The Light in the Forest By Conrad Richter Summary and Analysis Chapter 11

Summary

True Son believes that his search for a messenger from his people strained his eyes and brought on his headache and sickness. He fears that the Lenni Lenape have forgotten him and that, as Bejance predicted, his soul is now white. Ruined by the squaw chore of hoeing, Aunt Kate's Bible readings, and the doctor's treatment with bloodletting and medicinal powders, the boy wills himself to die.

At a crucial moment, True Son resurges to health at the sound of Aunt Kate's shooing an Indian from the premises. That night, though still weakened by illness, he puts on his Indian clothes and slips out of his bedroom window. Imitating two types of owl calls, he summons and cautiously identifies Half Arrow, who leads him to the pasture where Little Crane lies murdered and scalped. True Son guesses that Little Crane's style of humor must have made Wilse mad.

True Son and Half Arrow bury their friend and then go to Wilse's place in search of justice. Confronting Wilse, True Son blames him for killing Little Crane. Wilse admits the crime and then chokes his nephew into submission. To rescue True Son, Half Arrow hits Wilse with a hoop pole. An apprentice who appears on the stairs stops the two from scalping Wilse. The two boys flee into the night.

Analysis

Richter's extended comparison of whites and Indians focuses on how each group communicates. Whereas whites read written letters and then toss them aside, Cuyloga always welcomes the human messenger, sees to his comfort, and then requests a public reading of the message. In native style, such conveyance of news requires "words and dignity sometimes noble as an oration." Richter also refutes the stereotype that Indians are incapable of abstract messages. The scene is set five years before the birth of Sequoyah, the Cherokee inventor who, in 1821, perfected the eighty-six-character Cherokee phonetic alphabet.

In contrast to Mr. Butler's obsession with columns of figures and sums of shillings and pounds in Chapter 10, here in Chapter 11 True Son and his friend Half Arrow relish the freedom of the forest. For food during past treks into the forest, they chewed dried venison strips. However, Richter is careful to note that the boys' excursions were not a reckless type of freedom; tribal discipline restricted the use of guns to adults and limited youthful duck hunters to bow and arrow. Richter creates a near-perfect picture of True Son and Half Arrow as "young gods in the forest" and glorifies the fragrance of an Indian village, which was "flavored with the scent of roasting meat and of burning red-willow tobacco."

At True Son's lowest point, both mentally and physically, Richter reintroduces the image of light, which he cited in the novel's epigraph. The concept of fleeing an earthly prison to return to a heavenly light appeals to the troubled boy, whose only ability to act on his own while confined in the Butler house is willing himself to die. It is at this low, troubled point that he hears an Indian approach and regains a hint of his former zest for life, which he has not felt in months. Richter describes True Son's depression as a "lump long hard and dried up inside of him," which melts at the thought of a message from his village. The mere thought of communicating with his tribe is "the first trickle of life-giving substance" that True Son has felt since he was forcibly returned to the Butlers. True Son rejoices that the Great Spirit has not deserted him after all.

Richter uses images of animals to describe True Son's departure from the imprisoning Butler house. True Son slides from his window to the ground like a "crumpled ball of spider down to the lap of his mother, the Earth." Other images that reflect his Indian feeling of kinship with nature include "his aunt, the Night," "his brother-in-law, the West Wind," and "his very old uncle, the Moon." Here, True Son feels that he is communing with nature. Richter, by giving different aspects of nature the stature of family members, suggests that nature is somehow protecting True Son. This point of view is much different than that of the white man, who seems to want to conquer nature, not participate in it. In the background, the Butler house takes on monstrous proportions, its single lighted window "one hostile yellow lamplit eye." Later, the moon shines on new barrels and kegs, which are "white as skeletons," a horrific image that reflects the boys' state of mind after burying Little Crane.

Richter's descriptions of his characters take on added dimensions in this chapter. Half Arrow observes that True Son no longer sounds like an Indian. The description bears out Parson Elder's prediction that the boy will soon lose the characteristics of True Son and become plain Johnny Butler. True to the prophecy, True Son stops Half Arrow from removing the heart of Wilse, an enemy who is also his uncle. In the items he offers Half Arrow for the journey, we have confirmation that True Son did indeed take the items he was suspected of stealing.

Upon returning to Indian life, True Son must relearn the "good whistling sound of the Indian consonant" as he loses "the foolish Yengwe V and D which the Lenape did not need." Another distinguishing characteristic, Indian humor, is a contributing factor to the murder of Little Crane, who inadvertently angered some of the town's men with jokes based on the Indian concept of communal ownership. True Son's time with the whites has taught him that they have a very different concept of humor.

Glossary

terrapin an edible freshwater or coastal turtle prized for its eggs and meat. The shells are made into cups, spoons, dishes, and rattles used in ceremonial dance and healing rituals.

shad tree the shadbush, serviceberry, or juneberry, a shrub bearing sweet, juicy reddish-purple fruit. Indians used shadberries as flavoring for stews and pemmican, a trail food made of dried spiced meat stuffed into animal intestines.

the single-tree lugged a swinging wooden bar attached by lugs or bolts to a frame that runs parallel to the front of a farm wagon. The bar provides a flexible connection between wagon bed and the straps that harness dray horses or oxen.

purging a medical treatment employing strong laxatives and emetics, which cause a patient to expel poisonous or harmful body fluids.

sassafras a tall, fragrant laurel tree. Indians used sassafras twigs, oil, roots, and bark in tea, which herbalists prescribed as cough medicine or a seasonal tonic.

hoop pole a heavy levering device that forces the metal binder in place over a ring of barrel staves to tighten the joints and keep the finished container from leaking.

apprentice a student worker or beginner at a trade who labors without pay, receiving room and board, as well as tools and uniforms, while learning from a master practitioner, such as an ironworker, blacksmith, or apothecary. Apprentices, generally between fourteen and twenty one years old, agreed to a sworn and binding indenture, a formal contract to a seven-year period of study that forbade gambling, strong drink, dating, and late hours.

match coat the Indian machicote or matchigode, a length of cloth wrapped around the body or head as a hooded cloak. A woman's match coat was called a petticoat.

Quekel the Indian pronunciation of "Quaker."

mow haystack.

tow wallet a rough pouch woven of flax or hemp.

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