James Fenimore Cooper”s The last of the Mohicans is often seen as a simple adventure story within the historical frame of the French and Indian war. Only if we analyze the novel in a closer way, we will realize that it goes beyond this label and that its sources are many and varied, giving the work the richness of the genres on which Cooper”s novel is based. These are romanticism, western, being its author one of the forerunners of these genres in the U. S. A. , captivity narratives and epic.
In works belonging to Romanticism, nature is given a great important role. In fact, the action takes place in the open air, except for the chapters of the siege of Fort William Henry, so it is the setting which predominates along the work. The close connection between the characters of romantic novels and nature is exemplified in the characters of Chingachgook, Uncas and Hawkeye, which apart from knowing the place where they live and being completely adapted to it, they consider nature as a divine entity.
In his introduction of this novel in the Oxford Classics edition, John Mcwilliams agrees with this affirmation of the concluding that for Cooper it was more than the place where they move; “it was the very condition of life, the shaper of moral values and of human behavior, for good and for ill”. In a similar way, the same happens in other important romantic American novels such as Nathaniel Hawthorne”s The Scarlet Letter and Herman Melville”s Moby Dick.
In the former, Hester and his daughter Pearl live in close connection with nature as a source of moral freedom, and in the latter, the Nantucketeers consider themselves as part of the sea. The theme of nationalism, a recurring point of this genre, is present in two ways, showing on the one hand the adventures of the heroic pioneers of the U. S. A. fighting in order create a new nation, and on the other hand, the adventures of the last two Mohicans, representatives of the mother of all Indian tribes.
Related to this aspect, there is also an interest in knowledge about cultural origins. This question of nationalism also appears in Moby Dick since the Nantucketeers seem to consider themselves the only conquerors and owners of the seas, a fact which expresses the so-called “manifest destiny” proclaimed by John Louis O’Sullivan in 1845. In contrast, The Scarlet Letter tells a fictitious story in the seventeenth-century Boston criticizing the puritan American settlers.
One of the main characteristics of the genre is the exaltation of the senses and emotions which are represented by Hawkeye and the Indians in general, which, as we have mentioned before, live closer to nature than the white men, which although they stand for reason and intellect they are incapable of adapting to a wild world in which they try to apply their rules, strategies and hierarchies.
In general, the image that we obtain of the white men is not a positive one for they are depicted as weak beings who can not defend themselves and have brought war to a peaceful country, as Magua claims in chapter 10: “Was it war, when the tired Indian rested at the sugar -tree to taste his corn! Who filled the bushes with enemies! Who drew the knife! ” In this way, the work portrays one of the basic aims of romanticism, that is, a revolt against rationalism.
The question of history in The Last of the Mohicans may make the reader think that he is in front of a novel belonging to the genre of historical fiction. Some of the features of this genre can be applied to this work, but only superficially. The story is set in the past, the time period is the core of the story and therefore affects the events, we can find historical characters, mainly leaders, as General Montcalm, Brigadier-General Daniel Webb and Lieutenant-Colonel Monro and places as Fort Edward and William Henry or Glens Falls.
But the reconstruction of the events is not faithful enough, as MacWilliams declares in his essay The historical Contexts of The Last of the Mohicans, since the Iroquois, the Delaware and the Hurons were not “nomadic hunter-warriors” but quite the reverse, the historical allegiances between white-men and Indians are reversed in the novel, and the alleged Fort William Henry massacre after the British surrender was not such a thing. Apart from this, the siege of Fort William Henry is related in three chapters.
As a consequence, although this it affects the narrative, it is only a point within the whole story, a fact that contrasts with other historical fiction novels par excellence such as Franz Werfel”s Forty Days of Musa Dagh or Robert Grave”s I Claudius, in which the historical facts and the narrative do not come apart. Historical fiction usually tells realistic stories, however, in The Last of the Mohicans, there are some improbable situations which are not suitable for this genre; for instance, the protagonists are constantly in danger but they are seldom hurt.
