Why did Oliver Effingham hide his identity, and what were his claims in Cooper's The Pioneers?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Oliver's concealment of his identity is reflective of the genuine mistrust that Native Americans held towards White Americans. Oliver shows this sense of mistrust at a couple of points in the narrative.  When he is initially taken and tended to by the Judge and his daughter, he does not say much of anything. The fact that he gives the name "Edwards" is a phony one.  This is reflective of how much he believes that White Americans like the Judge seek only to appropriate and misuse Native Americans.  Such a perception is bolstered by the attitudes of people like Doolittle, whose ambition to appropriate that which is not his shows that he is not afraid to encroach on the Native Americans right to be left alone.  In many regards, Oliver's hiding of his identity is a survival technique in the ever- growing antagonism between White Americans and Native Americans.

In a more particular sense, Oliver hides his identity because of what he believes he knows about the Judge.  These claims help to form a part of the novel's rising action and resolution. Oliver recognizes that Templeton had stolen his father's property and money.  Years before, Templeton had been entrusted with what would have been Oliver's birthright.  As his father died, Templeton was able to appropriate the sum of money and property on his own. Oliver reads the Judge's actions as self- serving.  Oliver's assistance to his grandfather in seeking to reclaim a small portion of what was lost forces him to hide his real identity from the Judge.  His hiding of his identity helps to further the claims he wishes to advance.  In hiding his identity, Oliver is able pursue a path to obtain that which had been taken, to right that which was wrong.  It is for this reason that even while in the Judge's service, under the cover of night, Oliver runs off to help Natty Bumpoo.  In hiding his real identity the Judge, it preserves Oliver's ability to embrace the Native American aspect to his being in the world.  Hiding his identity was also a pragmatic way in facilitating the ability to reclaim that which was taken.  It becomes a moot point when the Judge's daughter and Oliver marry, making the money familial property for both.  Once Oliver's identity is revealed, a sense of reconciliation emerges.  This might be reflective of Cooper's desire to bring together both White American and Native American cohabitation of a landscape that is intrinsic to survival of both groups.

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