The Light in the Forest By Conrad Richter Summary and Analysis Chapter 15

Summary

True Son knows that he has betrayed Thitpan's warriors. They bind him with vines, blacken one side of his face with charcoal, and whiten the other half with clay to symbolize the two faces of a traitor. As they discuss whether or not to burn him at the stake, each warrior throws a stick into the fire as a vote for True Son's execution. Half Arrow abstains by running into the forest. True Son fears that his father will vote with the majority.

Unable to agree to the death penalty, Cuyloga blackens his entire face and hands. The black mask indicates his allegiance to his beloved son, over whom "the rainbow arches," and he says that if they kill True Son, they must kill Cuyloga as well, who gave him the bad instruction. Then he cuts True Son's bonds.

Addressing True Son, Cuyloga claims that although True Son has an Indian heart and an Indian head, his white blood is too thin to be mixed "with the brave redness of Indian blood." Although he has saved his life, Cuyloga must banish True Son from the tribe. Claiming that the time spent in the white settlement has erased True Son's Indian nature, Cuyloga leads True Son back to the road to Paxton and vows that the two must henceforth be enemies. Unwelcome in either culture, True Son cries out, "Then who is my father?" When he turns toward the distant shore, he finds himself alone once more.

Analysis

Richter makes good use of color imagery here in the last chapter. The symbolism of white against black, right against wrong, characterizes a child's sense of justice, which tolerates no shades of gray. On his first test of manhood, True Son violates native values by remaining true to a higher order of justice. Yet Richter discusses True Son's own confusion about why he acted the way he did: "He didn't understand himself." Because True Son is young and still very naïve, he cannot adequately understand and take pride in his choice to save the white child as a triumphantly humane act. Still yearning for proof of valor in combat, he longs for scalps as evidence of a warrior's courage. Instead, he is treated like a white spy who may face a "dry and hot" death at the stake.

During the high drama of the Lenni Lenapes' open-air court action, True Son bolsters his fearful spirit with an Indian's stoic resolve. In his words, "How could life mean anything to you if already your people had killed you in their minds?" When marked with white and black, True Son's facial coloring represents the truth and righteousness of his act versus the tribe's arbitrary decision of what is right and what is wrong. To further distance the boy from tribal approval, Thitpan's supporters link True Son's abrupt act of treachery with white treaties, "the crooked stripes of the whites' talking papers."

The anguished debate forces a harsher choice when Cuyloga must decide between tribal loyalty or adoptive fatherhood. In his dignified speech, Cuyloga describes old loyalties as rotten vines newly sprung to life. As a preface to his decision, he recounts his duties to a son as teacher of woodsmanship, hunting, honesty, and honor. His disappointment is symbolized by the stout staff, which he has now broken. With a touch of pity, he describes his adopted son as Indian-headed and Indian-hearted, but instinctively white-blooded. With stoic determination, the father promises to watch over his son on one last journey up the "white man's road," then to turn on him, foe against foe, should they ever meet again. To stress the pain of parting, Richter focuses on the vista where "ran the rutted road of the whites," far from the freedoms of the Indian world.

At the end of the novel, the outlook for True Son is bleak but not hopeless. As native and European cultures increased interaction on the frontier in the spheres of war, religion, exploration, and trade, many people made new lives for themselves. Native men brought up in woods lore found positions with the English, French, and colonial military as advisers, translators, and trailblazers. Some allied with religious settlements as aids to missionaries. Others thrived in the Mississippi Valley as trappers, traders, and mountain men. True Son's background would have equipped him to thrive in such posts at the juncture of native and European settlements, although it seems unlikely that he will convert to a Christian faith or reside in the close confinement of a stockade, farm, or commune.

The tragedy of True Son's damaged relationships with his revered native family and the Butlers condemns him to a renegade existence that forbids contact with either clan. To round out his life, he would probably prefer a native wife, whom he could secure through trade with a willing family or by chance encounter with a homeless or tribeless woman who shares his predicament, perhaps after disease or siege has destroyed her village. As the number of footloose or unaffiliated people increased in frontier Pennsylvania, such alliances preceded makeshift or on-the-spot marriages, as demonstrated in Janice Holt Giles' novel Hannah Fowler (1956), the story of Hannah Moore, a stranded young settler who selects a husband at random at Fort Pitt after the unexpected death of her father.

The people who strengthened the American frontier were those who overcame hardship and loss to fashion new lives for themselves beyond the limited choices of structured towns. In unsettled territory, people like True Son made their own rules out of necessity and opportunity, often avoiding civilization through frequent moves, as is true of the early days of Daniel Boone. A positive vision of True Son as an adult pictures him thriving in his beloved forest and applying the teachings of Cuyloga to everyday life. However, happiness and contentment may elude him, for he will always carry the wounds of cultural upheaval that made him a captive child and youthful outcast.

Glossary

the afternoon side of the river the west bank.

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