Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Prairie. Set just after the Louisiana Purchase, the novel’s events occur in a vague area of the prairie, about five hundred miles west of the Mississippi River. Cooper had not traveled in these western regions and was dependent on published accounts of others for his descriptions of the prairie areas. Thus, the places in the plot’s development are mostly imagined and generally not tied to identifiable spots on the map. Rather, it is the qualities of the prairie that interest Cooper: its vastness, wildness, emptiness, and sameness. Against this desertlike landscape, even a hero like Natty Bumppo is made to seem less sure and in charge than in the novels which place him in the eastern forests. Here, human efforts appear almost swallowed up by the land itself.

*La Platte

*La Platte. Platte River, whose main branch originates in central Wyoming, flows east, through all of Nebraska, before emptying into the Misssouri River just south of Omaha. The novel’s references to this river, and its suggestion that the action occurs in this river’s vicinity some five hundred miles west of the Mississippi River, lead one to believe that western Nebraska is the likely real-life equivalent of the geographical area Cooper imagined for his narrative. Although Natty Bumppo and his threatened friends, the Bush clan, and the Sioux and Pawnees in the novel are aware of this river and its importance, Cooper never really makes clear that any of the action actually occurs along its banks, preferring instead to rely on unnamed rivers and streams.

First camping area

First camping area. The Bush clan and Natty meet in the desert waste with Natty pictured against the western sunset as a “colossal,” larger-than-life figure, dramatically underscoring his key role in opening up the frontier. The...

(The entire section is 761 words.)