas worldwide.

aboriginal race the first human inhabitants of an area, in this case, Native Americans.

cooper shop manufacturer of barrels and kegs.

lum the Indian mispronunciation of "rum."

nib of his quill the sharpened point on a goose-feather pen.

do an abbreviation for "ditto" in Harry's account books.

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