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The Light in the Forest Teacher’s Guide

By Conrad Richter

The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter



Taken hostage by the Lenni Lenape Indians at the age of four, True Son (John Butler) lives among the tribe on the banks of the Tuscarawas for eleven years. When word reaches his village that the Indians must surrender their white prisoners, True Son is returned to his white relatives and a society he no longer knows and cannot understand. At home in Paxton township, he is greeted by his father Harry, his invalid mother Myra, his young brother Gordie, and his Aunt Kate. Missing his Indian parents, John wants no part of this home and family. A stranger to the white man’s ways, he detests their clothing, their language, their homes, and their behavior. Preferring his previous way of life, John baffles his relatives and neighbors. His Uncle Wilse, who has deemed all Indians savages, treats John especially harshly, antagonizing him openly. True Son’s only ally is Gordie.

One day, John meets Bejance, a Negro basketweaver who also once lived among the Indians, albeit a different tribe. Sensing a bond and hungering for some contact with the language he speaks best, John engages Bejance in conversation, only to discover that the man has forgotten all but a few words of the Indian dialect. Bejance does, however, tell John of a man, Corn Blade, who lives on a nearby mountain. This man, says Bejance, can fluently converse in the Lenape language. Delighted, John plots to travel to Corn Blade’s home and speak with him. His plans are foiled, however, when he is caught by his Uncle Wilse. John’s apparent dissatisfaction with his new life and his refusal to adjust to it prompt a visit from the local parson, Reverend Elder, a man whom John immediately distrusts: he recognizes Elder as the captain responsible for the senseless slaughter of a group of Conestogo Indians.

Shortly after the parson’s visit, John becomes seriously ill; the “white doctor’s” medicine cannot effect a cure. Then, one day, two Indians visit John’s home town. They are Half Arrow, his “cousin” and Little Crane, a friend searching for his “white squaw.” That night Half Arrow comes to the Butler house, calling John. John joins Half Arrow and is told that his Uncle Wilse has been responsible for the murder and scalping of Little Crane. Vowing revenge, Half Arrow and True Son attempt to scalp Wilse but have to settle for beating him and cutting off his hair. Later, they cunningly make their way through the forest, back to the Lenni Lenape tribe. True Son is warmly welcomed by his Indian friends and family, especially his father, Cuyloga. His reunion is interrupted by Little Crane’s family, who swear vengeance on the settlers. Half Arrow and True Son join the others in their quest. True Son, as bent on revenge as the others, is at first eager to exact justice. When Half Crane’s family scalps a group of the whites, including a young girl, however, True Son begins to question his tribe’s ways. Soon after, he is forced to act as a decoy, luring a boat full of white settlers close to where the Indians lie in wait to ambush them. At the last moment, True Son shouts a warning, and the ambush is thwarted. That night his tribe meets to decide his fate. Many believe that he should die by fire for his betrayal, but Cuyloga manages to dissuade them. Instead, True Son’s destiny will be to return to the “whites.”Cuyloga and True Son depart on their journey, traveling together until they reach the river. At this point, breaking their bond forever and vowing that they must now look upon one another as enemies, Cuyloga bids his “son” farewell and sends him on his way.


Reading Comprehension Questions

Chapter 1

1. How old was True Son when he was adopted by the Indians? For what reason was he adopted? How many years does he live among the Indians?

2. What is True Son’s reaction when he is told by his Indian father that he must return to his birth family?

Chapter 2

1. Who is Del Hardy? What duty is he supposed to carry out?

2. What is the reaction of the white captives when they are released by the Indians to the whites? What is the reaction of the Indians as they give up their captives?

Chapter 3

1. What is the May apple? Why does True Son wish to eat it?

2. Who accompanies True Son on the trail? What does he give him? Why?

Chapter 4

1. According to Half Crane, what are some of the differences between the white people and the Indians?

2. Why does True Son attack the guard? What advice does Half Arrow give his cousin afterwards? What does the river True Son then crosses symbolize?

Chapter 5

1. What does True Son see after he leaves Fort Pitt that indicates he has entered the “barbarous homeland of his white enemies”?

2. How does True Son act when he meets his birth father? What do you think father and son feel at that moment?

Chapter 6

1. Compare/contrast Del Hardy’s feelings when he returns to the white settlement to those of True Son.

2. Describe True Son’s reunion with his family.

Chapter 7

1. Briefly describe John’s first night at home. Where does he sleep? Why?

2. Describe John’s first encounter with his Uncle Wilse. Why do they argue?

Chapter 8

1. What change does John make in his appearance and daily activities now that he is among the whites?

2. Who is Bejance? Why is John so happy to meet him? About whom does he tell John? As a result, what does John decide to do? Does he succeed? Why or why not?

Chapter 9

1. Describe the circumstances surrounding John’s abduction by the Indians eleven years ago. What effect did his abduction have on his mother?

2. Why does John dislike Reverend Elder? Compare/contrast John’s attitude toward the Indians with that of Reverend Elder.

Chapter 10

1. What is wrong with John? What methods does the doctor use to treat him?

2. Why does Parson Elder’s son visit Harry Butler? What does this young man tell Mr. Butler?

Chapter 11

1. How do the whites treat messages or letters? How do the Indians? Why is John so concerned about letters and messages?

2. Why does John feel the ”white medicine man’s” tactics are of no use? What does John hope the result of his illness will be? Why?

3. Who visits John one night while he is sick? What does this visitor tell John? What do John and his visitor do?

Chapter 12

1. What decision does True Son make the morning after his escape from the whites? What is his only regret about this decision?

