The Last of the Mohicans: Context for the Decline of a Noble People

The Last of the Mohicans is a novel written by James Fenimore Cooper in 1826, set in upper New York wilderness in 1757, the book focuses on the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763). The book follows Alice and Cora Munro, Hawkeye, Chingachgook, Uncas and David Gamut as they attempt to arrive at Fort Willism Henry and the trials they face along the way and after their departure. During this war, both the French and the British used Native American allies in their quest to take control of North America, but the French were more dependent as they were outnumbered in the Northeast frontier areas by the British colonists. The Native Americans potrayed in the text are the Delaware Indians, the Mohicans, the Mohawk, and the Iroquois. The former two groups are painted as good Indians – peaceful, calm, and kind while the latter two are deceitful, bloodthirsty, and vengeful. Though Cooper attempts to paint Native Americans in a more favorable and positive light and show that they are more than just crude savages who enjoy massacring white men and cutting off their scalps, he nevertheless alternatively idealizes and demonizes them.

The Last of the Mohicans is aptly named. It signifies not only the fall of a particular tribe of Native Americans but the fall of all the Indian nations. The arrival of more Europeans on the shores of America served to destroy Native American civilization. The Europeans obviously considered themselves superior to the native people, they were more “advanced” and educated. In short, they were civilized and the Indians were barbaric, savages. There is more to people than the physical things they have accomplished, their technological progress and the like, one most also consider their values, their ideals and their way of life; unfortunately, the European settlers failed to do this in the case of the Native Americans. If one abandons the idea that technological progress, population growth, and conquest are the uncontested hallmarks of an advanced civilization, then what is left is the observation of family dynamics, social support, nourishment, prosperity, and community (Belic). Like many other colonists who were exposed to new cultures – the native people were assumed to be weaker, inferior, something “other” and apart from themselves; these people deserved to be subjugated and conquered, to be invaded and taken over.

In the book, two cultures present in upper New York clash – the whites and the native people are in conflict. These two people simply cannot comprehend the other’s ways. Though they make alliances, they do so because of mutual benefit and not because of any deeper understanding or sympathy. Even Hawkeye, who has a chance to live in both worlds cannot merge both cultures. Hawkeye sees a wide chasm between the ways of the Mingo and those of the white man. He believes that whites have a more enlightened set of values, inspired by Christianity but he also respects indian customs, tradition and religion. Cooper expresses the attitude towars Indians at that time period. He abundantly refers to Native American as “savages”. Magua was “goaded incessantly by those revengeful impulses that in a savage seldom slumber” (Chapter XXVII). Cooper clearly thinks that a revengeful nature is part of an Indian’s repertoire along with craftiness and cunningness. However, he often tries to be objective and refers to Indian culture in a more favorable less-prejudiced manner. We can see this in his depiction of the Mohicans as good Indians and in acknowlwdging the good qualities of the savages.

Race is a subject that is prevalent in the novel and interracial relationships play a huge role in the development of the story. Miscegenation is clearly frowned upon – the British are against mixing with a lowly race. The idea of Magua and Cora marrying is disgusting to all involved. Even Cora is put at a disadvantage because of her black blood – Heyward does not consider her suitable marriage material and she is thought to have inherited racial characteristics/personality traits. It can be inferred that it is because of Cora’s dark blood that she is not initially repulsed by Magua like her sister. She looks at him with “pity, admiration and horror, as her dark eye followed the easy motions of the savage.” (Chapter I). Cora has a more open-minded attitude towards matters of race. She tells Uncas that no one who looked at him would “remember the shade of his skin” (Chapter VI). Others of that time period did not share this view. Though Uncas loves Cora, Hawkeye scoffs at the idea that they are together in the afterlife. He is aware that her family and society would never acknowledge their relationship. It is interesting to note that mixing of races does not extend to friendship between men as evident in the between Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas.

