The Deerslayer

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486

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.

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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 fast-paced narrative action and for rendering the details of landscape with a vision approaching poetry.

Bibliography:

Barnett, Louise K. “Speech in the Wilderness: The Ideal Discourse of The Deerslayer.” In Desert, Garden, Margin, Range: Literature of the American Frontier, edited by Eric Heyne. New York: Twayne, 1992. A well-balanced essay that deals with the differing levels of diction in the characters’ voices in The Deerslayer and how such speech patterns work in the evolution of the frontier mythos.

Person, Leland S., Jr. “Cooper’s Queen of the Woods: Judith Hutter in The Deerslayer.” Studies in the Novel 21, no. 3 (Fall, 1989): 253-267. An intriguing study of Judith Hutter and her place in the wilderness frontier as a woman in a man’s world.

Ringe, Donald A. James Fenimore Cooper. New York: Twayne, 1962. Excellent general overview of the works of Cooper, including The Deerslayer. Places the works in the construction of the myth of the American frontier.

Schachterle, Lance. “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Defenses: Twain and the Text of The Deer-slayer.” Studies in the American Renaissance (1988): 401-417. Schachterle takes to task Mark Twain, who criticized Cooper’s prose style and The Deerslayer in his essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.”

Selley, April. “‘I Have Been, and Ever Shall Be, Your Friend’: Star Trek, The Deerslayer, and the American Romance.” Journal of Popular Culture 20, no. 1 (Summer, 1986): 89-104. Asserts that The Deerslayer is a romantic novel that constructs the mythos of the American frontier, and that this mythos is carried on in late twentieth century popular culture through television’s Star Trek series.

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