2. Briefly describe the journey Half Arrow and True Son take. For approximately how long do they travel?

3. Describe how Half Arrow and True Son ”steal” the trader’s boat.

Chapter 13

1. How do True Son and Half Arrow catch fish to eat?

2. How do True Son and Half Arrow pass their days in the forest?

3. What changes does True Son make in his appearance?

Chapter 14

1. What do the family and village of True Son do when he returns? Who refuses to be a part of this reunion? Why?

2. What do the men of the council decide to do? Why?

3. What are True Son’s initial feelings when he joins the Indian war party? What causes these feelings to change? Why?

4. What role is True Son to play in the attack on the whites? Does he successfully fulfill this role? Why or why not? What are the immediate effects of his actions?

Chapter 15

1. How is True Son greeted when he returns to his “brothers”? What do they do to him?

2. When the council meets, what is it that they are to discuss? What does the council want to do to True Son?

3. What does Cuyloga do? What does he say to the council? What does he tell True Son?

4. Describe the parting scene between Cuyloga and True Son. What does each say? What must each be feeling at this moment?

5. Remembering the river from Chapter 4, discuss what True Son’s crossing this time symbolizes.

Character Identification

Briefly identify each of the following characters:

• Half Arrow
• Little Crane
• Mechelit
• Thitpan
• Cuyloga
• Quaquenga
• Del Hardy
• A’astonah
• Corn Blade
• Bejance
• Myra Butler
• Harry Butler
• Gordon Butler
• Kate Stewart
• Reverend Elder

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss some of the adjustments True Son must make when he is returned to the settlers. Be sure to comment upon the length of time he lived among the Indians compared to the length of time he lived among the whites.

2. Nature, seasons, and the changes they bring are important to the Indians. Although he lives among the whites, True Son still retains the Indians’ view of these things. Discuss True Son’s concept of nature and the seasons. How do his concepts differ from those of the whites?

3. The Light in the Forest presents many conflicts. One of the most important of these is the conflict within John Butler as he tries to reconcile his Indian identity with his white identity. Discuss this conflict as well as how and if it is resolved. Are there any other conflicts in the novel?

4. Near the end of the book, True Son decides to warn the white settlers of the Indian ambush. Do you agree or disagree with his decision? Discuss.

5. The Lenni Lenape tribe meet in council at the end of the book to decide True Son’s fate. What course of action would you have chosen for him? Why? (Note: Teacher can divide class into sections and have students debate the issue or enact a mock trial.)

6. Imagine that you have been kidnapped, held for an extended period of time, and then returned to your birth family. What emotions would you experience upon your return? What adjustments would you have to make? Can you think of any cases in which a child has been raised by an adoptive parent and then returned to a birth parent? What effect would this change have on the child’s life? The parent’s?

Writing Activities

Imagine that you have been kidnapped by the Indians and are forced to live among them for two weeks. While in captivity, you are able to keep a secret diary or journal. Using the details supplied in this book, write daily accounts of your time living among the Indian tribe.

Throughout the book, white society labels the Indians as barbaric and uncivilized, the settlers as peaceful and educated. In a well-organized essay, agree or disagree with this viewpoint. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the book.

The Light in the Forest is prefaced with a quotation from a poem by William Wordsworth. Write an essay in which you explain the meaning of Wordsworth’s words and their relevance to the events described in the book.

A newspaper reporter must present the facts of an incident in an objective manner. Imagine that you are a writer for a newspaper in John Butler’s town. Write an account of his return to “civilization” and the incidents that follow.


With the aid of research material from the library, investigate the life style of the Lenni Lenape/Delaware Indians portrayed in this book. Report back to the class on their language, food, arts, and religion. Try to discover similarities between the Indian’s life style and our own. Discuss how they have influenced parts of our lives (for example, our language, our food, our arts, etc.).

Visit any nearby museum which offers an exhibition dedicated to the American Indian tribes. Discuss your observations with your teacher and classmates.

With a group of three or four classmates, recreate any important scene from the book. Include the details supplied by the author, adding appropriate ones of your own. Perform this scene in front of your classmates.


Define each of the following words in the context in which they appear in the book. The number of the page on which each word appears follows in parentheses. Note to teacher: You may add or delete words, depending on the reading level of your class.

• redoubts (5)
• stint (9)
• wolverine (9)
• plumb (10)
• palavering (10)
• doughtier 11)
• trussed (13)
• calico (13)
• moccasin (15)
• varmit (16)
• ditties (17)
• Yengwes (17)
• tomahawk (22)
• bandy-legged (23)
• venison (23)
• ominous (25)
• fickle (27)
• slavish (37)
• stockades (37)
• wet-nurse (38)
• subjection (39)
• bombarded (39)
• nigh (45)
• alders (49)
• bolster (58)
• impassive (64)
• odious (73)
• plaited (75)
• savor (83)
• unforded (84)
• untrodden (84)
• cradlers (86)
• snaith (86)
• binding (86)
• shagbark (86)
• gravity (87)
• galls (90)
• unfathomable (95)
• gallipot (99)
• aboriginal (100)
• invariably (105)
• remuneration (106)
• oration (108)
• terrapin (109)
• incomprehensible (111)
• vamoose (113)
• flourish (129)
• ford (130)
• minny (131)
• pungency (132)
• murky (141)
• paroquets (143)
• benediction (143)
• arbutus (146)
• inexhaustible (148)
• vermillion (150)
• fathom (155)
• exultation (157)
• meritorious (164)
• remonstrating (166)
• ambush (168)
• creepers (171)
• reprieve (172)
• thongs (174)
• ordeal (179)
• volition (179)


Teacher’s Guide by Josette A. Bordiga. Ms. Bordiga has a B.A. and an M.A. from New York University and teaches English at the high school level in New Jersey.

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