The Europeans influenced the Native Americans in various ways. For example, Magua was driven from the Hurons because the white man introduced the Indians to firewater(alcohol). Europeans also introduced their diseases. Infectious diseases, to which the Native Americans possessed no immunity from spread quickly throughout the land. People were unable to care for the sick, to bury the dead, to gather food, secure water or to maintain their villages or communities. Squanto, a Pawtuxet man that had been captured by the Europeans settlers escaped and went back to his villiage, only to find that there were no survivors. The villiagers had died of a plague that had spread the previous year (Adolf 247). The religious settlers assumed that the diseases were a divine sign of God showing that the natives did not deserve their (Stockwell). The Europeans believed that God was clearing the settlements of unchristian Native Americans for themselves. It is estimated that by the eighteenth century, the Native American population had been reduced to about ten percent of what it had been in 1491. The social structure, support systems of the native americans had crumbled; their tibal leaders had died and entire communities had been destroyed. Tribes had to join together to survive. This went on for centuries and broke down the Native Americans’ sense of self and individualism (Zinn 3; Loewen 77).

The Native Americans had inhabited the North American continent for thousands of years. The lived in peace and harmony and would not have been able to predict the devastion the expansion and oppression of the European people would have on them. The colonies that had been established early on in the 16th and 17th centuries were tolerated and supported by the Native Americans. In spite of this, the Native Americans were mistreated, kidnapped, abused and marginalized. Many Native Americans decided to change their ways and assimilate to European American culture. Some were successful, others were not – they were not fully accepted by the white people or given equal rights; they could not be considered “white” nor could they go back to their Native American origins (Zinn 5).

The French Indian war marked the beginning of the decline of Native American Culture. The historian Fred Anderson writes: “In bringing to an end the French empire in North America, the French and Indian War undermined, and ultimately destroyed, the ability of native peoples to resist the expansion of Anglo-American settlement. The war’s violence and brutality, moreover, encouraged whites—particularly those on the frontier—to hate Indians with undiscriminating fury.” The Indians fearing losing their land decided to side with the French, the side that had a disadvantage in the war and was more understanding of Indian ways. The French lost and The Native Americans were pushed more and more westwards. This occurred for decades until 1830, when President Jackson decided to make it official and put “The Trail of Tears” in motion. President Jackson said his plan to remove the Native Americans to sparsely populated land further west was beneficial to both the natives and the white population but the natives who lost lives, their homeland, habits would not have agreed. Indeed, the Indian removal act completely disregarded the preservation of Native American culture.

The Last of the Mohicans is a book that provides the readers with a window into the French and Indian War. It shows the way several ethnic groups might have interacted with each other and helps us understand the styles and ways of this time period. Cooper has portrayed his views on the Native Americans, their ways and customs and we are able to imagine the tragic decline of a great culture. The Native American culture still exists today but not as it was. Perhaps it will rise again. It is important not to ignore the happenings of history that authors like James Fennimore Cooper have revealed or attempt to rewrite it but to acknowledge the mistakes of the past. The evidence of the marginalization of a whole “different” culture exists. Instead of suppressing this evidence, we must embrace it, only then can we begin to learn the lessons of American history and attempt to be more tolerant and understanding of “other” people.

Works Cited

Adolf, Leonard A. “Squanto’s Role in Pilgrim Diplomacy.” Ethnohistory 11.3 (1964): 247. Academic Search Premier. 15 May 2016. Web.

Fisher, Laura, Deborah Acklin, Eric Stange, Ben Loeterman, Graham Greene, William A. Anderson, Peter Rhodes, Peter Pilafian, James Callanan, Brian Keane, Virginia Johnson, Katha Seidman, Elise Viola, and Rebecca Brown. The War That Made America. , 2006.

Bradley, James. Flyboys. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2003. Print.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. New York; Washington Square Press, 1957.

Happy, Belic, Roko, ed. Noir Studio, 2011. Film.

Stockwell, Mary. The American Story: Perspectives and Encounters to 1865. San Diego: Bridgepoint, 2012. 11 January 2015. Web.

