(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Pioneers, the first published of the Leatherstocking Tales (but the fourth in Deerslayer’s chronology), though containing some of the usual Scott influences, is essentially a mirror of American history. Deerslayer, now known as Leatherstocking, has advanced to his early seventies, and the action takes place in 1793 and 1794. The setting is Templeton, which Cooper identifies in his introduction to the novel as representing the customs and inhabitants of early Cooperstown. Although the plot concerns the Temple-Effingham feud (complete with Romeo and Juliet lovers, Oliver and Elizabeth), the novel’s strength is its re-creation of daily scenes from late eighteenth century American life (such as lake fishing and a turkey shoot) and its central theme of economic change and the law.

Cooper’s basic conflict is still between two differing ways of life, but this time they are not the Indians’ and whites’. Templeton is a farming community that survives by cutting trees, planting crops, and turning hunting grounds into pastures. As such, it represents the new American agrarian economy. In order to prosper, it has to create a new system of laws as, in a larger sense, the United States must.

The living embodiment of this emerging system is Judge Marmaduke Temple (modeled upon Cooper’s father), who, though fallible, tries to apply these laws equitably. Built into the system are its flaws, including political patronage and the...

(The entire section is 556 words.)