James Fenimore Cooper was born on September 15, 1789 and by the time of his death; he was considered the “national novelist” of America. In his novel, The Last of the Mohicans, we have a classic story set in the 1700’s. During this time, the French and Indian War is raging, complicated by an additional dispute between two Indian tribes, the Mohicans and the Hurons. Throughout the book we see characters with hearts that are strong and brave, but in spite of the characters, we see the inhumanity of the cruelty of the war. In The Last of the Mohicans, the theme is a conflict between civilization and savagery, and Cooper portrays a clash between races/cultures through the interracial friendship of Hawkeye and Chingachgook, through the barbarity between the Mohicans and the Hurons, and through the interracial love between Cora and Uncas. Cooper portrays a clash between races/cultures through the interracial friendship of Hawkeye and Chingachgook. The two main characters that portray this culture clash are Hawkeye, a white hunter, and Chingachgook, his Mohican ally. Cooper uses this quotation, “While one of these loiterers showed the red skin and wild accouterments of a native of the woods, the other exhibited, through the mask of his rude and nearly savage equipments, the brighter, though sun-burned and long-faced complexion of one who might claim descent from a European parentage” , to foreshadow that there is going to be a clash of cultures by showing how they differ just by appearance. Although both men are hunters, they use different weapons. Hawkeye carries a knife and a long rifle, but no tomahawk, as explained in this quote, “He also bore a knife in a girdle of wampum, like that which confined the scanty garments of the Indian, but no tomahawk” , as well as in this quote, “though a rifle of great length, which the theory of the more ingenious whites had taught them was the most dangerous of all fire-arms, leaned against a neighboring sapling” .
Chingachgook carries a short rifle, knife, and a tomahawk, as explained in this quote, “A tomahawk and scalping knife, of English manufacture, were in his girdle; while a short military rifle, of that sort with which the policy of the whites armed their savage allies” . Chingachgook questions Hawkeye about the difference in the weapons in this quote, “Is there no difference, Hawkeye, between the stone-headed arrow of the warrior, and the leaden bullet with which you kill?” , and Hawkeye compliments the Indian’s handmade weapons compared to the power of the white man’s rifle when he says, “I should think a rifle in the hands of their grandfathers was not so dangerous as a hickory bow and a good flint-head might be, if drawn with Indian judgment, and sent by an Indian eye” . While he expresses his amazement at the Indians’ skill, his praise could be interpreted as arrogant. Possibly Hawkeye approves of the Indians’ skill with their old-fashioned toys but assumes that the whites’ rifles are far greater if used by white men. Hawkeye explains himself with these words, “I am not a prejudiced man, nor one who vaunts himself on his natural privileges, though the worst enemy I have on earth, and he is an Iroquois, daren’t deny that I am genuine white” . When Hawkeye insists on his “genuine” whiteness, Chingachgook keeps insisting on his Mohican heritage, and was “far to dignified to betray his unbelief” . Chingachgook is proud of his Mohican heritage as you can tell when he says, “My tribe is the grandfather of nations, but I am an unmixed man. The blood of chiefs is in my veins, where it must stay forever” .
When Hawkeye uses the word “genuine”, it suggests sexual purity, foreshadowing racial mixing. Although he has strong friendships with many Indian men, including Chingachgook, here he demonstrates an insistence on his own “genuine” whiteness, whereas Chingachgook keeps insisting on his Mohican heritage. Cooper portrays a clash between races/cultures through the barbarity between the Mohicans and the Hurons. Indians’ personalities vary greatly, and the conflict between Magua and his Mohican enemies shows that this novel does not characterize all Indians as identical in personality, but with many modern stereotypes. When Hawkeye first discovers that Magua is a Huron, his two companions exclaim a “Hugh!” , and sprung to their feet with surprise. Hawkeye shakes his head in “open distrust” . He uses these words to describe how he feels about a Huron, “they are a thievish race, nor do I care by whom they are adopted; you can never make anything of them but skulls and vagabonds” . The history of tension between Hurons and Mohicans suggests the diversity of Native American cultures. The tension between them grows stronger when Magua escapes from Heyward and worried that the Indian enemies are nearby, the group escapes to their secret hideout. They are awoken to “such a tumult of yells and cries as served to drive the swift currents of his own blood back from its bounding course into the fountains of his heart. It seemed, for near a minute, as if the demons of hell had possessed themselves of the air about them, and were venting their savage humors in barbarous sounds. The cries came from no particular direction, though it was evident they filled the woods” . The Hurons have come to battle, showing the barbarity between the two tribes. Although the battle stopped, it does not mean it is over. Hawkeye calls to Uncas for assistance, starting another battle and “At that moment the woods were filled with another burst of cries, and at the signal four savages sprang from the cover of the drift-wood” . At the moment when a “savage” is spotted in the tree, “Hawkeye seized the advantage, and discharged his fatal weapon into the top of the oak.
