Response Regarding Images and Fiction

Looking back on the mountain-view that was described as the main character’s of Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers caught sight of Templeton, their hometown, in the distance, Elizabeth, the primary female character, “felt as if all the loveliness of the mountain-view had vanished like the fancies of a dream” (59). While it may be true that during the moments that Elizabeth looked down on the scene, the scene was her reality, this reality was not an accurate portrayal of the town itself‹the point of Elizabeth’s comment. For both Elizabeth and the reader (through Cooper) in the mountain-view the reality of objects was forgotten because no detail was available from the distance at which the party stood. Once the reality was forgotten each of the objects took on qualities not implicit in the object itself. That is, the objects and the scene were idealized. Both Cooper and Elizabeth, then, seemed to take part in the “action of inventing imaginary states of things,” the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition for fiction. The most significant precursor to this fictive account is the change in scale of that occurs. Before the description of the mountain-view commenced Cooper tells of the horses pulling the parties sleigh: “The horses soon reached a point, where they seemed to know by instinct that the journey was nearly ended, and, bearing in the bits, as they nodded their heads, they rapidly drew the sleigh over the level land.” The details of the horses movements explain the senses of the riders and the reality of the situation. Sleighs viewed during the description of the mountain-view, however, are no more than “a few dark and moving spots.” This change in scale obscures all details in the objects being observed. A moment later the “habitations of man” are also called “spots of white . . . amidst the forest.” Even when closer scrutiny is given to less distant “habitations,” only the color is mentioned. In this scene few details of the objects that comprise the scene are given, instead the objects themselves are the details.There is nothing in this lack of details that is fictional, or inventive in itself. But once the details are gone Cooper is not tied down by actual elements of the objects when giving them further meaning. Cooper’s primary method of ascribing further meaning to the objects is through anthropomorphism. A tree on the western horizon, which is, in fact, merely leaning over, is said to be “streched forward, as if to overshadow, with its branches, a spot which its roots were forbidden to enter,” a statement that brings to life not just the tree which Cooper describes as conciously acting on its surroundings, but also the surroundings, which have apparently “forbidden” the tree certain essentials in the tree’s life. The tree becomes more alive when Cooper says, “It had released itself from the thraldom, that a growth of centuries had imposed on the branches of the surrounding forest trees, and threw its gnarled and fantastic arms abroad, in the wildness of liberty.” When Cooper began with the tree it was a mere stationary object, but when he was finished it had become a living representation of pioneer American values. This type of anthropomorphism might have been possible even if Cooper had been closer to the tree, but the lack of details beyond the general form of the tree released him from any constraints on where he could take this fiction.When Elizabeth has come down from this dream she approaches her house and says that “all the loveliness of the mountain view had vanished.” Part of the evidence for this vanishing lies in the “avenue of young and leafless poplars” they ride though as they approach the house. While it is not explicitly stated the leaflessness of the trees is an indication of lifelessness in the scene‹a concrete detail that reflects the reality of the situation in the valley, as stated a moment before in the description of the house, which is “cold [and] dreary.” This is a strong contrast to the description of these same trees from the mountain top where the “few saplings either without branches or possesing only the feeble shoots” are seen as “tall grenadiers on post, near the threshold of princes.” Because the lack of leaves is not apparent from the mountain top the relative lifelessness cannot be focused on. Instead focus is shifted to the shape of the young trees, a trait less related to the current state, or reality of the tree, a trait which can be more easily anthropomorphised, and idealized.This discussion has assumed that fiction is the altering of reality in description and has avoided questions of the nature of reality. Instead, the discussion has simply taken the notion of reality from that one implied by Elizabeth in the novel: that the view from the mountain was some “dream” state, or idealization of her reality. Granted this assumption, it seems clear that Cooper, in the mountain-view, takes objects with intricacies that can scare and depress a person and much more, and, in forgetting these intricacies, turn the objects into mere starting blocks for his imagination. In the end he creates something far different than the village the pioneers knew so intimately. In the same way that Cooper idealizes Templeton in this distant view, D.H. Lawrence claims that Cooper is idealizing America in the greater novel. For, as Lawrence says, “It is perhaps easier to love America passionately, when you look at it through the wrong end of the telescope, across all the Atlantic water, as Cooper did.”