The Last of the Mohicans

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Gender Roles and Gender Expectations Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
“Savagery,” Civilization, and the Frontier Theme Icon
Escape, Pursuit, and Rescue Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Gender Expectations Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Loyalty and Treachery Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Last of the Mohicans, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender Roles and Gender Expectations Theme Icon

The Last of the Mohicans also takes up different understandings of the role of men and women in European and native societies. Cora (and, to a lesser extent, Alice) is a three-dimensional character, one possessed of courage and ingenuity in the face of danger. But the demands placed on her life are those typical of an eighteenth-century woman. Generally speaking, both British and French forces believe that war is to be fought by men and among men, and that “women and children” should not be involved in battle in any way. Thus Heyward conveys Cora and Alice from Fort Edward to Fort William Henry at the start of the novel, hoping to keep them out of harm’s way. But Native American customs regarding the involvement of women in battle are different, in two ways: first, women in native cultures participate more openly and centrally in the rituals that precede battle, and in preparations for warriors; and women are treated, in Fenimore Cooper’s rendering of native custom, as reasonable targets for battle, especially as regards the capture of women and the holding of them for ransom.

Thus Magua demands at several times in the novel that, in order to save her sister and family, Cora abandon her European heritage (which is in fact biracial, as Cora’s ancestor is a native of the West Indies) and become his wife. To the British, the notion of Cora marrying a native is abhorrent and “unnatural,” and to Magua, the capture of Cora is an important sign of victory in battle—Cora is, therefore, his “prize.”

There is also a broader distinction made between “male” and “female” conduct. Both native and European societies have particular conceptions of acceptable male and female behavior. In particular, in native society, among the Mingos and the Delawares, it is considered a high insult for a warrior to be compared to a woman. This might happen for any of a number of reasons, but would include leaving a battle before killing all one’s enemies, or the showing of mercy. On the other hand, European society obeys a chivalric set of principles regarding male-female relations: in other words, male soldiers are expected to give everything, even their lives, to protect women. Ultimately, it is the “horrific” idea of Magua capturing and marrying Cora that provokes Hawkeye and the rest of the group to follow Magua and kill him. At this climactic point of the novel, Cora officially states she would rather die than marry Magua, and though Magua hesitates in killing Cora, a confederate of his does. Cora therefore maintains her “purity,” and Magua shows that, for him, Cora is the ultimate token of greatness—a wife “taken” from her European society and forcibly removed to native society.

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Gender Roles and Gender Expectations Quotes in The Last of the Mohicans

Below you will find the important quotes in The Last of the Mohicans related to the theme of Gender Roles and Gender Expectations.
Chapter 10 Quotes

Yes, the pale-faces are prattling women! They have two words for each thing, while a redskin will make the sound of his voice speak for him.

Related Characters: Magua (speaker), Duncan Heyward
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Magua believes, just as heartily as some of the European characters believe, that there are essential differences between Native Americans and Europeans. One of those differences, for Magua, has to do with patterns of speech. Europeans, he charges, use a lot of words to say very little - they use language not to tell the truth but to speak around it, to obfuscate it - in a word, to lie. By contrast, the Native Americans believe that a voice ought to be used when someone has something true, and direct, to say. Magua does not believe in the use of language for deception.

But, of course, both Heyward and Magua practice deception throughout the novel, and so Magua's distinction is a theoretical rather than an actual one. Heyward attempts to use his cunning to build up Magua's vanity and therefore save his friends, and Magua, at the beginning of the novel, pretended to be a scout favorable to Heyward and company before abandoning them. 


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Chapter 11 Quotes

And am I answerable that thoughtless and unprincipled men exist, whose shades of countenance may resemble mine?

Related Characters: Cora Munro (speaker), Magua
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, Magua is trying to make the case that Cora ought to live with him as his wife. In doing this, he in part degrades the honor and valor of the European men among whom Cora has lived. Cora assertively tells Magua, in this quotation, that of course there are bad European men, as there are bad people in all communities in the world - she therefore echoes the sentiments she shares earlier in the text, in which she critiques those who (rightly, it turns out) would not trust Magua. But the fact that Magua is a deceptive person and of Iroquois heritage is a coincidence, and Cora wishes to show that bad people, and good people, exist in all communities on the face of the earth, and have since time immemorial. What is more important, for Cora, is the courage one demonstrates in thinking for himself or herself - and not the affiliation that person proclaims, as a source of "honor." 

