The Last of the Mohicans

by: James Fenimore Cooper


Analysis: Chapters XVIII–XXIII

In these chapters, Cooper ponders the moral significance of the massacre. Cora and Alice do not appear in these chapters, and Cooper temporarily turns away from the sentimental concerns of love and marriage to write about the acts of physical violence that men perpetrate against one another. Cooper condemns the interracial violence that occurs at the fort, using the distress of the characters to show his own distress. He absents the religious man Gamut from the scenes, which suggests that Cooper does not oppose unprovoked violence on religious grounds but on absolute moral grounds. No matter the time, place, or creed, the slaughter of a woman and child is wrong.

Cooper condemns those who practice violence rashly and praises those who remain calm and murder only because necessity demands it. When Heyward, Munro, and Uncas desire immediate retribution, they threaten to repeat the very brutal hastiness for which they condemn the Hurons. The measured deliberation of Chingachgook and Hawkeye counterbalances the dangers of rash action. Heyward acts like an eager, bloodthirsty schoolboy when he excitedly theorizes about the noises he hears and asks to know what happened. Cooper contrasts his yipping with the calm and sobriety of Chingachgook and Uncas, who display the scalps of their murder victims without pride or excitement. They had to kill in order to save their lives and their friends’ lives, but they did so carefully, without allowing bloodlust or excitement to overwhelm them.

Cooper takes great liberties with historical events to make his villains seem more villainous and his heroes more heroic. Cooper fabricates the idiocy of the Hurons in order to make them unappealing. In Chapter XXII, Heyward poses as a clown and successfully impersonates a French doctor. Because the Hurons fall for this ruse, they appear foolish. Cooper satirizes the Indians for failing to distinguish between the science and recreation of white culture. But Cooper’s ridicule is not malicious; it stems from his attempt to make his narrative more riveting, to give his readers a group against whom they can root.

The disguises that fill these chapters suggest the novel’s debt to traditional romances. The British Romantic age began officially with the 1798 publication of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but the techniques of romance—including comedy, burlesque, exaggeration, and disguise—date back to the medieval period and the fabliaux of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Romantic writing of the nineteenth century emphasizes imagination over reason. Although Cooper grounds his novel in historical events, imagination dictates the course of the plot.