What race did Cora's mother belong to in The Last of the Mohicans?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cora's mother was the daughter of a West Indies plantation owner and a woman of mixed ancestry. As Munro euphemistically puts it:

She was a daughter of a gentleman of those isles by a lady whose misfortune it was, if you will...to be descended, remotely, from that unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people.

Unlike the American South, where the children of white men and black women were usually themselves enslaved, West Indian society was considerably less binary in terms of race, a consequence of the very high proportion of Africans to whites. So neither Cora's mother nor her grandmother seem to have been (nor, historically, would they probably have been) slaves.

The racial distinction, however, is significant in Cooper's story, as Cora, often described in racialized terms, displays a boldness that was not typically associated with Euro-American women. She is contrasted with her meek, demure sister Alice, who is the daughter of a British woman.

Heredity, race, and culture (and the ambiguities therein) are themes that permeate The Last of the Mohicans. The title of the book is a reference to the fact that Uncas was supposed to succeed his father as the last sagamore of the Mohicans. It is also present in Nathaniel, who frequently points out that as a white man, he is civilized, despite his Indian upbringing.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Right before the quote about Cora I cited above, Munro says that "duty called him to the islands of the West Indies" which connotes the Caribbean, not South America. The word "remotely" suggests that she was part of a mixed-race class (gradations of race and class tended to go hand in hand in the Caribbean.) It is possible that she was of Native American orgins, since thousands of Native Americans were sold from the North American mainland, especially South Carolina, to the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century. But it seems clear that she wasn't South American. I agree that Cooper, through Munro, is pretty ambiguous about the subject, but again, that is very much in keeping with the themes of ambiguous lineage throughout the book.

ivana | Student

That's what I meant--- that it may be possible that she was of Native American origins because of her Caribbean ancestery...Anyway, even if that is not the most probable possibilty, it's an interesting one. Caribbean society (West Indies) of that the time is really fascinating.

You're right about ambigues lineage in the book. That's the best part of the novel for me, the question of race and identity.

Again, thank you for your answer.

ivana | Student

Yes, I have noticed that Cora's origin plays an important part in the novel's examination of race and identity.

I've read the book so I know what Cora's father has said about the origin of his wife but I was searching for more information.

As it is known, the population of west Indies was mixed, including not just Africans but other races such as Indian and even Asian.  I was wondering is there any chance that the mother's origin  was from South America? Does the novel really specifies the race of Cora's mother?... or is it just known that it is not completely white?  Is the clear that she has African blood? Were not also the Native South Americans kept as servants?

I just find the line "to be descended, remotely, from that unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people." a bit ambigous. He doesn't even say race but class, hm...Perhaps it is not really relevant for the novel, but for some reason I find myself thinking about it. Perhaps because in the end the Indian women are signing about Cora being in Indian paradise, and what if she is Indian, not North American Indian, but South American Indian, yet still an Indian.

Cora certainly is an interesting character. She may have been the first mixed race hero in American literature. What do you think?

Thank you for your answer.

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The Last of the Mohicans

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