Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Light in the Forest involves two sets of characters: the Native Americans and their enemies, the white settlers of Pennsylvania. The believable characters possess human strengths and weaknesses, and Richter's omniscient narrator presents each of their perspectives without making explicit judgments. Each group harbors stereotyped perceptions of the other. To the white settlers, the Native Americans are ignorant savages who steal, swear, and cheat; the Native Americans, for their part, consider the whites a "mixed people," heedless and immature as children, who heap up material treasures and steal the Native American land. For each Native American character, Richter creates a white one who represents an opposing way of looking at the same situation.

True Son, the central character, crosses into the worlds of both the Native Americans and the whites. Richter compassionately and sensitively presents his dilemma at being forcibly returned to his white parents after eleven years. Love and loyalty for his Native American parents and upbringing make True Son tolerate the daily humiliations of living in the alien white culture with dignity and restraint. True Son is a complex character who grows and changes as he tries to find his true identity in the midst of two cultures. His brief stay with his white family creates inevitable conflicts in him; he grows critical of the Lenni Lenape for scalping a white child to avenge the murder of Little Crane. True Son displays great courage and strength of character when he betrays his tribe as it attempts to ambush a boatload of innocent whites. He no longer believes in absolutes; both sides, he realizes, teach love and respect for all living things, yet both are cruel and inhuman in war. His suffering and loneliness give him wisdom beyond that of any other character in the book. Although the hostility of both the Native Americans and the whites threatens

True Son's continued survival, the book nonetheless ends on an optimistic note with the youth's spiritual triumph. True Son's role model is his formidable adopted father, Cuyloga, the chief and spiritual leader of the Lenni Lenape. Noble, wise, and objective, he commands the admiration of all who meet with him. In the council meeting to decide True Son's fate, his diplomacy and oratory save his son's life. He understands the duality of human nature and the conflict that traps True Son, yet he cannot condone the betrayal of his tribe and cause. Compared to Cuyloga, True Son's white father, Harry Butler, appears weak and...

(The entire section is 1035 words.)