Theme in The Light in the Forest
Teenagers must come to terms with reality at sometime throughout their existence. They arrive at a point where their perception of the world is at once shaken and shattered. In the novel, The Light in the Forest, the story of a fifteen year-old boy's struggle to face his reality is revealed. This character, True Son, who is captured and raised by Indians at age four, believes his Indian lifestyle is perfect and flawless compared to the despicable practices of the white man. After he is forcibly returned to his white family, he finds himself suffering through the state of confusion at being referred as an uncivilized heathen when he knows that they thought nothing about killing innocent childrensomething an Indian would never intend on doing. He believes his white family's reports about the scalping of white children are lies designed to betray his peers. Eventually, True Son faces the crucial truth that his Indian people are no more perfect than the white people when he discovers that one of his own family members has scalped a young white child. This and several other stereotypes concerning the two cultures is a main focus of the novel. Thus, this paper will compare and evaluate the opinions of two critics regarding the major theme of Conrad Richter's The Light in the Forest. Restrictions set forth by civilization is a major theme discussed by both critics, Clifford Edwards and Edwin Gaston. For example, Clifford Edwards claims that Conrad Richter wrote the book from the perspective of True Son to point out that the Indians value freedom as compared to the restricted lifestyle of the so-called civilized white man (Masterplot Complete, 2). According to Edwards, this comparison between the two race's lifestyles is portrayed when "...True Son expresses delight in the wild, joyous, freedom of the natural world and disgust at the whites' thoughtless destruction of the forest, their building of fences, and roofs to shut out nature, and their relentless accumulation of material wealth" (Magill's Survery of American Literature, 1770). Furthermore, Edwards believes that Americans are likely to forget that they have lost some of their freedoms to civilization. In addition, Edwin Gaston agrees that the novel contains the theme of restrictions by civilization, and describes the process of "westering" (Contemporary Literary Criticism, 320). The white settlers brought their belongings, bricks and fences with them as they moved west into new territory. According to Gaston, during the time True Son lived with his adopted Indian family, he lived as free as the open air, and experienced the constraints of civilization when he returned to his white family (Conrad Richter, 128). Without a doubt, these two critics agree that a major theme of The Light in the Forest is restrictions set forth by civilization. The Light in the Forest certainly consists of several exemplary passages that depict restrictions by civilization. When Clifford Edwards and Edwin Gaston imply that the novel is dominated by the idea of an Indian boy named True Son experiencing the constraints of civilization by two opposing ethnic backgrounds, they are definitely correct. For example, this idea is seen throughout the novel variously, but specifically when True Son is presented with a pair of English pants and a jacket by his white parents and is forcefully impetrated to wear them. As he stares at the sight of the nauseating white clothes, he fears he will suffocate and is immediately filled with revulsion. However, when he puts on his Indian clothes, he feels liberated from the white bonds. From True Son's perspective, the white clothes represent the deceitful, murderous, and lying qualities of his enemies, the white people. The strength of his conviction is shown when Richter writes the "boy stared with loathing at the pants and jacket. They were symbol of all the lies, thefts, and murders by the white...
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