James Fenimore Cooper

Start Free Trial

Discuss the tensions and the contradictions between the country, pastoral vision of the early American republic and a more urban, industrial, and technological version of it in James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans.

In Cooper's major novels, he articulates a major theme of American literature, which is the tension between the country and the city. Though Cooper himself was an educated, sophisticated city dweller, he romanticized unspoiled nature in his books and, through his main character, Natty Bumpo, shows the superiority of a life lived in the wilderness to a life lived in an urban environment.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans are two novels in Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, a series of five novels about the adventures of Natty Bumpo, also known as Hawkeye or the Deerslayer. In his most famous novel, The Last of the Mohicans (1826), the Native American characters are used to represent a certain vision of America that is vanishing due to the encroachment of white civilization. In Cooper's romantic and rather idealized view, the Native Americans are nature's children, living in harmony with the natural world, unencumbered by the burdens of civilization. Hawkeye, while a white man, has embraced this way of natural living, although as a white hero, he is also able to move between the two worlds in a way that his Native American counterparts cannot. In Mohicans, the natural, pastoral world is not so much threatened by urbanization or industrialization, which were still decades away, but by the wars fought by different powers and by the expansion of white civilization. Pointedly, Cooper makes little mention of the violence directed towards the Native American tribes by whites seeking to take their land. He prefers the romantic version of a noble people who are out of step with the times.

Cooper is more direct in his contrast between town and country in The Pioneers (1823). Though published before Mohicans, it features an older Hawkeye, whose ways and lifestyle are becoming obsolete in a rapidly developing New York. It is a curiously progressive novel in its treatment of environmental themes, as Hawkeye is concerned about what might be lost as nature is cleared to make way for civilization. Once again, he represents a more pastoral, romantic, and innocent vision of living than what is found in the cities and towns of the fledgling nation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team