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    Not that the novel represents the novelist's particular beliefs or opinions.  He can understand and
    sympathize with either side.  His business is to be fair to them both.  If the novel has another
    purpose, it is to point out that in the pride of our American liberties, we're apt to forget that already
    we've lost a good many to civilization.  The American Indians once enjoyed far more than we.
    Already two hundred years ago, when restrictions were comparatively with us, our ideals and
    restrained manner of existence repelled the Indian.  I thought that perhaps if we understood how
    these First Americans felt toward us even then and toward our white way of life, we might better
    understand the adverse, if perverted, view of us by some African, European, and Asian peoples
    today.
                        -Author's Introduction

As the above paragraph makes clear, this extremely popular youth novel reflects the corrosive self doubt that has eaten away at Western Civilization for most of this century.  Richter tells the story of a fifteen year old boy, named True Son.  He has been raised by Lenni Lenape Indians after being taken from his white parents in a raid; his real name is John Butler.  As the story opens, the boy's Indian father informs him that the terms of a recent treaty (the year is 1764) require the return of all white captives.  The boy desperately hopes to avoid going back and after being returned he continually seeks to escape.  When he eventually returns to the Indians, he goes on a raiding party, but in a fit of conscience, warns away some whites who are about to be ambushed.  His Indian father saves him from execution, but convinces him that he is now so tainted by his white blood that he must return to civilization.

One of the many mistakes that I made in college was to take a Freshman Seminar called American Indian Life Histories.  This class consisted of a small group of students, including several Indians and several kids who had worked on reservations, sitting around a table discussing Indian "autobiographies" with our anthropologist professor.  After biting my tongue through several of these interminable Mau Mau sessions, I interrupted someone's soliloquy about the White Man's Genocide and the beautiful cultures that we destroyed and pointed out that, "We are after all talking about people who couldn't figure out the wheel, had no written language and had a life expectancy of about 35 years."  I was lucky to get out of the room with my scalp.

Suffice it to say, I just don't feel that much sympathy for either the Indians who lost their struggle for dominance of the continent, nor for the crocodile-tear-shedding, hair-shirt-wearing, self-flagellating
white liberals who decry our victory.  I believe that the displacement of the Native American population by Western civilization was an unalloyed good, even for the Indians, whose lives today are infinitely better than they would have otherwise been.

So Richter's essential point is lost on me.  How come it's freedom when illiterate nomadic tribes of Indians live in subhuman conditions, but it's a national crisis when the homeless do the same?  Suppose for just a second that we discovered a lost tribe of Indians today, living in the same conditions as were their ancestors when we landed here 500 years ago.  Not a single liberal would have the temerity to approach an Indian woman, who would after all be living her incredibly short life in virtual slavery, on the edge of starvation, and suggest that she fight to maintain her current standard of living.  Do you hear anyone suggesting that African women go right on ahead and keep enjoying their cultural heritage of female circumcision?

This is an exciting story marred by the kind of starry eyed left wing twaddle that characterizes far too much of children's literature.  The saving grace is Richter's seeming acceptance of the fact that this clash of cultures and the West's victory were inevitable.  I strongly recommend Alan LeMay's great novel The Searchers (read Orrin's review) instead.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C)

  

Websites:

See also:

Children's Books
Book-related and General Links:
    -Early Americana: A Conrad Richter Tribute Page
    -ESSAY: Pine Grove Home To Conrad Richter  (JOHN HOWER)
    -TEACHERS GUIDE: "The Light in the Forest" (Linda Good)
    -STUDENTS PAGE: "The Light in the Forest" (Linda Good)
    -ESSAY: INVENTING OUR PROBABLE PAST (Thomas Fleming, NY Times Book Review)

Comments:

this book made me want to take the book throw it out the window, stomp on it, burn it, and piss on the ashes. It made me want to tear my brain stem out, carry it to the nearest four-way intersection and skip rope with it. You should go around the world and burn down every shop that sells the book. It sucked THAT BAD!!!! Picking your nose would be a better way to spend your time.

- mizzatt to the vizzatt

- Dec-08-2005, 22:46

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i also think that youre an idiot...

- a kid who read the book

- Nov-13-2005, 18:59

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I totally agree with Rob.

- A Kid

- Nov-04-2005, 13:48

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watch the inflammatory language - it brings you down to the level of the "bleeding liberals"...you make strong points that can not be dismissed because they are so obvious and logical, even though they are not politically correct.

- john haas

- Aug-20-2004, 17:56

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you are an idiot.

- rob

- Jul-08-2003, 16:05

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