November 09, 2021

#08-150: The Last of the Mohicans

Hawk-eye, disguised as a bear, fights Magua
in the cave where Alice is held captive.

Note: James Fenimore Cooper captured the historic imagination of America--and in the process irritated Mark Twain. Let's see if we can figure out why.

Get Ready: Do you prefer stories that are simple and straightforward? Or would you rather read one with lots of complications and "twists and turns"? Why?

Fellow American author Mark Twain didn't much like the writing style of James Fenimore Cooper. In fact, he wrote an essay of nearly 5,000 satirical and biting words entitled "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." It opens with three epigraphs from prominent critics praising Cooper's work--and then says it was wrong of them to do so "without having read some of it"!

Nevertheless, before his death at age 61, Cooper published an astounding 11 books of nonfiction; a half-dozen travel volumes; numerous short stories; and over 30 novels, five of which featured a frontier scout named Natty Bumppo, and which together are called the "Leatherstocking Tales."

The most famous of these is The Last of the Mohicans. It's set in 1757, during the French and Indian War, in which France and Great Britain used Native American allies in their battle for control of North America. The novel's premise involves the safe conduct of two girls to Fort William Henry, where their father, a British colonel, is in command.

Natty Bumppo (also called "Hawk-eye") is in the party, along with other Brits and two Indians. One of these, Chingachgook, is the last chief of the Mohican tribe, and that tribe's last member after the death of his son, Uncas.

In an altercation with another tribe, the Hurons, the British are taken prisoner, but Hawk-eye and his Mohican friends escape. Once rescued, the girls and the two British men are taken by Hawk-eye and his companions to an abandoned building…

Look, I'm not saying that Twain was right, but from here the plot descends into a series of kidnappings, rescues, double-crosses, unlikely ruses (some involving a bear costume!), disguises, and a canoe chase. As Twain wrote about another of Cooper's books, "A work of art? ... it has no lifelikeness, ... its characters are confusedly drawn..." One sees his point.

In the end, one of the girls dies, as does Uncas. The novel ends on an elegiac tone, dwelling on the funerals of these two and predicting the decline of the Native American way of life: "The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the red-men has not yet come again..."


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. altercation
  2. canoe
  3. colonel
  4. double-crosses
  5. dwelling
  6. elegiac
  7. epigraphs
  8. lifelikeness
  9. premise
  10. scout

  1. focusing; concentrating
  2. Native American boat
  3. resemblance to something real
  4. suitable short quotations at the start of a work
  5. high-ranking military officer, just below a general
  6. a kind of spy and guide
  7. sorrowful; mournful
  8. main idea; foundation
  9. fight; battle
  10. betrayals; acts of treachery

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 9, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. b; 3. e; 4. j; 5. a; 6. g; 7. d; 8. c; 9. h; 10. f