The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper


The Last of the Mohicans is one, in a series of five romantic (the literary movement not the genre) books in J.F. Cooper’s "Leatherstocking Tales" set during the French and Indian War. Written in 1826, it was already 75 years past the events depicted in the story, but upstate New York was still in places very wild. The book is a cultural time capsule encapsulating a time when Europeans toiled to turn the wilderness into an approximation of their familiar European world. The Last of the Mohicans is also an explicit reminder of the tragedy of America's frontier settlement. An assessment of the destruction of the ancient natural world as we struggled to achieve the promised of the “new world.”. The protagonist Uncas is cast within the novel as “the last of the Mohicans” a symbolization of the death of Native America cultures in the wake of European civilization’s unyielding encroachment.

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At it’s core, The Last of the Mohicans is an adventure yarn that's pretty well-paced, absorbing and suspenseful. The novel is thematically anchored in the exploration of race and the essential difficulty of overcoming racial divides. Cooper suggests that interracial mingling is at once desirable and dangerous. The interracial love of two of the main characters Uncas (a Native American) and Cora (a woman of African and European descent) ends in tragedy. The forced interracial relationship between Cora and Magua (her Native American captor) is portrayed as unnatural. J.F. Cooper implies that interracial desire can be genetically inherited; Cora desires Indian men because her mother was of African descent.

The Role of Religion in the Wilderness is also an important theme exhaustively explored in The Last of the Mohicans. The American frontier untouched by European culture is described is lush detail and serves as a reminder of what our landscape was like when our country was young. America to the settlers physically represents a fresh start, a piece of land yet untouched by the conventions of European precepts or social norms. The novel deftly contrasts Native American culture with Anglo-European culture to the disadvantage of the latter in several places.

The concept of hybridity is also an important thematic exploration of race and family within the novel. The amalgamation of separate elements such as nature, culture and race intersect into a single whole, continuously pushes the narrative forward. J.F. Cooper’s depictions of the wilderness and the indigenous people are equally brimming with a detailed warmth and fascination. Cooper also posits that the wilderness absolutely demands new definitions of family alien to the European definition of family. Uncas and Hawkeye, for example, form a spontaneous family that transcends race and nationhood.  All the while conversely, Cora and Uncas cannot redefine the notion of family according to their frustrated desires. 

Moral qualities such as courage, honor, loyalty, kindness and self-sacrifice, generosity, and love for family and friends are consistently praised, while the converse qualities are disparaged. The book makes bold attempts to challenge the reader to discard prejudiced ways of looking at people of other races and cultures. It's no accident that Uncas (the book’s title character), a Native American is depicted as an honorable hero at a time when many American despised Native Americans. Cora (who’s mother is bi-racially African and European), Uncas love interest is painted as an a-typically strong female protagonist. Both characters pose challenges to readers in 1826 as no doubt they continue to challenge readers today.

… had his (James Fenimore Cooper’s) characterizations been sharper, he would have been the master novelist of us all.
— Honoré de Balzac