Apart from this, the chapter in which Hawkeye and Duncan Heyward disguises in order to enter Magua”s village, apart from being improbable, gives the narration a comical quality which cannot let us consider it either as an actual or realistic story, an argument which is reinforced by the experience that David Gamut lives through, since he is allowed to live with Magua”s hostile tribe without arousing suspicion only because the Indians like the music he plays.
As a consequence, it is doubtless to affirm that the novel shows the features of escapist costume romances despite its pretense to historicity, setting in the past in order to lend credence to characters and adventures which sometimes are incredible, an affirmation which contrasts with the author”s remark at the very beginning of the preface of the 1826 edition: “The reader, who takes up these volumes, in expectation of finding an imaginary and romantic picture of thins which never had an existence, will probably lay them aside, disappointed. ”
The Last of the Mohicans served as a source from which a new genre emerged, western. The novels, short stories, motion pictures and TV or radio shows belonging to this genre present a set of common features in such a way that it is undeniably to affirm that this work by Cooper is one of the main forerunners of this genre. The main theme is the taming of wild lands and the advance beyond their frontiers. They show adventures dealing with the opening of the west to white settlement and the conflicts, mainly between the pioneers and the Indian Native Americans.
The most significant difference between the representatives of this genre and its forerunner is that of setting and time; whereas the events related in The Last of the Mohicans occur in the territories near Lake Champlain before the Civil War, the others take place in western Mississippi, in particular the Great Plains and the southwest after the war. Captivity narratives are also a key source for The Last of the Mohicans as we can see in The Indians and their Captives by James Leverner and Hennig Cohen.
They affirm that the character of Hawkeye is based on two legendary figures whose stories were quite famous among the American people of the eight-tenth century, a fact that has obscured their lives in such a way that what we know about them is a mixture of actual facts and legend. The first of them is Tim Murphy, which after the Indians killed his wife and children became a solitary person whose exploits and skills as scout, soldier and Indian fighter made him famous. The second one is Daniel Boone a Kentucky pioneer and adventurer whose life was recreated by several authors.
However, Leverner and Cohen do not observe that in Hawkeye there is a mixture of white and Indian cultures, a fact which helps the character to acquire an original component. According to these editors and compilers the character of Jane MacCrea, a young woman who was abducted and murdered by the Indians, served as a source of inspiration for the death of Cora Munro. The truth is that Cooper read many captivity narratives and it is logical that he chose relevant aspects of such kind of quasi-mythical American figures in order to enrich a narrative dealing with an important episode of the history of the U.
S. A. The most important genre of The Last of the Mohicans is epic, as it occurs in Herman Melville”s Moby Dick. A good way in which it may be proved is to compare this work by Cooper with the main representatives of the genre trying to look for parallelisms. First of all, the story begins in what is called “in medias res”, that is, the action does not start from the very beginning. This means that, for example, we are not told the birth of Hawkeye or the origins of the French and Indian war.
We are told its causes superficially and the characters are introduced at this moment of the narrative so, as a consequence what we know about the past we know it through some scarce retrospective narratives. Epic recounts the deeds of a hero which often represent the values and goals of a society. In the case of The Last of the Mohicans this goal is to tame and conquest the wild American lands in order to spread all over them, a task executed by the white men. But the Native Americans have also their representatives in the novel, the Mohicans, standing for a kind of life closer to nature, loyal to their laws, rules and beliefs.
So it is possible to claim that if there is a patriotic component in the book it is a double one. This patriotic component covers also religion in Song of Mio Cid, which relates the heroic exploits of Rodrigo DÃaz de Vivar, a fierce Christian knight, in the Spain of the eleventh century fighting in order to recover the lands from the Arab invaders. The Aeneid”s purpose was to highlight the Trojan origins of the Roman Empire in order to spread the idea that the empire was great even from its very beginnings.
With regard to this question of the values of a society, in The Odyssey, the underlying message is that of the respect for the gods and order. War or isolated battles are always present in the epic poems; Odysseus and Aeneas have to fight against many and varied enemies, like Hawkeye and his companions, who struggle for saving the Munro sisters or their own lives against Indian tribes and the French army. As a consequence of this insistence on the theme of war, epic portrays some examples of besieged cities as for instance Troy or Valencia.
