The Last of the Mohicans Essay
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The Last of the Mohicans Essay
The Last of the Mohicans is a famous novel by James Fennimore Cooper. It is a story of love, jealousy, betrayal, flight, captivity, and frontier warfare. All this makes it one of the best adventure stories of all times. This paper will not provide the reader with book summary, because mostly everyone is familiar with it. Rather, the paper will have the following structure. First, it will discuss the theme of the work, its development and historical context. Second, the paper will present the main characters of the book, focusing on the development of the main character Hawkeye. Third, the paper will show the reflection of the trend of romanticism in Cooper’s story. Finally, the paper will present three works of criticism and the personal interpretation.
I believe that there are four main themes developed by James Fennimore Copper in The Last of the Mohicans: the social changes (particularly changes in family order), the role of religion for the people notwithstanding the conditions they find themselves living in, social and racial differences, and overcoming them through love and friendship, and finally, war and how individuals may cope with and live through it.
When showing the situation at the frontier, presenting how the social roles evolve in the society the author calls for the changes in the existing family order. These changes are brought about by the unusual circumstances, under which the families had to live every day. The example of this transformation is showed through the fact that Unca’s real father disappears and Hawkeye becomes a father for him. Of course, the author shows that Chingachgook’s missing, that occurred without prior notice or reasons, is negative. However, he does not blame him, but rather posits that there are times when usual family norms have to be reconsidered and best necessary solution should be implemented.
Consequently, the development of this topic is culminated with the conclusion that norms and rules become outdated as people evolve and face with problems unknown before.
The role of religion is a theme developed all through the book, the way it is presented is two-fold. From one point we see that the author scoffs at Gamut’s Calvinistic religious views. This is shown through the ironic tone, which his opinion, is mentioned with. Irony is also shown through Hawkeye’s skepticism as to Gamut’s views. The first message the reader can derive is that religion is useful only when it accepts peaceful coexistence with other. I believe that religion is one of the leitmotivs of the novel. When reading carefully, it is possible to see that Cooper believes religion to be a very important part of one’s life. Though, as well as with the family order, he considers that approach to religion should be altered according with the hard life at the frontier. The tool of irony here is used to develop the theme.
To develop the racial issues theme the author presents his characters as a hybrid. For example, in Cora’s character he adds together different racial traits (her father and her mother being from different racial backgrounds). The same is applicable when it comes to Hawkeye’s character, he is portrayed to be native American by origin, but white by life style. This way Cooper poses the question of diversity and cultural differences (“Should we distrust the man because his manners are not our manners, and that his skin is dark?” p. 25), viewing how well two origins can coexist in one character.
Finally, Cooper shows the challenging and dangerous frontier life (p. 4). The setting of the novel the time of the French and Indian War. Thus, it would have been impossible for this theme not to be developed. The author develops this theme using the tool of alienation. Although, the characters live through the war and suffer its consequences, they also still lead the regular life with love, friendship, quarrels, and heartbreaks, alienating from the war reality.
In this section of the paper I would like to briefly mention the main characters of the novel, concentrating on the character of Hawkeye. The negative character of the novel is Magua, who has been removed from his tribe for severe drinking by Colonel Munro, and is now willing to take revenge. Colonel is a father of Cara and Alice, born from different mothers (black and Scottish origin). He is a strong figure that is, however, hurt badly by the war. Cara is a hot-tempered young lady, whose character is influence by her half black origin. Her sister Alice is a total opposite to her. She is weak and fragile, tending to faint at important moments. Major Heyward is a young colonist, who Alice loves, he is smart, intelligent, and well-educated. However, he lacks practical life knowledge and often finds frontier life ambiguous. Chingachgook is an old friend of Hawkeye, and is member of Mohican tribe. Finally, Gamut is a young Calvinist fellow spreading the word of Christ.
