The Last of the Mohicans Analysis

  • The Last of the Mohicans is written from a third-person limited point of view, with the narrator relating the action of the novel without giving readers any insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters. This point of view makes for thrilling, fast-paced storytelling but leaves little room for character development.
  • The Last of the Mohicans is the second book in James Fenimore Cooper's series of five adventure novels, the Leatherstocking Tales. Its hero, Natty Bumppo or "Hawkeye," appears in all five books. Hawkeye is a frontier scout and a tracker who travels with his best friend, Chingachgook, a Mohican chief.
  • The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 was published in 1826, almost seventy years after the events of the novel take place. The main action is set during the French and Indian War, which lasted from 1754 to 1763. Though classified as a historical novel, the book isn't entirely accurate, and Cooper took some liberties with the historical facts.

Analysis

Point of View
The Last of the Mohicans is told from a third-person limited point of view. The narration of the story explains the events and actions of the novel, but does not give insight into the characters' thoughts or motivations. The only way to gain this information is by interpreting what the dramatis personae do and say. This perspective is further limited by the centrality of Hawkeye to the narrative. With very few exceptions, Cooper limits the scope of the narration to events that directly involve Hawkeye.

At the beginning of the story, the narration and point of view follow first David Gamut, then the Munro sisters and Major Heyward. Cooper shifts the story to introduce Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas, only to lead them to the party consisting of Heyward, the Munro sisters, Gamut, and Magua. From that point, there is a minimum of interruptions of the point of view directly involving Hawkeye.

The point of view shifts to the Munro sisters and Heyward when they are captured by the Huron Indians, and follows them until they are to be killed by their captors. Once Hawkeye and the Mohicans effect their rescue, the narrative once again follows them, until the capitulation of Fort Henry to the French. At that point, during the ensuing battle between the Hurons and the English, Cooper once again focuses on the Munro sisters and Gamut as they are led away by Magua. The story then moves to Hawkeye, Colonel Munro, and Heyward as they follow the sisters and their abductor. There are only a few shifts of scene to keep the reader informed as to their fate, while Cooper mostly gives the story over to the events and actions of Hawkeye and his party.

The Historical...

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Places Discussed

*Fort William Henry

*Fort William Henry. Defensive fortification built by the British in the fall of 1756, in the midst of the French and Indian Wars. The fort was a strategic part of the British attempt to penetrate French territory. The fort was at the southern end of Lake George just west of the Hudson River and was on the important Hudson River-Lake Champlain waterway. The fort survived the first French and Native American attack against it in March, 1757. James Fenimore Cooper uses the war to create a realistic setting for his narrative. The setting for this adventure is during the summer months following, and it is focused on one battle of a long war. Throughout the book the author contrasts the wilderness atmosphere with the more civilized areas along the Atlantic coast. Cooper himself was raised in a village on the edge of the wilderness near Cooperstown, New York.

Fort William Henry no longer exists, but the area today is strikingly similar to its appearance in the time of Cooper’s story. A small village stands where the fort had stood. There is a watering place near the spring from which the fictional Hawkeye drank, and present-day roads follow the paths blazed by Hawkeye and his friends. The wilderness described by Cooper is still mostly wilderness today, but only a few Native Americans still reside in the area.

*Fort Oswego

*Fort Oswego. British fortification at the western end of Lake Ontario that was originally a trading post built by the British and Dutch in 1722. Fortified by the British in 1727, it was one of five small forts in the area. By 1757 it was used to supplement Fort William Henry, and was used by Cooper to enhance the story.

*Lake George

*Lake George. Called Horican by the Native Americans as reported by Cooper, the word is roughly translated “The Tail of the Lake” in reference to its connection to Lake Champlain. The British named it for King George II. It was part of an internal highway connecting the Hudson River to the St. Lawrence River, and was near a warpath used by Native Americans. A narrow lake, one to three miles wide and thirty-two miles long, Lake George was claimed by the French when Samuel de Champlain explored the area in 1609. When the British built Fort William Henry on the southern edge, the area became a strategic part of the French-British conflicts and the center of the fictional activities of Hawkeye.

*Lake Champlain

*Lake Champlain. Much larger than Lake George, Lake Champlain is up to 14 miles wide and 107 miles long. In 1755 the French built Fort Ticonderoga between the two lakes to help secure the area. In 1759, after the events of this adventure, the fort was captured by the British. Lake Champlain and the fort were always on the periphery of Cooper’s story.

Historical Context

The Last of the Mohicans, set in 1757, uses the French and Indian War as a backdrop. A few Native American tribes, most notably the Iroquois, chose to fight on the side of the British during the fierce battles between England and France for dominance in N Published by Gale Cengage

The 1760s: The French and Indian War
The French and Indian War which is the setting of The Last of the...

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Compare and Contrast

1760s: During the French and Indian War the Indian presence in land that colonists desire is a secondary concern of the...

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Topics for Further Study

One of Hawkeye's most insistent assertions is that he is "a man without a cross." Why is being "pure-blooded" so important to him? Research...

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Media Adaptations

The Last of the Mohicans was most recently adapted to film in 1992. This version, directed by Michael Mann, starred Daniel Day...

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What Do I Read Next?

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is Dee Brown's 1971 history of Indian massacres in...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Dennis W. Allen, "By All the Truth of Signs: James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans,"...

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Bibliography

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983. A beautiful edition that includes the definitive text, a historical introduction, sixteen illustrations, commentary from the early nineteenth century, and explanatory notes and textual commentary. Exhaustive.

McWilliams, John. “The Last of the Mohicans”: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility. New York: Twayne, 1995. An excellent starting place. Provides literary and historical contexts, as well as a reading of the novel that focuses on style and genre, race and gender, and the use of history. Four illustrations, a chronology of Cooper’s life and works, and a bibliography.

Martin, Terence. “From the Ruins of History: The Last of the Mohicans.” In James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Wayne Fields. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. An exploration of the strategies Cooper employs to make actual historical events serve the thematic concerns of his novel.

Peck, H. Daniel, ed. New Essays on “The Last of the Mohicans.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. An introductory critical guide with six social, historical, feminist, and psychological reassessments, all written at the end of the twentieth century. The introduction provides information on the novel’s composition and critical reception. Bibliography.

Rans, Geoffrey. Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Novels: A Secular Reading. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. In the introduction, Rans discusses why interest in Cooper has lasted so long. The chapter on The Last of the Mohicans, “The Death of a Nation, the Denial of a Genre,” focuses on the fact that the Indians’ superiority does not protect them from annihilation.