The Last of the Mohicans

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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.
The Natural World Theme Icon

The Last of the Mohicans is set against a backdrop of immense beauty, wildness, and strangeness, especially for Europeans who are not accustomed to vast expanses of “unsettled” land. The natural features of upstate New York, described by Fenimore Cooper, serve several purposes in the novel. First, the caves, ledges, mountains, streams, and paths of the New York woods are essential elements of the battle-plans of the natives and Europeans. War cannot be fought, there, as it was in Europe—in long lines, from which soldiers marched in unison. Instead, battle in the rugged forests is mostly a guerilla affair, with both natives and Europeans hiding behind objects and using the “element of surprise” to overwhelm their foes. Those who can make better use of the natural environment tend to have the upper hand in battle.

Second, there is an argument made throughout the text that natives like Uncas and Chingachgook have a better sense of the natural world than do the Europeans—that they are somehow “closer” to nature. To a certain extent, this is true, as both the Mohicans demonstrate a mastery of the woods that enables a good deal of scouting, and certain military victories. But Hawkeye has also acquired this knowledge after living among the natives for a great many years—indicating that it is a cultural heritage of the native population, rather than a “biological” one, that allows them to live close to the environment around them.

Third, Fenimore Cooper writes from the position of a newly-formed American society, one that has passed through the French and Indian Wars, its own Revolutionary War with Britain, and a War of 1812 that again challenged American supremacy over its own soil. Fenimore Cooper understands, even in 1826, that the world of Uncas and Chingachgook is rapidly disappearing—that the towns near Lake George and Lake Champlain will only grow in size, adding more settlers, and causing the deforestation of a region that was once so densely wooded, one could barely see through it. The author is not an environmentalist—he does not argue for the preservation of the woods as such—but his description of the natural beauty, the lakes and rivers and forests, of the region are inflected by a longing for those “wilder” times, when America was not even a country, and when its settlement required heroic efforts on the part of both Americans and natives.

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The Natural World 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 The Natural World.
Chapter 1 Quotes

It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet.

Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The Last of the Mohicans takes place in a colonial United States that is marked by a complex set of conflicts and loyalties - between English settlers, French settlers, Native American communities living on the North American continent for centuries, and various subsets of individuals identifying with more than one of these groups. As Cooper notes, the loyalties between people in this complex network could shift over time, and they were in fact quite dangerous. 

But the woods themselves, the areas of thick vegetation, streams, rocks, and gorges in what is now upstate New York - these posed a unique danger to those unaccustomed to traveling through them and living in them. The natural world is one of the main characters in The Last of the Mohicans - it is a vibrant and dynamic setting, against which the action and drama of the plot takes place. And it is a setting as murderous and dangerous as any conflict with any enemy in wartime. 


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Chapter 3 Quotes

These Indians know the nature of the woods, as it might be by instinct!

Related Characters: Hawkeye (speaker), Uncas, Chingachgook
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the novel's most interesting characters, Hawkeye acts as a mediator between the English, French, Mohican, and Mingo (Iroquois) tribes. Hawkeye trusts that his Native American comrades understand not just how to move through the woods - how not to get lost - but how to find, attack, and defeat an enemy using the woods as a part of an offensive or defensive strategy. Hawkeye has learned a great deal about fighting, and about loyalty and man's relationship to nature, from his Mohican friends, including Chingachgook and Uncas. 

The flip side of Hawkeye's comment, however - and something that would only be apparent to a contemporary reader - is the equation of Native American culture and attitudes with a more "natural," or "purer" way of life. Hawkeye really does believe that his Native American friends understand the woods more thoroughly than he ever could. But other characters in the text, especially English and French soldiers, do tend to believe that Native Americans are closer to nature because they have yet to be "civilized" by European culture. Cooper's novel describes the richness of native cultures as a subtle method of critiquing this European belief of the "noble savage." 

Chapter 5 Quotes

What is to be done? . . . Desert me not, for God’s sake! Remain to defend those I escort, and freely name your own reward!

Related Characters: Duncan Heyward (speaker), Hawkeye
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Duncan Heyward admits that he does not know, and cannot learn, the "ways" of the forest - certainly not in the time remaining to him, after they have been abandoned in the woods by Magua. Hawkeye therefore arrives just in the nick of time, and clearly demonstrates that he understands the paths, and hiding places, in those woods. Heyward has no trouble asking Hawkeye for this kind of help. 

The idea of "escorting" is an important one in the novel. Heyward is tasked with moving Cora and Alice through the forest because, it is assumed, they are utterly incapable of this kind of activity themselves. This is a commonly-held belief among the Europeans (English and French) in the New World - that men must make the colonies safe and civilized for the women who travel with them. But as will become apparent later in the text, Huron and Iroquois tribes do not feel the same way - women in those societies take on much more prominent roles outside the home. 

Chapter 19 Quotes

It is impossible to describe the music of their language, while thus engaged in laughter and endearments, in such a way as to render it intelligible to those whose ears have never listened to its melody.

Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator here argues that the Native languages, in particular the Huron language, have a music to them that is all their own - that they are somehow closer to music itself than they are to language. Instrumental music, of course, has no words - it has only notes, sounds. It is abstract, and it does not carry meaning - it is closer to the noise that surrounds one in the world.

Thus, as the narrator is ostensibly praising the language of the Hurons, and arguing for its beauty, the narrator is also noting that this language is somehow more "organic" and closer to nature - and therefore less civilized, less technically developed, than a European language. Although the narrator seems to want genuinely to support and advocate for the Native American tribes he describes, he occasionally does so in a manner that would, today, be considered (at best) ethnically condescending. For European languages, though musical, are also described as languages - as ways of conveying thought, or speech, or literature. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

I little like that smoke, which you may see worming up along the rock above the canoe. my life on it, other eyes than ours see it, and know its meaning. Well, words will not mend the matter, and it is time that we were doing.

Related Characters: Hawkeye (speaker)
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

The latter half of the novel contains a great many chases, like this one, in which Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook make way, with Heyward and Munro, through the woods to find Magua, Alice, and Cora. Indeed, as this passage indicates, the structure of the novel is one of traces and the spotting of traces - smoke and those who see it, caves and those who hide in them. The warfare of Europe, which took place on cleared battlefields, has been exchanged for the warfare of the New World, in which men follow one another in a complex game of cat and mouse.

Hawkeye, of course, is immensely skilled at this game - skilled as no European is, and more skilled than a great many of the Natives whom he fights. Hawkeye's knowledge of the woods, the caves, the smoke that comes from the caves is unparalleled. All Heyward and Munro can do is listen to Hawkeye as he helps them toward Cora and Alice. 

Chapter 21 Quotes

We must get down to it, Sagamore, beginning at the spring, and going over the ground by inches. The Huron shall never brag in his tribe that he has a foot which leaves no print.

Related Characters: Hawkeye (speaker), Chingachgook
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

Hawkeye's relationship with Chingachgook is one of absolute friendship and total dedication. They also work together, European and Mohican, to defeat the Iroquois, who have been their enemies since time immemorial. One of the specific traits of the Iroquois, as it repeated in the lore of the region, is that they leave no trace when they walk - that there would be no prints, therefore, with which to trace Magua. But Hawkeye does not believe this to be true - and, indeed, believes that he and Chingachgook themselves can move through the forests without a trace.

This, then, adds to the theme of tracking that wends its way throughout the novel. One only knows another's trail by viewing what that person has left behind - a footprint, a bent twig, the disturbance of a few leaves. Cooper makes Hawkeye almost superhumanly adept at reading these traces - far more so than any European who has ever lived in what is now upstate New York. 

Chapter 29 Quotes

If the Great Spirit gave different tongues to his red children, it was that all animals might understand them. Some He placed among the snows, with their cousin the bear. Some he placed near the setting sun, on the road to the happy hunting-grounds. Some on the lands around the great fresh waters; but to his greatest, and most beloved, he gave the sands of the salt lake.

Related Characters: Magua (speaker)
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

Magua gives a short sermon on the nature of native tribes, and the manner by which they came to be the way they are. Cooper demonstrates that Magua is very knowledgeable in the ways of his own culture, and in the history that culture has established for itself - in the art of telling one's own story, and the story of one's people.

Cooper, importantly, does not necessarily intrude on the narrative here, to argue that Magua's story of the history of his tribe is incorrect. Cooper refrains from implying that the European methods of history, or warfare, or city-building are naturally superior to the native methods. He also does not argue that native methods themselves were closer to nature, or more originally wonderful. Cooper instead manages (usually) to show what is good and ill about both native and European societies - and to show how these societies interacted when they met in the forests of upstate New York. 

Chapter 33 Quotes

Go, children of the Lenape, the anger of the Manitou is not done. Why should Tamenund stay? The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the redmen has not yet come again. My day has been too long. In the morning I saw the sons of Unamis [the Mohicans] happy and strong; and yet, before the night has come, have I lived to see the last warrior of the wise race of the Mohicans.

Related Characters: Tamenund (speaker)
Page Number: 407
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a very sad moment in the text, and the closing speech. Tamenund has a hard time believing that Uncas is really gone, that he has been brought low in battle - and that, therefore, the "last of the Mohicans," the final warrior of a great line of warriors, will not live to have his own family. Tamenund laments that this is so, and wonders what might have been had Uncas survived.

But Tamenund also notes that the Europeans, for good or for ill, have taken over most of the native lands, and will continue to. In this the leader understands, with great sadness, the path in which history appears to be leading - he neither accepts it nor fights against it, but merely states that it is so. It is a bitter ending to the tale - but Tamenund also notes that Uncas' bravery was so noteworthy during his life, and that that bravery will be remembered, too - along with the tragic state of affairs that caused Uncas' to be taken from his community in the prime of his youth.