The above characters help the author develop the main character – that is Hawkeye. Hawkeye proves to be good at every task. He is brave and honest, proud and clever. He mixes elements of different cultures and provides a link between them. Hawkeye’s background is hybrid, the author plottes it so to show the many-sidedness of racial and cultural concepts. We see that Hawkeye understands nature, it even seems that he is more comfortable in the wild rather than in civilization. However, he is not Native American, he does not poses himself as being one. At the same time he admires the Indian culture and way of life, and feels content living like them. Hawkeye believes in interracial friendships, however disapproves of interracial relationships. Through Hawkeye’s character the author shows his attitude to this question, that is that such relationships are doomed. Conclusively, Hawkeye’s character is developed through showing his attitudes to nature, war, love, and friendship through a prism of multicultural background.
Cooper’s work is an adventure novel that goes hand in hand with the trend of romanticism of that time. The influence of European romanticism is shown in the way Cooper emphasizes the nature and its beauty, in the way he uses past flashbacks, individualism, and exotic sometimes challenging locations. In The Last of the Mohicans we find ourselves at a time period during the third year of the war. The author refers to the past war happenings, also bringing along characters’ memories of the pre war and beginning of war times. The setting of the novel is the prairie, Cooper vividly describes the nature, pointing out that the discussed period was a very challenging, though beautiful period in American life. Finally, Cooper presents Hawkeye’s individualistic ideas, a move also brought about by romantic trends. He shows that for Hawkeye his freedom and independence is the most important thing in the world. We see that he is a person of strong values that he is not willing to scarify no matter what is happening.
Cooper’s book has always received an overwhelmingly positive response from the critics. This is true up to today. Partly, probably, because this book is believed to be one of the best American classical works, and partly because Fennimore Cooper is believed to the founding father of romantic American literature. Even though, Cooper’s work was well accepted, the meaning and symbolism in his novel and characters had been a topic of debate. The popularity of the book met its decline when Mark Twain published his work called “Fennimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” (July 1895) in American Review. In this work Mark Twain criticized the author and the tools he used, changing the status of the novel to the one of a simple adventure story. After WWI the book received its appreciation back, becoming again one of main topic of literary debate. It fact Cooper was said to have established a totally new literary style “dramatic poetry as fiction” (the Last of the Mohicans, Critical Review).
According to Davey, the work has been so famous at its time and after that because the author used melodramatic, simplistic conventions. These common conventions attract and keep the attention of the reader. However at the same time he criticizes Cooper’s sensuality basing his opinion on the opinion of other critiques. In the same critique Davey suggest an interesting thing being that Cooper employed a very interesting type of romantics in the novel – the gothic one. However, gothic romance is used only up until chapter number 5 following the death of the colt (Davey). Finally, in the critical reviews of the book, there are opinions that Cooper idealized the Native American characters in his work. For example Chingachgook is idealized for being strong, smart and sensitive. This argument was met with a counter argument that Cooper also demonizes his of his Indian characters as well (The Last of the Mohicans, Review).
Personally I believe Cooper’s novel not be a historical one, but rather a romantic one. This is so because while the love line in the story I am able to fully trust, the historical line is rather untrustworthy. By this I mean simply that this book should not be used as a reference to the real happenings at the frontier. However, it does provide readers with the impressive and well structured story of the characters’ development and their lives in difficult conditions. For me, the most interesting point is how Cooper symbolically shows that men and women are different and they have been made so to complete each other. This way I find some echo of modern feministic movements and the opposition of many to it.
The author uses vivid language and long sentences, which I personally as a reader did not enjoy. However, I have to point out that in order to even out the lengthy parts of the novel Cooper uses ironical situations or love scenes not to indulge into the stately prose. I also have to mention Cooper’s objectivity shown in a way that he is ready to admit the negative qualities of both whites and Native Americans, and does not miss the opportunity to admire the strengths of the two.
To sum up, I would like to state my opinion as to the main topic of the novel. I consider that the author is willing to emphasize the meaning and significance of religion in people’s lives. Sometimes he makes this emphasis openly, sometimes it is disguised and symbolic. However, no matter how he is doing it, the point stays the same. He believes that people have god given qualities that they should cherish and pamper, the later will lead to salvation.
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