Cooper suggests that the landscape poses real danger. The characters have extreme difficulty traveling safely through the frontier wilderness. Still, the group manages to meet the challenges of nature by exploiting nature itself—they take cover under fog, for example, and walk barefoot through the stream to hide their tracks. The ability of the group to thwart the challenges of nature subtly critiques Gamut’s Calvinist doctrines, which include the belief that man’s destiny is predetermined and human action cannot alter it. The group undermines this theory by forging its own destiny and manufacturing improbable survivals. Calvinism is a strict form of Protestantism derived from the teachings of French theologian John Calvin, and it soared in popularity during the first half of the nineteenth century. Both the masses and the literary elite followed Calvinist teachings. Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville, influential writers of the American generation following Cooper’s, embraced its fatalistic doctrines.
When the party encounters the French army surrounding the gates of Fort William Henry, the novel shifts its focus back to the history of the French and Indian War. The siege of Fort William Henry actually took place, and Cooper uses historical events such as this siege to give credence to his fictional plot and its messages about race relations.
Cooper implies that Cora’s own mixed race explains her desire for an interracial relationship. Although Cooper opposes racism, he makes the racist suggestion that it is more natural for Cora to desire Uncas because of her own race, whereas it would not be as natural for the white Alice to desire Uncas. For the most part, however, Cooper stresses that Cora’s race ennobles her. She straddles the divide between white and Indian culture and is far stronger and more interesting than her sister.
Characters respond differently to the specter of interracial love. Hawkeye, Cooper’s ideal heroic figure of the frontier, fervently opposes racial mixing despite his own easy friendship with Indians. Munro realizes that society condemns his marriage to a black woman, and while he acts ashamed of his first wife by stressing the great distance of her enslaved ancestors, he also angrily defends his wife and his daughter. Munro accuses Heyward of racism, a charge that troubles the latter. Although he denies his racism, Munro’s charge makes Heyward examine himself, and he realizes that his racism goes as deep “as if it had been ingrafted in his nature.”