Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Lake Ontario

*Lake Ontario. Great lake that separates the northwestern part of what is now New York State from Canada—the region in which The Pathfinder is set. As a Navy midshipman in the early nineteenth century, Cooper was stationed at Oswego and traveled through the region. When he later wrote the novel, he called his description of the region “as nearly accurate as is required by the laws which govern fiction.” He seems to have first proposed setting a novel in the Great Lakes area in 1831; at various times he even referred to the novel’s title as “Lake Ontario” and “Inland Sea,” thus suggesting the importance place would play.

From the very first page of The Pathfinder, the eighteenth century New York wilderness is established as a powerful, awe-inspiring, mythic force, wherein forest training, and neither book learning nor map reading, keeps one alive. Natty Bumppo, here called Pathfinder, appears in these first few pages, establishing his reputation for finding his way “where there is no path” and sharing his vision of the wilderness as God’s temple. He is Cooper’s archetypal frontiersman, guide, hunter, and trapper, a model of rugged American individualism, democracy, and transcendental spirituality. As he does in the early pages, Cooper uses place in the remainder of the novel to articulate and test the values and skills that frontier life has given Pathfinder.


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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Pathfinder is comprised of two clearly defined parts, each developing an adventure in which Mabel is endangered, Hawkeye and...

(The entire section is 257 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Cooper has created a world of freedom and adventure which has never lost its appeal for the modern reader. An exploration into the elements...

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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In this Leatherstocking novel, Natty Bumppo, alias Hawkeye, works as a scout for a British garrison on Lake Ontario. A sergeant, who...

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Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Leatherstocking Tales have been a point of cultural reference and a national monument. They are one of the first examples of a...

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Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The other four novels of The Leatherstocking Tales — The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The...

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(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

There have been many motion picture adaptations of Cooper's novels about Hawkeye. The outstanding example of these is the 1992 version of...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Blakemore, Steven. “Language and World in The Pathfinder.” Modern Language Studies 16, no. 3 (Summer, 1986): 237-246. Examines Cooper’s treatment of his major characters through an examination of the differentiated language he uses and creates for them.

Darnell, Donald. “Manners on a Frontier: The Pioneers, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer.” In James Fenimore Cooper: Novelist of Manners. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993. Explores the role of social class on the frontier. The main characters, Darnell claims, are fully aware and respectful of their own lower rank.

Kolodny, Annette. “Love and Sexuality in The Pathfinder.” In James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Wayne Fields. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. Discusses Cooper’s need to show the possibility of love for Natty Bumppo in order to make him a whole human being. Natty faces a choice between love of the forest and love of a woman.

Rans, Geoffrey. Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Novels: A Secular Reading. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Good introductory overview. The chapter “A Matter of Choice” shows how The Pathfinder focuses more on the mythical character of Natty Bumppo and less on the Indians and the wilderness than do the other Leatherstocking novels.

Walker, Warren S. “The Tragic Wilderness.” In James Fenimore Cooper: An Introduction and Interpretation, by Warren S. Walker. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962. Places the work in the context of the Leatherstocking series and explores common themes and images. The Pathfinder carries Natty Bumppo through early middle age and through his last attempt at love.