The leaves were unusually agitated; the dangerous rifle fell from its commanding elevation, and after a few moments of vain struggling, the form of the savage was seen swinging in the wind, while he still grasped a ragged and naked branch of the tree with hands clenched in desperation” . From what that quotation says, it is certain that his death will be agonizing. Cooper addresses the issue of cruelty in warfare using these words, “the hopeless condition of the wretch who was dangling between heaven and earth. The body yielded to the currents of air, and though no murmur or groan escaped the victim, there were instants when he grimly faced his foes, and the anguish of cold despair might be traced, through the intervening distance, in possession of his swarthy lineaments. Three several times the scout raised his piece in mercy, and as often, prudence getting the better of his intention, it was again silently lowered. At length one hand of the Huron lost its hold, and dropped exhausted to his side. A desperate and fruitless struggle to recover the branch succeeded, and then the savage was seen for a fleeting instant, grasping wildly at the empty air. The lightning is not quicker than was the flame from the rifle of Hawkeye; the limbs of the victim trembled and contracted, the head fell to the bosom, and the body parted the foaming waters like lead, when the element closed above it, in its ceaseless velocity, and every vestige of the unhappy Huron was lost forever” .
The impending death causes different reactions in the group. Hawkeye lets the “savage” die a slow death because he is strongly against the Hurons, and has no remorse for them. Eventually the battle turns to hand-to-hand combat. The fight that occurs is truly Indian: each man fights a single opponent, and everything is done by hand. Even though Hawkeye carries his rifle, it is interesting to note that he does not fire it. Hand to hand is the most honest way to fight, and Hawkeye clearly respects this due to his hybrid white figure who has an Indian’s sympathy and a white man’s desire. Chingachgook fights with Magua, leader against leader. When Chingachgook saw the opportunity to “make a powerful thrust with his knife” , Magua “fell backward without motion, and seemingly without life” . Chingachgook leaped to victory, and just as Hawkeye was about to give a finishing blow, Magua rolled to his feet and leaped away. Magua’s “faking” of death is cunning, but violates the honesty of the hand to hand way to fight which makes him “a lying and deceitful varlet” . The Huron chief will not submit, unlike the Mohicans, who are willing to accept death proudly as explained by this quotation, “An honest Delaware now, being fairly vanquished, would have lain still, and been knocked on the head, but these knavish Maquas cling to life like so many cats-o’-the-mountain” . Although the Hurons and the Mohicans are of the same race, they have different cultures. The way they do things and see things causes the savagery between them. Cooper portrays a clash between races/cultures through the interracial love between Cora and Uncas. Cora, is the daughter of a respected white British Colonel, and Uncas is the son to wise Indian Chingachgook and the last pure blood member of the Mohican tribe. Though they have limited dialogue with one another, Cooper writes their actions around each other with plenty emotion to imply a mutual attraction between them. The way Cooper describes him is explained by the following quotation, “the upright, flexible figure of the young Mohican, graceful and unrestrained in the attitudes and movements of nature.
