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During the fierce French and Indian wars, an adroit scout named Hawkeye and his companion Chingachgook weave through the spectacular and dangerous wilderness of upstate New York, fighting to save the beautiful Munro sisters from the Huron renegade Magua.
The Last of the Mohicans is the most popular of James Fenimore Cooper’s five Leatherstocking Tales. With its death-defying chases and teeth-clenching suspense, this American classic established many archetypes of American frontier fiction.
An engrossing “Western” by America’s first great novelist, The Last of the Mohicans is a story of survival and treachery, love and deliverance.
Stephen Railton, Professor of English at the University of Virginia, has written books on Cooper, Mark Twain, and the American Renaissance, and has created major websites on Twain, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and American culture.
We must not fall for the fiction Cooper uses to organize the story he tells in The Last of the Mohicans. There has never been a “last” Mohican. The tribe Cooper refers to by that name survives to this day, on a small reservation in Wisconsin. According to Cooper’s version of the Mohicans’ story, the death of Uncas in the middle of the eighteenth century is the last act in the tragedy of a once-mighty nation. There are a number of tragic elements in the real history of the people who, when they learned to write English, referred to themselves as the Muhheakunnuk or Moheakunnuk, but the story they have written with their actions is that of a people who, while remaining true to key elements of their heritage, made great efforts to adapt to and earn a place in the new world that descended on them with the arrival of the traders and settlers from Europe.
As Patrick Frazier recounts that story in The Mohicans of Stockbridge, the tribe accepted Christianity about two decades before the events Cooper dramatizes in the novel; two decades after the supposed death of the last Mohican, they fought on the American side during the Revolutionary War. When the tribe relocated from Massachusetts to the vicinity of New York’s Oneida Lake in the mid-1780s, just a few years before the infant James Cooper was carried to Cooperstown on the banks of nearby Lake Otsego, they took with them a letter from George Washington attesting that the Muhheakunnuks “have fought and bled by our side . . . as our friends and brothers . . . [and] as friends and subjects to the United States of America.” No efforts could stop the tide of white pioneers from diminishing their population and driving them farther west, but like nearly all the original Native American tribes, they survived despite the centuries of cultural loss, economic dispossession, white aggression, discrimination, and neglect.
That true story, however, is one the United States is still reluctant to tell, and repressed almost completely throughout the nineteenth century as the pioneers moved westward across the continent. On the other hand, Americans loved the story Cooper tells in Mohicans. Published in 1826, it was Cooper’s sixth novel; he was already America’s most successful novelist, a position he held through most of his career, and among the thirty-two novels he wound up writing before his death in 1851 were a number of best-sellers. The Last of the Mohicans was first among them all: his most popular book, and one of the most widely read American novels ever. Like most of Cooper’s novels, especially those he wrote in the first half of his career, it derives from the model of the historical romance that Walter Scott established in Waverley (1814). The subtitle of Cooper’s novel—A Narrative of 1757—echoes Waverley’s subtitle, ’Tis Sixty Years Since, and in his preface to the book’s first edition Cooper warns mere novel readers that by “narrative” he means historical fact, not imaginative fancy. But the project of The Last of the Mohicans is myth making, not history writing, and the myth it makes served contemporary readers precisely by replacing history as the nation was enacting it with a story about the fate of the Indians that both moved and reassured the whites who were in fact (but not in Cooper’s fiction) the agents of that fate.
As Cooper tells the story, the first person to label Uncas “the last of the Mohicans” is actually his own father. Chingachgook himself is still a vigorous warrior, and the narrative repeatedly refers to Uncas as “young” and “youthful”—that such a father would be anticipating the death of such a son rather then looking forward to his eventual marriage and children seems to violate the truths of the human heart, but as Cooper tells the story, even Uncas accepts his ominous title. In fact, he enters the narrative exactly at the moment in chapter III when Chingachgook tells Hawkeye that when Uncas dies the whole tribe will be extinct, “for my boy is the last of the Mohicans.” “Uncas is here!” is the next line, as “a youthful warrior” steps out of the woods to join the conversation. “Here,” this introduction to him implies, “but not for long”—Uncas will figure throughout the novel as a character with an expiration date. As a rescuer of the story’s two white heroines and as the lost prince of the Delaware nation, Uncas is regarded by both the narrator and the white characters with considerable admiration. His head may be naked except for its “scalping tuft,” but the narrative calls it “noble.” Alice looks upon him as a heathen, “a being partially benighted in the vale of ignorance,” but she also associates his “graceful,” “dignified,” “pure,” and “proud” form with classical ideals, “some precious relic of the Grecian chisel.” Cora goes further: “Who that looks at this creature of nature, remembers the shade of his skin!” To her, that’s a rhetorical question, but her companions’ “short and embarrassed silence” in reply keeps the line between races firmly in place. Combined with the epithet “the last,” that racial boundary lets readers know that all the sympathetic admiration they bestow on Uncas is extended provisionally. Within those limits, the narrative allows Uncas to grow increasingly heroic. After the first rescue scene, for example, while his father scalps the Mingoes they’ve slain, Uncas hurries with Duncan, the white officer and gentleman, to the side of the two white maidens. Duncan is not ashamed to cry at the sight of their deliverance. Uncas doesn’t go that far, but his eyes nonetheless “beam with a sympathy that elevated him far above the intelligence and advanced him probably centuries before the practices of his nation.”
