The Last of the Mohicans

by James Fenimore Cooper

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How do Hawkeye, Magua, Chingatchgook, and Uncas make The Last of the Mohicans an American "anti-epic"? Who do they represent and why isn't Cooper's epic "classic"?

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The primary commonality among Hawkeye, Magua, Chingatchgook, and Uncas is that they are all male. Hawkeye is white, while the other three men are Native American. Although in many ways he stands for his racial group and is starkly contrasted to the indigenous men, he also has some characteristics in common with each of them, which makes him a unifying force in the novel’s structure even more than in the quickly changing society that James Fenimore Cooper portrays.

Hawkeye, the nickname of Natty Bumpo, represents the rugged individualist as a European-heritage white man who strikes out into the wilderness. He does so with the aid of friendly Native Americans who accommodate to the white presence and try to make the best of it. Hawkeye primarily represents the positive features of Euro-Americans as he wants to co-exist with as much as conquer Nature. His persona is heroic because he opposes the evils of both white and native peoples.

Magua and Chingachgook are extreme opposites as stereotyped indigenous leaders. Magua is bad, with few redeeming characteristics. While he ostensibly wants the best for his people, this Huron chief sees violence as the only viable way to resist white advances. Rather than a brave warrior, however, he is painted as devious and cunning. Even worse, he violates social norms of both Native and Euro-American peoples through his domination of an innocent woman, Cora. This violation must cost him his life, as Hawkeye kills him.

Chingachgook stands for authority and leadership. Recognized as a chief, he has the capacity to provide a guiding force for all Mohican peoples, but the rash young people resist this established type of authority. He is a staunch advocate for his people, and he demonstrates the requisite physical prowess and fierceness when the occasion requires. The contradictions of his position, in Cooper’s interpretation, include the “savagery” of combat methods, especially scalping. Although not coopted by Euro-American society, Chingachgook does not unilaterally reject alliances with it, as demonstrated by his friendship with Hawkeye, who also grieves over his son’s death.

Uncas epitomizes the “last” Mohican of the title. Even though his father, Chingachgook, may be seen as presiding over the demise of Native culture that Cooper portrays as inevitable, it is Uncas’s youth and rashness that spell doom for him and other youths like him. While he exhibits many features of a Rousseau-like “noble savage,” such as an ability for interpreting the natural world, his aspiration to join with the white world through his love for Cora is fatal to him—and, by implication, to all indigenous men who desire white women.

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