The Role of Family in Wieland and The Last of the Mohicans

The Roles of Family in Wieland and The Last of the Mohicans”There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of BeingTo be a master of the art of fiction is to be a master of the art of manipulation. I am referring not only to the manipulation of the mind of the reader, but also to the manipulation of characters, setting, plot, and perhaps most important, the manipulation of language. In order to successfully engage his or her audience, an author must establish an air of familiarity. When a reader is confronted with characters, situations, or places that they understand on a personal level, the purpose of the author’s words becomes increasingly more evident. One of the most effective manifestations of this idea of “familiarity” between the novelist and the reader is the element of family. First, it must be stated that the two novels addressed in this essay are remarkably dissimilar. Though both novels are set in the mid-to-late 18th-century Northeastern United States, they differ drastically in style and form. Charles Brockden Brown is often described as the grandfather of American Gothic literature, and is credited with influencing the likes of Mary Shelley and Truman Capote. The works of James Fenimore Cooper, however (and specifically the five installments of his “Leatherstocking Tales”), are widely thought of as the foundations for later “frontier novels” and modern-day Western films. Though radically different in almost every other way, both authors utilize the effects of family in a similar fashion. In the opening of Wieland, we receive a brief summary of the life and death of the father of Theodore and Clara Wieland (the novel’s narrator). While it may seem that this summary might serve as a tool to better the reader’s understanding of the Wielands, it in fact reveals very little about our characters. What is revealed in the summary, however, is a deep sense of isolation in the lives of Clara and Theodore Wieland resulting from the early loss of their parents. It soon becomes evident that the isolation experienced by the orphans gave birth to an ignorance that would plague their thinking for the rest of their lives. This is especially evident in the language used by Clara as she describes the years following the death of her parents: The years that succeeded were tranquil and happy. Our lives were molested by few of those cares that are incident to childhood. By accident more than design, the indulgence and yielding temper of our aunt was mingled with resolution and steadfastness. She seldom deviated into either extreme of rigor or lenity. Our social pleasures were subject to no unreasonable restraints. We were instructed in most branches of useful knowledge, and were saved from the corruption and tyranny of colleges and boarding schools. (22) The second biological family that we are introduced to in Wieland is the Pleyels, Catharine and Henry. The family dynamic of the novel is made all the more intricate by the fact that Theodore Wieland weds Catharine Pleyel. This detail combines both of these families into a small, isolated group of friends. Interestingly, with the introduction of Henry Pleyel on page 27, Clara begins referring to their group as a “society”. One would hardly consider a group of four individuals a society, yet Clara, ignorant of the depth of friendships in the outside world, considers “society” to be an apt title for the relationship between them. It is with the appearance of Carwin, or rather the appearance of Carwin’s voice, that Clara’s “society” begins to fall apart. When Theodore swears that his wife’s voice resonates where she is not present, the four friends begin to lose trust in each other. Soon, Theodore begins to slowly but visibly lose his mind in a fashion that mirrors the prophetic fate of his father. Soon, Catharine is found dead and the friends are torn further apart. All of these events cause extreme emotions to arise in the heart of the reader. This point recalls both the opening quote of this paper, and the aforementioned idea of “familiarity” in literature. If it were not for the extreme detail with which the characters are profiled, the identification of these characters as members of families, and the fact that the characters are painted in such a way that affects the reader to view them as “someone”, there would be little or no emotion created by the circumstances surrounding the characters’ fates. In other words, once the reader acknowledges a character as someone who is loved, someone with emotions, or someone who is a member of a family, the plight of said character evokes feelings that are comparable to the sentiment that would arise if the same fate was beset upon a living person. This effect, which I will call “compassionate catharsis”, occurs multiple times in The Last of the Mohicans, even though the structure of family differs wildly from that of Wieland. This statement should not be deemed contradictory to my previous assertion that both Brown and Cooper utilize the effects of family in similar ways. We have seen that in Wieland, there are two biological families that create a small, isolated community. The irony of these two families is that they seem to have very little idea of what family really means. In The Last of the Mohicans, however, the two main families (the Munros and the Mohicans) are extremely close-knit. Not only do they know the meaning of the word “family”, but they also go to great lengths to keep their families intact. Regardless of the differences in the structure and idea of family from novel to novel, the same compassionate catharsis is achieved when a member of a family meets their doom. However, I believe that the numerous occurrences of compassionate catharsis in The Last of the Mohicans are intensified by the tremendous love that the characters show for each other throughout the novel. The most powerful example of compassionate catharsis comes in the 32nd chapter of The Last of the Mohicans, with the murder of Cora Munro. When Uncas jumps down from the trees to rescue his lover, he frightens her captor (one of Magua’s men) and causes him to plunge his knife into Cora’s chest. Magua then stabs Uncas in the back; Uncas, however, recovers from the attack and succeeds in avenging Cora’s death just before he is stabbed three more times by the blade of Magua, who is then killed by Hawkeye. The following day, Cora and Uncas are buried side-by-side in a scene that remains one of the most beautiful ever put to paper. In these two novels, the family serves as an emotional tie between reader and character. How these feelings manifest themselves depends on the psyche of the reader, but there is one thing that we can be sure of: a great novel holds remarkable power over humanity, allowing humans to feel emotions that transcend the reality of their present situation.

