The Deerslayer

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As with most of Cooper’s novels, the plot is a complicated confection of chase, capture, and escape, combined with a romantic love interest. But the plot is relatively unimportant. What matters is the character of the hero--honest, God-fearing, straight-shooting, courageous, respected by his enemies, and morally superior to his peers. When, for example, the city-bred, sophisticated heroine, whose life Deerslayer has saved, offers herself in marriage, Deerslayer must courteously reject her. As the archetype of the ideal American hero, the moral embodiment of the true individualist, Deerslayer is a loner, apart from, yet superior to, the mores of an imperfect society.

Besides the character of Deerslayer, the novel contains some scenes of great narrative beauty. One such is Deerslayer’s killing of his first Indian. The scene is elaborately choreographed and ritualistic, like a battle sequence in an ancient or medieval epic. When Deerslayer fatally wounds the Indian and offers the dying brave a drink of water, the warrior praises him and in his last breath bestows on Deerslayer a new name--Hawkeye.

For sheer inventiveness, the entire episode of the houseboat on the Glimmerglass is unmatched by anything else in the novels of Cooper. When the Indians attack this floating stockade, the reader follows breathlessly as, one by one, each brave attempts to get aboard. Though later mocked by Mark Twain, this scene shows Cooper’s ability for...

(The entire section is 486 words.)