James Fenimore Cooper Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is James Fenimore Cooper’s explanation for the feeble state of American literature when he began writing? What is the basis of his conviction that American literature would become a powerful influence in the world?

Cooper was one of the earliest exponents of several subgenres of the novel other than that represented by the Leatherstocking Tales. These include the spy novel, the sea novel, and the novel of political satire. Which works exemplify his achievements in these modes of fiction?

Explain how the stages of Natty Bumppo’s life mirror changes in American society over several decades.

Is Cooper’s Chingachgook a plausible character?

In what respects is Mark Twain’s essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” unfair to Cooper?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111201195-Cooper.jpg James Fenimore Cooper. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Although James Fenimore Cooper was primarily a novelist, he also tried his hand at short stories, biographies, and a play. Among these works, only the biographies are considered significant. He also wrote accounts of his European travels, history, and essays on politics and society. Among his political writings, The American Democrat (1838) retains its appeal as an analysis of contemporary political and social issues and as an expression of Cooper’s mature political and social thought. His The History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839, two volumes) is still considered a definitive work. Cooper was an active correspondent. Many of his letters and journals have been published, but large quantities of material remain in the hands of private collectors.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Though he is best known as the author of the Leatherstocking Tales, James Fenimore Cooper has come to be recognized as America’s first great social historian. The Leatherstocking Tales—The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer—are those novels in which the frontier hunter and scout Natty Bumppo is a central character. Along with The Spy and The Pilot, two novels of the American Revolution, the Leatherstocking Tales are familiar to modern readers, and critics agree that these are Cooper’s best novels. Less well known are the novels he began writing during his seven-year residence in Europe, his problem and society novels. In these books, he works out and expresses a complex social and political theory and a social history of America seen within the context of the major modern developments of European civilization. Because his problem and society novels often are marred by overstatement and repetition, they are rarely read for pleasure, but they remain, as Robert Spiller argues, among the most detailed and accurate pictures available of major aspects of American society and thought in the early nineteenth century.

Cooper achieved international reputation with The Spy, his second novel, which was translated into most European languages soon after its publication. With this work, he also invented a popular genre, the spy novel. He is...

(The entire section is 515 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Barker, Martin, and Roger Sabin. The Lasting of the Mohicans: History of an American Myth. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995. From the series Studies in Popular Culture. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Boynton, Henry Walcott. James Fenimore Cooper. New York: Century Co., 1931. Focuses on Cooper the man rather than Cooper the writer. Boynton notes Cooper’s faults but tends to gloss over them or explain them away.

Clark, Robert, ed. James Fenimore Cooper: New Critical Essays. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1985. Each of the eight essays in this collection covers a different aspect of Cooper’s fiction; most focus on a specific novel. A complete index helps the student find references to a particular work or theme.

Darnell, Donald. James Fenimore Cooper: Novelist of Manners. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993. Explores manners and customs in literature. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Dyer, Alan Frank, comp. James Fenimore Cooper: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. A good starting point for research.

Fields, W., ed. James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979. The collection of new essays at the end of this book offers much of value to beginning students of Cooper, though the essays are not indexed. The first section of the book is a selection of nineteenth century reviews of Cooper’s novels.

Franklin, Wayne. James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years. New Haven: Yale, 2007. Part one of a planned two-part biography of Cooper covering his life from birth until he left Europe in 1826. His personal life along with the writing and publishing of The Last of the Mohicans are covered in this easy to read and informative biography.

Franklin, Wayne. The New World of James Fenimore...

(The entire section is 861 words.)