Cora Munro’s Sexual and Maternal Instincts in The Last of the Mohicans

Cora Munro’s relationship with her younger, fairer sister Alice demonstrates a distinct mother-daughter pattern that manifests itself in every interaction between the two women. Throughout James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, the character of Cora continuously hides her sister’s face in her bosom as an indication of undying protection from the ravages of the American frontier. Alice depends on Cora as her champion and defender but, most unmistakably as a mother figure. Cora maintains a immutable position of motherly nurture with her sister, however, when interacting with other frontier characters, Cora shifts her style of human interaction towards a conscious understanding of her gender capacity. Though not overtly sexual, Cora does demonstrate a cognizance of female sexuality and feminine influence on various male characters. Cora does not often demonstrate motherly instinct while practicing the powers of her sex; rather, her authority particular to each sphere manifests itself during situations of great conflict and tension concerning Alice or, separately, the other surrounding male characters.The narrator refers to Cora’s motherly intuition in many instances, but most especially when Alice demonstrates a case of need or dependence. When Alice shows doubt and fear, Cora immediately rushes to protect and soothe her. Cooper writes, “For many moments the elder sister looked upon the younger, with a countenance that wavered with powerful and contending emotions. At length she spoke, though her tones had lost heir rich and calm fulness, in an expression of tenderness, that seemed maternal” (109). Cooper writes clearly of the strong bond that exists between the sisters while illustrating a power relationship that has Cora playing the role of shepherd and Alice as that of a small, helpless lamb. Moreover, Cooper repeatedly shows the character of Alice grasping onto the arm of Duncan Heyward‹an obvious physical need for refuge and shield‹while Cora remains free of an explicit male bond and receives the admiration of the remaining men from afar. Alice, the weaker of the two, appeals to her sister for attention while Cora remains aloof and confident. Cooper, at many instances, describes Cora with almost beatific characteristics which heighten her esteem and power as a female character. Her motherly feelings towards Alice verge on the saintly; Cora often rises above common human sensibility and takes on the role of a martyr in the manner that a mother would for her child.Cora’s motherly instincts, however, are contrasted with her femininity and sexual command. Hawk-Eye, Uncas, Duncan and many other men look upon her as a powerful and alluring female figure‹a female to contend with rather than protect. When Uncas speaks to her about accompanying her during her plight, Cora says, “ŒGo, generous young man,'” and Cooper then describes, “Cora continued, lowering her eyes under the gaze of the Mohican, and, perhaps, with an intuitive consciousness of her power” (79). Though he does not overtly indicate a knowledge of sexual power, Cooper does imply that Cora’s awareness of her sexuality and interaction with males. At another point, when Cora implores Chief Tamenund to free the captives, Coopers writes of his reaction, “Cora had cast herself to her knees, and with hands clenched in each other, and pressed upon her bosom, she remained like a beauteous and breathing model of her sex, looking up in his faded, but majestic countenance, with a species of holy reverence. Gradually, the expression of Tamenund’s features changed, and losing their vacancy in admiration, they lighted with a portion of that intelligence, which, a century before, had been wont to communicate his youthful fire to the extensive bands of the Delawares” (303). Both of Cooper’s descriptions show Cora’s usage and understanding of sex as a powerful medium of change. Her attitude during these particular interactions differ considerably from the chaste, motherly interchanges with Alice and indicate a complex character development and a dueling concept of purity and motherhood, eroticsm and sexuality.