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 amusing romance.
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.