The Light in the Forest

by Conrad Richter

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What surprised the white soldiers the most when they saw the Indians surrendering their white captives in Light in the Forest?

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There were three things that surprised Del and the white soldiers as they witnessed the Indians giving up their white captives. First of all, Del was shocked that they would give them up at all. Dell knew from having lived among the Delaware that if they did not kill white prisoners right off, they adopted them into the tribe as their own, to replace a relative who had died. As Del says,

"It wasn't any mock or make-believe business either. Those Injuns actually looked on their new white relations like full-blooded Injuns. And they'd never give them up any more than their own people."

Del had not believed that the Delaware would give up their white prisoners for this reason, but he hadn't counted on the extent to which the Indians wanted the whites to leave their land. When a treaty was negotiated requiring that white prisoners be returned in exchange for a limitation to the advancement of white settlers into Indian territory, the Indians agreed, and, acting with integrity, they surrendered their white captives.

The other reasons why Del and the men were surprised was because of the emotion the Indians showed at having to turn their captives over, and, similarly, and perhaps most significant, the

"ungratefulness of the captives...(who) didn't want to have anything to do with the whites who had risked their lives to rescue them."

He, and the men in general, were amazed that

"savages, whose names were a terror on the frontier, (were) crying like women as they gave up some white child or wife."

The white men did not look upon the Indians as having the same attachments and attributes as members of their own race, and to see the love they held for their adopted relations and the deep pain they experienced in losing them, humanized the "savages" in a way that was as revealing as it was disturbing. The Indians' reactions to the loss of their loved ones, as well as the obvious feeling the prisoners had for their Indian captors, forced the white men to see the Indians as people like themselves. It was inconceivable that the captives would have become attached to the "savages," but the fact that they obviously had made it imperative to consider the Indians in a different, human light. This realization was problematic because, if the Indians were seen as equals, then the whole issue of the way they were being treated by the white men would come into question (Chapter 2).

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