In this way, Fort William Henry could be a good example in this special epic story by Cooper. Long journeys are also something usual and they often last decades, and obviously, this is not the case in The Last of the Mohican whose story seems to last approximately one week. Epic mixes historical facts and places with legends, in this way The Odyssey and The Iliad take place in the Mediterranean, Song of Mio Cid in the Spain of the late eleventh century, narrating the conquest of Valencia, CastellÃ³n and including historic figures as King Motamid, Rodrigo DÃaz or King Alfonso II.
Its historical facts are given a legendary component which affects the characters in such a way that we are told that the Spanish army with four thousand soldiers beat a five thousand warrior enemy army. With regard to this matter of mixing history and fiction, The Last of the Mohicans also mixes historical characters and events with fictitious characters based on legendary figures belonging to the white American and Native American culture, since Uncas and Chingachgook acquire a mythical dimension for being the two last representatives of a lost tribe.
The hero is the central character of any epic poem. Among the qualities of an epic hero, his physical strength and courage is what allow him to fight for noble causes. Hawkeye displays all these features; his qualities as a warrior permit him, with the support of the two Mohicans, help the white men without asking or expecting any kind of reward. Indeed, Hawkeye lacks the perfection that other epic heroes display, like Beowulf, since he is beaten and taken prisoner by the French army.
The epic hero is not a mere killer, their skills as strategists are what often help them to obtain their goals. Hawkeye”s knowledge of the environment and slow meditation in battle make him closer to these heroes. Due to the subjects that these stories deal with, weapons acquire a great importance; for example, Achilles” armor, made by gods, Odysseus” bow an axes, or Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar”s swords, Tizona and Colada. Hawkeye”s famous rifle in The Last of the Mohicans even becomes a legend among his enemies.
Epic epithets are used in epic poetry for mnemonic purposes and also as a way to exalt and describe the uniqueness of the virtues of the hero. In the case of Odysseus he is called “cautious” or “wise”. Achilles is said to be “the man breaker” or “the great runner”, Aeneas is often called “pius” and “godfearing” and Rodrigo DÃaz “buen vasallo” or “lidiador contado” among other instances listed by Francisco Lopez Estrada in Poema del Cid. Hawkeye is also given many names in the novels in which he appears, the so-called Leatherstocking tales.
His real name is Natty Bumpo, but in The Last of the Mohicans he is called “la longe carabine”, that is, “the long rifle”, “the scout” and of course Hawkeye. Loyalty is a recurrent theme which usually appears in epic poems, it is the cause for Odysseus to come back to Ithaca, the loyalty towards the ones he loves. This is the cause of the vengeance of Achilles on the Acheans, who killed Patroclus, his best friend. This theme is crucial in Song of Mio Cid, since Rodrigo DÃaz in spite of being rejected by his king remains loyal to him and all the exploits he makes are intended to recover his favor.
The conflicts between good and evil are never unjustified, that is, the evil in antagonists is due to some reason. With regard to this matter, it would be interesting to explore the causes of Magua”s vengeful attitude. He can be compared with the Satan of Paradise Lost, a work belonging to what is called literary epic, works self-consciously produced adapting aspects of traditional epic for specific literary or ideological purposes.
These two characters have the prototypical virtues of an epic hero, that is, strength and courage. Both are leaders, Magua, “Le cerf agile”, is called the “Sun of his tribe”, and both display a great skill as orators. But they used these good qualities for bad purposes. They are vengeful monomaniac characters who lived in peace until they tried to be the equal of a superior being who punished them for this reason, a punishment which causes their fall and their desire for vengeance.
In conclusion, The Last of the Mohicans does not belong totally to a particular genre since it displays some key aspects of epic, it is one of the most important forerunners of western and inherits some aspects of characters of captivity narratives, facts which help to create an special example of romantic literature close to Herman Melville”s Moby Dick, works which seem to be adventure stories but in fact they are richer than that due to both their quality and the variety of their sources.