Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Though THE RED ROVER has never been as popular as James Fenimore Cooper’s two greatest sea romances, THE PILOT (1824) and THE TWO ADMIRALS (1842), it has its own sturdy merits as a suspenseful tale of intrigue and adventure. Superficially, the early scenes of the novel bring to mind the classic American sea novel, Melville’s MOBY DICK (1851). Harry Wilder, like Ishmael, is drawn mysteriously to a ship anchored in the harbor. Aboard the ship, Wilder encounters the notorious Red Rover, just as Ishmael meets the enigmatic Captain Ahab; and just as Ahab violates metaphysical laws in his pursuit of the White Whale, so the Red Rover is a law unto himself as he plunders merchant vessels in the period before the Revolutionary War. Beyond this point, the similarities between the novels are less clearly marked than the contrasts. Melville’s novel is composed on an epic scale, with a profound sense of tragic drama. THE RED ROVER, quite the opposite, is an entertaining melodramatic romance, written without any pretensions to examine deeply the mysteries of man’s place in the universe.

Nevertheless, the novel is interesting from points of view other than simply those of a sea adventure story. Considered from a psychological perspective, THE RED ROVER reveals Cooper’s contradictory ideas about the structure and philosophical ideas of the work. In STUDIES IN CLASSIC AMERICAN LITERATURE (1923), D....

(The entire section is 490 words.)