How does The Last of the Mohicans bring together elements of the sentimental novel and the frontier adventure story?
Cooper weaves together elements of the sentimental novel, such as love and marriage, and elements of the frontier adventure, such as warfare and racial conflict. He creates friendships and psychological tensions among his characters that are typical of both genres. Cooper emphasizes the various happy, tragic, and romantic results of intercultural mingling. He uses female characters to carry the narrative weight of sentimentality, but he also introduces them into the combat situations that define the frontier adventure. Cooper makes warfare more dramatic and emotional by imbuing it with sentimental elements of romance. He heightens the novel’s drama by pitting the Indian figure of good, Uncas, against the Indian figure of evil, Magua, in a contest for the love of a white girl, Cora Munro. Cooper uses the two men’s interracial desires, so different in intent and tone, to give psychological depth to the otherwise simple opposition between white and Indian. Cooper thus creates a hybrid genre, frontier romance, by linking sentiment and war.
Discuss the relationship between history and fiction in The Last of the Mohicans. How do historical events relate to the literary genres that classify Cooper’s novel?
While the actual historical event of the French and Indian War (1757) frames this novel, Cooper uses history primarily as a springboard for the imagined relationships among his fictional characters. Moreover, the historical setting is not realistic. Cooper might mention one or two real battles, but he intentionally tempers this realism with such devices as outlandish disguises and improbable last-minute heroics. Cooper includes the comic effects of Hawkeye dressed as a bear and Chingachgook disguised as a beaver. The Last of the Mohicans is a romance, a genre deriving from the British Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century that emphasizes imagination over reason and allows for comedy. Cooper uses history as a frame and fills it with the imaginative movements of the romance plot.
What role does the concept of the frontier play in The Last of the Mohicans?
For Europeans, the frontier was almost uncharted territory, land not yet controlled by a government or divided up into parcels. The wilds of the frontier seem to inspire illicit desires, such as Uncas’s and Cora’s desire for one another. It also seems an appropriate backdrop for outbreaks of violence such as the Indians’ sudden massacre of the English at Fort William Henry. The frontier allows for communion with nature. Hawkeye lives the idealized version of frontier life. A mixture of white and Indian cultures, Hawkeye lives according to the natural rhythms of the landscape, which encourage and celebrate his long-lasting friendship with the Mohican Chingachgook. The Last of the Mohicans prizes nature over European civilization.
1. The Native Americans in Cooper’s novel seem either entirely good (Uncas and Chingachgook) or entirely evil (Magua and most of the Hurons). Are there any believable Indian characters in the novel? Is Cooper guilty of invoking racial stereotypes in his portrayal of Indians?
2. Compare and contrast the father-son relationship of Chingachgook and Uncas with the father-daughter relationship of Munro and his daughters.
3. In what way is Hawkeye the hero of the book? As the hero, why isn’t Hawkeye involved in either of the novel’s love stories?
4. Discuss three examples of the clash between races or cultures. What do the three examples show about Cooper’s views on racism?
5. The nineteenth-century language of the novel can seem excessively formal and elaborate to modern readers. Do you think the novel’s language interferes with the excitement of its story? Why or why not?