The last of the Mohicans, a novel by James Fenimore Cooper, is set in the 1757, during a period when England and France are engaged in a war for the control of the America and Canada. The story is set in the American frontier in the period before the industrial revolution of the 19th century. The author illustrates the frontier as a place characterized by unexploited forests, unexplored mountains, fresh water rivers, and natural caves. The frontier is not only naturally beautiful, but also characterized by a lurking hazard of attacks by the inhabitant Indian communities. For a story set in such a medieval time, the plot might not easily appeal to the reader. However, the author expertly utilizes symbolism, repetition, description, and the dual themes of conflict and the fate of Native Indians to develop the plot in the story, and illustrate the time and place of the main events.
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In the story the main themes of conflict and the fate of Native Americans are developed to indicate human societies bitterly divided by their racial, religious, and political identities. The conflict between man and nature in the attempt to possess and control the land and its inhabitants is present throughout the story. At the beginning of the story, Cooper describes the unconquered state of the land in vivid details. The Aborigines inhabit the land in “the frontiers of Canada, deep within the borders of the neighboring province of New York” (Cooper 1).The terrain is extremely hostile due to “wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests… rapids of the streams, or …rugged passes of the mountains.” (1) The land is also beautiful and appeals separately to the inhabitants who intend to protect its natural beauty while the Europeans seek to satiate the “selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe” (1). The conflict between man and nature lasts throughout the story indicating that the setting occurred during a period of the war and did not proceed to the civilization period.
Similarly, the frontier is symbolically used to depict the place, time, and events that occurred therein. Firstly, it is an area that demarcates a physical place where nature and humans come into direct conflict. The historical context of the story depicts a ferocious conflict between civilization fronted by the Europeans and the perceived savagery of the indigenous community. The conflict arises as the Europeans seek to wrestle America from nature and the Aborigines. A more recent conflict occurs between the English and the French for administrative control of the American continent. The physical frontier is repeatedly described as an area of land with rugged terrain, waterfalls, hills, and thick forests symbolizing nature’s resistance to human control. The terrain is extremely rugged, making life in the frontier both difficult and dangerous for the natives and the whites alike.
Additionally, the frontier also symbolizes the cultural differences and hostilities that exist between the various societies in the story. According to the author, a battle loss by English troops to an army of French troops and Indian natives resulted in “a wide frontier…laid naked by this unexpected disaster, and more substantial evils.” The frontier also represented the deep resentment and constant conflict between the Mohicans and the Huron Indians who have engaged in historical atrocities against each other. The Indian-Indian frontier is apparently endorsed by the civilized Europeans when Hawkeye posits that scalping was “a cruel and an unhuman act for a whiteskin” and proceeds to observe that “’tis the gift and natur’ of an Indian, and I suppose it should not be denied” (138). This happens after Chingachgook, a Mohican scalps a French scout. However, Hawkeye had been impassive earlier as Chingachgook scalped dead Hurons after the rescue of Alice and Cora (115). The cultural differences between the white people and the Indians, coupled with the varied perceptions of the appropriate punishment constitute a social frontier.
Furthermore, the author uses various stylistic devices to develop his themes and illustrate the major events in the story. Firstly, the author uses description to introduce the place, the time, and the place where the events in the story occur. The characters in the story are thus generally described as, “the hardy colonist….the trained European who fought at his side (and)… the practiced native warriors.” Further, the physical setting is described as “the rapids of the streams… the rugged passes of the mountains” in quest of an opportunity to exhibit their courage in a more martial conflict. But, emulating the patience and self-denial of illustrate the major events happening throughout the story. At the beginning of the story the author describes the physical settings in detail physical setting, the reader can deduce the time of the events as “…during the third year of the war which England and France last waged for the possession of a country that neither was destined to retain.” The statement enables the reader to accurately relate the major events occurring in the story and the times when they took place.
Cooper also uses imagery and repetition to describe an ongoing war between the native Indian communities. The Huron Indians are repeatedly branded as savages in the story. The Hurons Indians are also repeatedly characterized as cruel and inhuman as exemplified when they “dashed the head of the infant against a rock” (179), when Magua and his team feast on a raw deer “without any aid from the science of cookery”(99), and when Magua’s rejection of the ransom of “gold, silver, powder, lead” and the promise Hawkeye’s assurance that “all that a warrior needs shall be in thy wigwam, all that becomes the greatest chief” (Cooper 325). Magua still refused to release Cora with the aim of marrying her off to the Huron Indian tribe.
The author also uses contrast to portray the contest between good and evil. Magua and his Huron Indian tribe are portrayed as the antagonists. Cora, faced with imminent death, describes Magua as “a savage, a barbarous and ignorant savage” who “knows not what he does” (102). In contrast, the Mohican Indians, represented by Uncas and Chingachgook, are illustrated as kind people as demonstrated when Chingachgook’s adopted Hawkeye and brought him up as one of his children. Cooper also utilizes contrast in the characters of Alice, the beautiful, fair, naïve girl, and her sister who is described as the dark-skinned, strong willed mature girl. Finally, the language used in the story is characteristic of the period before civilization when American linguistics had not refined through the influence of English migrants. Finally, the fate of the indigenous American is represented in the conflict between Magua and Uncas which results in the death of the last Mohican, and the loss of an indigenous society. While the European immigrants prosper, the indigenous population diminish and are dispossessed of land and culture. Magua and Uncas represent a community whose existence is threatened by the spread of the white man’s civilization.
The story’s plot is divided into two parts with the initial part set in a world undergoing civilization after colonialist forces arrive in the frontier while the second part is set in the uncivilized land inhabited by the Indians. The main event in the story, as articulated in the title, is the final disappearance of the Mohican Indian tribe after the American civilization (Blakemore 22). The French and English war is used as the story’s background. The French army recruits the native Indians to fight alongside them while the English attempt to attain political control of the country by dislodging the Indians and the French. Most conflicts in the story are related to the ongoing war. The events in the story happen at a time when the colonialist explorers are surging west and ruthlessly seeking to gain the administrative control of new lands. The book is set in New York State during the French and English war.
Essentially Cooper’s writing differs with other American fictional writers who mainly cast the indigenous Indians as a savage, cruel, and uncivilized community. For example, in Mary Rowlandson’s The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, the Aborigines are solely described as “cruel savages”. Cooper, however, strikes a balance in assigning roles to his characters. There is a balanced population of antagonists and protagonists from the two sides of the social frontier. For example, after Hawkeye’s lengthy interaction with Mohicans, he concludes that “we all worship, under different names, will be mindful of their charity; and that the time shall not be distant when we may assemble around his throne without distinction of sex, or rank, or color.” The statement indicates although civilization is not fully embraced, the savage Aborigines could be civilized and even practice Christianity like David (Hillson 50-55).
The aborigines are also portrayed as a community capable of sharing family love. In one instance, “the manhood of Heyward felt no shame in dropping tears over this spectacle of affectionate rapture” (95) when Cora publicly displays her love for Alice. However, the stereotypical savagery of the indigenous Indians still features in Cooper’s work as demonstrated when Indians, including the Mohicans repeatedly scalp most of their prisoners after war. In one instance, Uncas demonstrates savagery “leaping on an enemy, with a single, well directed blow of his tomahawk, cleft him to the brain” (Cooper 112). The illustration of the savagery indicates that American civilization had not yet taken place.
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