The Light in the Forest By Conrad Richter Summary and Analysis Chapter 14

Summary

For several days, most of the villagers rejoice at the boys' return. However, Little Crane's family does not join in the celebration. His brother, Thitpan, hates the whites who murdered Little Crane. To retaliate against the whites, Thitpan recruits a war party to seek vengeance. Cuyloga's face becomes serious as he contemplates the wrongs whites have committed against Indians. Quaquenga urges Cuyloga to leave True Son behind because of the danger he faces among whites, but her husband asserts that the boy must reestablish his loyalty to the tribe. True Son thrills with the excitement of readying himself for battle, which buoys him like a stimulant "wilder than any root or game."

Marked with war paint and the plucked face and scalp of a warrior, True Son and Half Arrow trail the war party to a river. The party separates to inspect the trail and kill and scalp whites. On the reunion at a mountain spring, warriors share a detailed account of their foray against white settlers. As the men stretch the scalps for trophies, True Son notices that one scalp belonged to a light-haired white child. He hints that men should avoid mutilating children. Dark eyes flash resentment at his criticism of grown men.

The next day, the war party uses True Son as a decoy by dressing him in pantaloons and a shirt. Three days later, a boat approaches. True Son begs the whites onboard the boat to rescue him from starvation. The white female passengers pity him; the men cautiously maneuver toward shore. When True Son observes a white child onboard, he thinks of Gordie and instinctively warns the whites to stay away from the shore. To avoid the volley of shots from the hiding Indians, the boat hastens downstream, out of danger.

Analysis

Richter enlarges on the theme of universal family joys in the foods, visits, smoking, dice games, and music that mark the return of True Son and Half Arrow. The celebration is fleeting, for at the height of the boys' contentment, Richter inserts a letdown: To True Son, the celebration is like a dream, but a dream "with shadows in it." Also, True Son's and the village's jubilant mood is tempered by the extreme hatred that festers among Little Crane's survivors, who agitate for blood vengeance. Cuyloga declares that, like Black Fish, his back is "too broad to turn." In Cuyloga's opinion, the white invaders are completely responsible for the escalating frontier face-off of Indian against white: "How can you reason with him [the white man]? He is like a spoiled child without instruction. He has no understanding of good and evil." The mounting tension results in councils of war, chants, and scalp yells, prefaces to combat that climax in the war song of farewell. True Son relishes the moment of departure, which offsets the humiliation of his last going, when he was dragged away "like a dog."

Richter maintains the distinct separation of male and female roles. Just as Myra Butler and Aunt Kate take no part in the Peshtank militia, Lenni Lenape women stand apart from the war-inspired men who meet in the council house. As onlookers, the women and girls can only murmur their concerns. To Quaquenga's fears for True Son's safety, Cuyloga snaps, "Woman. Stay home and boil your pots." Heavy with male self-importance, Cuyloga's response to Quaquenga's fears implies that only men can understand tribal matters and accept the responsibility of avenging blood for blood.

Here in Chapter 14, True Son's illusion of whites as totally bad and Indians as totally good crumbles. The boy feels morally compelled to acknowledge evidence proving one of Parson Elder's allegations against Indians: that they kill and mutilate white children. In Chapter 9, True Son had claimed, "I see many scalp but no children scalp in our village. My father says men are cowards who fight children." Richter illuminates True Son's emotional uncertainty concerning Indians' scalping children with a prophetic dream in which True Son sees the Butlers on a sled on snow. The dream's setting turns into a boat on water. With the couple is an unidentified white child. The dream ends on a horrific note, the roar of falls downstream, and implies a great natural hazard, which symbolizes the unknown factors that lie ahead of the war party.

For this pivotal chapter, Richter creates a fearful climax, the height of emotion and action beyond which things can never return to how they were previously. Although True Son does not acknowledge the change in his emotion, the sight of a child's scalp changes his attitude toward Thitpan's war party. No longer burdened by boyish innocence, True Son internalizes the heavy truth that Indians are guilty of some of the savagery which whites accuse them of. His newfound understanding, even if he is not fully aware of it, precedes his treachery, the deliberate turning away from Indian aims toward a higher goal, the rescue of an innocent white child from ambush. Faced with taking part in the killing of children, True Son feels for Gordie, the only white person for whom he feels sympathy.

True Son's action at the end of Chapter 14, however spur-of-the-moment, creates a complex outcome that True Son could not have foreseen: He becomes a noble and honorable person at the same time that he's threatened with both exile and violence from the tribe. From this point on, True Son will live in a world rapidly losing the pristine beauty and freedom that he had known in the forest with his Indian cousin. What lies ahead holds no promise for a boy coming of age along the Pennsylvania frontier.

Glossary

hominy a cereal made from dried corn kernels soaked and boiled with oak ash to loosen the hulls. Cooks rub the inner kernels clean between their palms or whirl them in hulling pouches. After hominy is rinsed of ash, the kernels are cooked with herbs, vegetables, or seasonings or served plain with milk, like oatmeal.

Jew's harp a small percussion instrument made of metal that emits a twang when held between the teeth and vibrated with the tip of the index finger. Movement of tongue and jaw muscles varies the sounds and rhythms.

mocker nut a hickory nut. It is called a mocker because the outside hull is large, but the nut meat is small.

Killbuck a community southwest of Millsburg, Ohio.

death mallet a multipurpose war club composed of a long wooden handle armed at the lethal end with an animal tusk, iron blade, or sharpened piece of quartz or obsidian. At the other end, a thong tethers the mallet to the wrist or waist.

riffle a shallow or fording place in a stream bed.

pied variegated or mismatched, a description of the patchwork scalp that Half Arrow sews from discarded trimmings.

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