Though his person was more than usually screened by a green and fringed hunting- shirt, like that of the white man, there was no concealment to his dark, glancing, fearless eye, alike terrible and calm; the bold outline of his high, haughty features, pure in their native red; or to the dignified elevation of his receding forehead, together with all the finest proportions of a noble head, bared to the generous scalping tuft” . Cooper uses these words when they are in the secret hideout, and it is then that Cora really begins to feel attracted to Uncas. The secret hideout symbolizes the secret interracial attraction that Cora and Uncus feels for one another. Like the hideout, their attraction provides a comforting shelter for Cora and Uncas. The physical endangerments of the forest symbolize the cultural forces that forbid love between an Indian and a white. Just as the secret hideout would become treacherous if the outsiders were to discover it, any relationship between Cora and Uncas would be shocking if it were discovered. One of the most powerful connections that take place between Cora and Uncas is when Uncas does not want to leave Cora and her companions when they were surrounded by enemies. Cora comes up with a plan for Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas to escape down the river and take a message to her father, so that her and her companions can be later rescued. Hawkeye and Chingachgook hear sense in her words. Uncas says he will stay, but Cora convinces him to stay as seen in the following quotation, “To increase the horror of our capture, and to diminish the chances of our release! Go, generous young man,” Cora continued, lowering her eyes under the gaze of the Mohican, and perhaps, with an intuitive consciousness of her power; “go to my father, as I have said, and be the most confidential of my messengers. Tell him to trust you with the means to buy the freedom of his daughters. Go! ’tis my wish, ’tis my prayer, that you will go!” . Uncas no longer hesitates and goes because he cannot deny her wishes. This shows he cares for her. The way she keeps he eyes on him until he is completely out of sight and sure he is following her command displays her own affection. This interaction proves the possibility of a relationship between the two, but also shows that there isn’t much of a chance that it is going to work out.
The possibility of Uncas and Cora having a relationship, and its apparent predestined status, do a good job of demonstrating Coopers true views on the subject of interracial romance. The way Cooper portrays these clashes makes it seem like he has a positive view of racism, and it seems like it doesn’t bother him that he comes off as a racist. The book is in many ways a racist book, yet it incorporates a disapproval of racism. In my opinion, and through research, James Fenimore Cooper has a negative view on racism. The Last of the Mohicans put Indians at center stage, and I agree with Martin Barker and Roger Sabin when they say, “Cooper takes much care to ensure that they are not one-dimensional figures, and there is a great deal of description of their culture and customs” . Cooper appears to have believed in the purity of the races. According to McWilliams, “He was criticized for being overly sympathetic toward the Indian” . Different races are inevitably in conflict. The Indians are a metaphor for the rise and fall of civilizations.
As we become submerged in this novel, the supposed differences between French and English gradually blur and go away, while the conflict between the red and white cultures grows more important. However much we may protest against Coopers racially determined way of thinking and the racist conclusions he may draw; these clashes definitely prove he has a negative view on racism. In The Last of the Mohicans, the theme is a conflict between civilization and savagery, and Cooper portrays a clash between races/cultures through the interracial friendship of Hawkeye and Chingachgook, through the barbarity between the Mohicans and the Hurons, and through the interracial love between Cora and Uncas. Hawkeye and Chingachgook have an interracial friendship due to the fact that Hawkeye is white and Chingachgook is a Mohican Indian. The barbarous actions between the Mohicans and the Hurons are the constant battles they have throughout the book. Since Cora is not white and Uncas is a Mohican Indian, they have an interracial love that is forbidden. The book is characterized by a series of thrilling attacks, captures, fights, and rescues; and Cooper does a good job of portraying the clashes of races/cultures discussed. At the heart of the novel is a poignant interracial friendship between the white man, Hawkeye, and the Mohican, Chingachgook, suggestive of Cooper’s misery with the cruelties that would eventually result in the death of Chingachgooks son Uncas, “the last of the Mohicans”.
Barker, Martin and Roger Sabin. The Lasting of the Mohicans: History of an American Myth. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995. Print. Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print. McWilliams, John P. The Last of the Mohicans: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995. Print. Peck, Daniel H. New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Print.