The Deerslayer Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

The fifth and final volume of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, The Deerslayer portrays Natty Bumppo as an idealistic youth raised among American Indians. Bumppo, in this novel nicknamed Deerslayer, is somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-four years old. Despite his daring and resourcefulness, he must rise to adulthood by meeting the challenge of human conflict when he is faced with the realities of tribal warfare and is forced to kill his first foe. Deerslayer not only discovers the ruthlessness of civilized men but also encounters a different kind of danger in the will of a woman. Cooper’s novel is a bildungsroman, the story of a young man’s gaining the courage of his convictions and a moral certainty. In The Deerslayer, Cooper creates an idyllic view of the early American frontier, when the western boundary was New York’s Lake Ostego (renamed Lake Glimmerglass in the novel). Cooper also includes such themes as the concept of gifts, the conflict between the Native American code of behavior and that of the Europeans, and the distinction between natural law and moral law.

In the novel, Deerslayer kills his first Indian, rejects the proposal of a beautiful young woman, fends off the missionary efforts of the woman’s feebleminded sister, and worries about the appropriateness of Indian customs for a white man. He often reflects on the beauties of the wilderness.

The dominant mood of the novel is peaceful and serene. Cooper digresses to stress the peace and quiet of the forest at early morning, high noon, and evening. What breaks the peace and solitude of the forest are the sounds of gunshots and passionate, invading white men. Deerslayer talks to Hetty Hutter about his reverence and awe for the forest, God’s creation. He learns more from studying “the hand of God as it is seen in the hills and the valleys, the mountain-tops, the streams, the forests, and the springs” than the invading white people in the novel learn from studying the Bible. The invaders, rather than finding the beauty in nature, seldom give it a second thought while they destroy it, especially when it serves their economic purposes.

Two alien objects invade the primal scene of Lake Glimmerglass: Hurry Harry’s large boat, called the ark, and Thomas Hutter’s “castle,” a house...

(The entire section is 952 words.)