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.


(The entire section is 492 words.)