While that sentence doubtless sounds patronizing, if not racist, to most twenty-first century readers, Cooper’s books display more respect and admiration for Indian characters like Uncas than was the norm in his culture. Indeed, his depiction of Uncas as so noble a savage came under attack from a number of critics. A novel like Robert Montgomery Bird’s Nick of the Woods (1837), also a best-seller, was written expressly to contest Cooper’s “poetical illusions” and “beautiful unrealities” by describing instead what Bird in his preface calls “real Indians,” who are unrelievedly “ignorant, violent, debased, brutal.” Mark Twain made the same argument in Roughing It (1872), and began a sequel to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) that takes Huck and Tom into the Indian Territory so he can debunk Cooper’s romances by exposing the boys to a series of atrocities committed by treacherous Indians. In 1851, shortly before Cooper’s death, the Chippewa chief and activist George Copway publicly thanked the novelist for having created Uncas as a “hero” who “possesses all the noble traits of an exalted character,” an Indian whom Native Americans could read about with pride. Yet although Cooper advances Uncas centuries ahead of his tribesmen, he is careful never to suggest that the last Mohican could progress to the point where he belongs inside American civilization. He lifts Uncas high enough to make his passing tragic—but readers mourn for him at the end, as they admire him throughout, from within the safety of a world out of which he has already disappeared.
Posted June 14, 2006
I read a chapter, and almost put it back on the shelf. But if you can make past the first two chapters, you won't be disappointed. After the slow beginning, the pace never slackens, and the characters and plot are engaging and lively.
8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 9, 2006
This by far is a great book. The first chapter is a bit hard to understand, but it grows from there to become a novel of suspense. I highly recommend this book for those who like a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 19, 2004
James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The last of the Mohincans, tells the story of the colonial scout Hawkeye, real name Natty Bumppo, with his 2 Indian companions Changachgook (his Mohican father) and his mohican brother Uncas. They stumble onto a party of British soldiers conducting 2 fair maidens (names Alice and Cora) traveling to their father Colonel Munro, who is the commander of the British Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War. They are being treacherously lead by a huron scout Magua who intends to hurt the 2 girls in order to get to their father the Colonel. I thought that The Last of the Mohicans was a very interesting piece of work. The book has a compelling story and great characters. Any one that is interested in historical fiction should read this book. The aouther tells this story in chronological order and in third person. He was very descriptive and precise in writing this novel. It is filled with action and adventure. It has a heart felt story with a sad, but meaningful conclusion that is poignant and well thought out. It gives you a sence of guilt to anyone that is from a British/ French heritage. It makes you realize what is the real goal of English or French society, putting risk on lives and ancient cultural heritage of the Native American people? Or have a few extra acres of land? I think that anyone who loves reading and have a plot that makes their mind work a little, would have the privelege of reading this book.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 13, 2012
I almost don't know what to make of this story. At times I hated it but then there are other sections that I really loved. I enjoyed the character of Cora Munro and wish she said and did more in the book. I thought Cooper used way too much description when writing his scenes, and it distracted from the storyline. There are a lot of sections where he could have said the same thing in about half the time. The verbal assault he puts the reader through is annoying and it takes away from the actual plot. After reading the book I decided to watch the 1992 movie version, which surprisingly I enjoyed much more than the book. The movie isn't anything like the book, it has the same characters and the same overall plot, but other than that the movie has a totally different tone than the book did, and I think that's what appealed to my 21st Century brain. I'd recommend only if you want to broaden your knowledge of early American novelists and see just where American literature came from. If you're looking for pure entertainment, just watch the movie with Daniel Day Lewis.
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Posted March 17, 2012
Posted January 13, 2012
I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't check if it was simplified first. This probably would be great for kids but I lost my paperback copy and having names like le subtil translated to sly fox in this version seems hokey.
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Posted January 28, 2015
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Posted June 8, 2013
If he touches my daughter i am going to be really pis<_> sed if he touches anyine else in my family i will have to talk to
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Posted March 7, 2013
Posted March 24, 2013
I don't think i belong here anymore, i've only made things worse here. I've devastated my family, both my sister's hate me, my current bf hates me and yet i feel i'm never going to be enough. Hopefully this will be my last post here, for i have quit rping. Occassionaly you may see me at Scarlet Letter but i assure you that is it. Three days before my birthday i have screwed up my life majorly. I don't kbow wha to do anymore but to say my goodbye's. Leah, you were my mother, a friend, and family. You helped me out when i was clueless and i will never be able to repay you for that. You showed me what i can do to make myself happy and learned how to make other people happy around me. Take care! Roan, you were my stepfather, my daddy. I loved you too, but i didn't really know you so i can't say a bunch. Mike, you were my true father. You cared when other people didn't and you were the leader of my family. I found you at scarlet letter and wouldn't let go of your leg, and that's when you found Leah. I was the first chid of this family and hopefully the first to officially quit. Ink, you were my sister and you were there when i needed to spill out my heart. I aprreciated everyhing till i found out you hated me. I didn't know why and i still don't know why. But take care of my family. Love ya... Briana, take care of Sam. September, you were my first sister. The one i cared for the most. You tought me porno was not the best of things, ad since then i have quit love you and take care. Sam, you were my human and my brother-in-law. Wolfie won't be here unless i'm at Scarlet Letter. Bye.... illusion, i seem to feel i have done nothing but wrong in your life and seem like i'm making your life a living hell. I'm sorry for liking you, for making you apart of my family when you didn't want to. Take care of your Daughter and have a wonderfull life without me. Bella, you are my daughter and you know where to find me. If you need anything just go to our book. Everybody else, surely nobody else even cared to read down to here and i'm just asting your time. Live a strong and healthy life and live to your fullest. Most of you will be happy i'm finaly out of your lifes and others want me to stay till the end of time. But everytime i try to make things better it makes things worse. This is my last post at this house, my finally day at Scarlet Letter is on Wednesday, march 27th, my Birthday. Farewell and have a wonderfull exsistance without me.~Crystal
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