The Last of the Mohicans

by: James Fenimore Cooper

Chapters I–II

Cooper’s characters embody some of the broad stereotypes held during the colonization of America. Racial tensions underlie The Last of the Mohicans. At this point in the novel, Magua represents the nineteenth-century stock figure called the noble savage, an Indian for whom the white population feels both sympathy and horror. Whites may celebrate Magua for his willingness to help them, but they also fear his cultural differences and his familiarity with a terrain they find fearsome. Cora embodies the typical white reaction to Indians—terror and fascination. Cooper also suggests that Cora feels a sexual attraction to Magua. Attractions like Cora’s, or even the imagined possibility of such attractions, terrified white males, who feared intermarriage and interracial sexual contact between Indian men and white women. This fear of interracial contact partially motivated the widespread removal of Native Americans during the nineteenth century. Cooper complicates the stereotype of the white woman attracted to the Indian man by making Cora dark, her hair black like a raven. Cora transgresses society’s rules when she looks at Magua with desire, but in some ways, Cooper suggests, her desire for him seems natural.

These two chapters both begin with epigraphs from Shakespeare’s plays—one from Richard II and the other from The Merchant of Venice. By invoking the lofty language of Shakespeare, Cooper announces his intention to write serious literary fiction. In the early nineteenth century, when Cooper was writing, the American novel was a fairly new form and its respectability uncertain. Cooper aims to give the American novel credence by quoting Shakespeare. Richard II chronicles the fall of a king, an appropriate subject for The Last of the Mohicans, which depicts a society that will one day shake off kingly rule and become democratic. The Merchant of Venice is famous for its treatment of anti-Semitism in the Jewish figure of Shylock; quoting from that play suggests that the novel will explore racism.


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