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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The concept of hybridity is central to the novel’s thematic
explorations of race and family. Hybridity is the mixing of separate
elements into one whole, and in the novel it usually occurs when
nature and culture intersect, or when two races intersect. For example, Cora
is a hybrid because her mother was black and her father white. Hawkeye
is a hybrid because he is white by blood and Indian by habit. Part
of Hawkeye’s success comes from his ability to combine elements
of the European and Indian worlds. With Hawkeye, Cooper challenges
the idea that essential differences separate the two cultures. Cooper’s
depictions of hybridity predate the nineteenth century’s extensive
debate on the term’s cultural and scientific meanings. The term
“hybridity” became popular at the end of the nineteenth century,
when rapid developments in genetics occurred.
Cooper uses the motif of disguise to resolve plot difficulties
and to provide comic relief. The fantastical nature of the disguises
also detracts from the believability of Cooper’s story. Indians
who have known the land their whole life, for example, mistake a
man disguised in a beaver costume as an actual beaver. These unrealistically convincing
costumes are part of Cooper’s move away from realism. Disguise is
characteristic of the romantic genre, which favors excesses of imagination
over the confinements of reason. The Last of the Mohicans wants
to be simultaneously a historically specific narrative, an adventure
novel, and a romance. Cooper plays with the comic possibilities
of romance, especially by exaggerating human appearances. Disguise
therefore proves not only a practical solution to plot dilemmas
but an indication that Cooper intends to make his novel partly an
Inheritance informs the novel’s thematic portrayals of
family redefinition. The idea of inheritance frequently recurs in
the father-son relationship of Hawkeye and Uncas. When Chingachgook
disappears in the middle of the novel, Hawkeye becomes a father
figure for Uncas and oversees Uncas’s coming-of-age. Hawkeye gives Uncas
a valuable inheritance, teaching him and showing him how to become
a man and a leader.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Last of the Mohicans!