The Deerslayer is not the first of the Leatherstocking Tales that Cooper wrote; in fact it is his last. Therefore, it reflects a greater maturity and sensitivity compared to his earlier works such as The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and The Prairie (1827). Cooper is aware of the unhappy collision of civilization and a natural, Eden like state of nature. He himself explains in his preface to the 1850 edition of the Leatherstocking Tales that his man of the forest "possessed little of civilization but its highest principles as they are exhibited in the uneducated . . . on the other hand, removed from nearly all the temptations of civilized life, placed in the best associations of that which is deemed savage, and favorably disposed by nature to improve such advantages, was a fit subject to represent the better qualities of both conditions. . ." Natty Bumppo, the Deerslayer, is indeed, the answer as Cooper saw it. Christianity as well as natural virtue, raise human beings above the corruption. Neither Tom nor Hurry possess this natural nobility, although they are civilized and Christian. They are willing to kill and scalp for greed. Hetty, on the other hand, is pious and good, but lacks the natural ability to live and survive. Her attempts to convert the Mingos is impractical and futile. The theme of the "Noble Savage" is expressed in the Deerslayer but tempered by realism: Natty Bumppo despises the greed of the white scalpers, but he is...
(The entire section is 624 words.)
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Initiation and Testing
The main theme of the novel is the initiation of the young man Deerslayer, his rite of passage into true manhood. At the beginning he is untried and untested, but he develops into an authentic hero who successfully faces all the challenges presented to him.
Deerslayer has been given a civilized upbringing by the Moravian missionaries and the Delawares, and he has proved himself as a hunter, but he is not yet complete. He admits to Hurry March that there is no great valor in killing a deer. Now he must prove himself by going on his first warpath, with his friend Chingachgook, to rescue Hist, the Delaware’s betrothed, from the Hurons. Unlike Hurry, his more experienced and ruthless companion, Deerslayer has never killed a man. His deadly encounter with Lynx is, therefore, of the greatest significance. During this incident, Deerslayer shows himself to be calm and self-possessed. He does not seek a quarrel with this Indian whom he encounters by chance, and he makes every effort to settle the matter peacefully. But when Lynx wrongly claims that one of the canoes belongs to the Indians, Deerslayer stands firm, insisting on the actual facts of the matter. He does not become angry, and he has no wish to kill, but he acts quickly when it becomes a matter of kill or be killed. Even then, he is courteous and considerate to the treacherous enemy Lynx, carrying the dying man to the lake, giving him water, taking his head...
(The entire section is 1295 words.)