The Last of the Mohicans



Summary Chapters XXX–XXXIII


Uncas emerges as a hero in Chapter XXX, counteracting Magua’s false claims to leadership in earlier chapters. Hawkeye acts as a father figure for Uncas in several chapters, and here it seems that Hawkeye has passed on to his surrogate son his qualities of leadership and charisma. Cooper suggests that the natural landscape spawns familial bonds that move beyond the constraints of genetic relationship. Also, Hawkeye and Uncas’s father-son bond works in a crudely practical way, since Chingachgook disappears from the plot during the preceding chapters, effectively leaving Uncas without a father figure. Hawkeye is a useful father figure for Uncas, since Hawkeye moves easily between Indian and white cultures. It is Hawkeye, the hybrid white and Indian, who orchestrates the plan for reuniting Cora, the white, and Uncas, the Indian. Cora is not just a blank stereotype who must be saved according to the conventions of sentimental heroism; for Hawkeye, she is his surrogate son’s beloved. The search for Cora becomes personal and familial because of Hawkeye’s bond with Uncas.

Uncas demonstrates a willingness to play on other Indians’ belief in the supernatural. For example, Uncas exploits Tamenund’s belief that Uncas is a reincarnation of his grandfather. Even though Uncas uses mysticism to his tactical advantage, Cooper suggests that the mystical beliefs of Tamenund have some truth. Only after Tamenund identifies Uncas as a leader does Uncas initiate the war ritual and begin to command troops of Indians. Uncas becomes a true leader, but Magua cannot lead despite his continual attempts to gain control. While Magua attempts to win over the Delawares through oratory and racist taunting, his words do not sway the Delawares for long. He has neither the physical prowess of Hawkeye nor the spiritual blessing of Tamenund. Magua tries too hard, and he loses to men who fall gracefully, almost accidentally, into their leadership roles.

The conclusion of The Last of the Mohicans ties together the strands of the sentimental novel and the frontier adventure. In a satisfying conclusion to the adventure narrative, the forces of good defeat the evil Magua. In a sad but artistically satisfying ending, the stars of the sentimental novel die. Cora and Uncas meet an unsurprising fate, in some ways. Readers of sentimental novels depended on dramatic, tear-jerking endings. Cora and Uncas suffer the tragic fate of doomed love, while Alice and Heyward, the conventional white lovers, will live happily ever after. Perhaps Cooper gives greater narrative dignity to Cora and Uncas by dooming them to death; perhaps he implies that they must die because their backward society cannot accept their love; or perhaps he suggests that they die because different races should not mix.

Cooper’s own position on interracial romance is ambiguous, for he offers little editorial commentary on the subject. However, Cooper’s hero Hawkeye opposes interracial marriage, and as hero he might serve as a mouthpiece for the author’s own views. When the Delawares optimistically chant that Cora and Uncas will be together in the afterlife, Hawkeye demonstrates his obsession with racial purity by “[shaking] his head like one who knew the error of their simple creed.”

The novel ends with compassionate pessimism about race relations. Munro wants to express a hope that white and Indians will one day meet in a place where skin color no longer matters, but Hawkeye says that to suggest racial equality to the Delawares is to contradict nature. It is like telling them that the sun does not shine in the daytime. His words are ambiguous. They might be the assertion of a racist man who does not believe in equality, or they might be the defeated words of a realist who knows that these Delawares will never know racial equality in their lifetime.

Tamenund meditates on the decline of the Mohican tribe, reminding us of the title’s significance. In his death, Uncas brings together the sentimental novel and the frontier adventure. The sentimental novel requires tragic love, and Uncas was predetermined to die for his passion. At the same time, in the frontier adventure Uncas plays the symbolic role of vanishing native. With him, Cooper explores genocidal white power and its capability to wipe out Indian populations. The murder of Uncas, the last member of his tribe, foreshadows the destruction of Indian culture by the advances of European civilization across North America.