Chapter 14 Quotes

Hold! ‘Tis she! God has restored me to my children! Throw open the sally-port; to the field; . . . pull not a trigger, lest ye kill my lambs!

Related Characters: Colonel Munro (speaker), Cora Munro, Alice Munro
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Colonel Munro has believed, till now, that Cora and Alice will not be "returned" to him - that, in sending them out ahead of the colonists with Magua, he has accidentally committed them to their doom. His relief in finding Cora and Alice again is unmatched at any other point in the novel. He feels that he has bucked fate. 

Again, this scene makes plain the relationship of men and women, fathers and daughters, in the "European" communities of the novel. Whereas gender roles among the native communities are far more equal, though by no means perfectly equal, among the Europeans the men fight and protect the women, who mostly do what the men around them ask them to do. It is an arrangement that situates power and authority in the hands of men, not women, and that runs contrary to the spirit of independence possessed by people like Hawkeye, who do not ascribe entirely either to European or to native principles. 

Chapter 15 Quotes

Ah! thou truant! thou recreant knight! He who abandons his damsels in the very lists! Here we have been days, nay, ages, expecting you at our feet, imploring mercy and forgetfulness of your craven backsliding . . . .
You know that Alice means our thanks and our blessings . . . .

Related Characters: Cora Munro (speaker), Alice Munro (speaker), Duncan Heyward
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a small moment of levity in a novel where levity is not all that common. Cora and Alice make fun, gently, of Duncan for his seriousness, and for his desire only to fight the French from the fort, and not to spend time with them within it. 

Cooper's characterizations, as those of Cora and Alice and Heyward here, tend to be schematic, or organized broadly according to theme and type. Heyward is a good, loyal, but somewhat inflexible soldier, who never sways from his devotion. Cora is a passionate defender of the rights of all people, and especially of the rights of Native Americans, whom she believes to be treated unjustly by Europeans. And Alice is a very kind and (as is implied repeatedly) "pure" person, whose honor has in no way been besmirched. Cooper, in this scene, therefore disrupts these types somewhat, without abandoning them - and these three will stay true to their general characters throughout the rest of the novel. 

Chapter 25 Quotes

Heyward, give me the sacred presence and the holy sanction of that parent [Munro] before you urge me further.

Related Characters: Alice Munro (speaker), Duncan Heyward, Colonel Munro
Page Number: 300
Explanation and Analysis:

Alice is in love with Heyward, and has indeed been waiting for some time for Heyward to propose marriage to her. But Alice, in her "purity" (as it is described throughout the novel), wishes to do everything properly, including getting permission from her father, Colonel Munro, before Heyward can take her hand in marriage. Cooper has clearly set up Alice as a paragon of virtue in the text - as a character who cannot be corrupted, whose purity is so obvious as to be beyond question.

What is more troubling is Cora's relative lack of virtue, despite nothing that Cora has done. Cooper's narrator instead avers that Cora has, in her temperament (perhaps deriving from her mother, a native of the West Indies) a tendency toward a more tempestuous life. Cora, then, although she commits no crime, winds up in situations in which her virtue is continually tested - and Alice, coincidentally, does not. This is another aspect of Cooper's "schematic," or broadly theme-based, somewhat flat depiction of certain characters. 

Chapter 32 Quotes

The pale-faces are dogs! The Delawares women! Magua leaves them on the rocks, for the crows!

Related Characters: Magua (speaker)
Page Number: 393
Explanation and Analysis:

Even as Magua begins to realize that he is doomed, that he will not be able to survive the final battle, he nevertheless refuses to back down, or to state that in fact he has a new-found respect for his adversaries. Instead, he states that Europeans cannot be trusted, that the Delawares are cowardly in battle (as implied by the insult "women"), and that he will not even allow their wounded bodies proper treatment or burial. This bitterness Magua takes to the very end - he will not allow for any compromise between his own tribe and his enemies.

Magua, then, is one example of the nature of enmity in the novel - but he is not the only example. Although Heyward and Hawkeye, each in his own way, are committed to defending themselves and their friends, they do not believe that their enemies are absolutely evil - nor do they think it is their only job on earth to defeat them. In his hatred of his enemies, Magua is in a realm unto himself - his hatred knows no bounds, and it is this hatred that drives him into the final battle and, eventually, kills him.