The Last of the Mohicans


James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of James Fenimore Cooper

Related to a line of Quakers who had emigrated from England to the Northeastern United States, James Fenimore Cooper grew up in upper-middle-class comfort on the shores of Lake Otsego, in a town planned and constructed by his father: Cooperstown, New York. After study, in his teens, at Yale—where he did not graduate, because of his early dismissal for violating the university’s rules—Fenimore Cooper served for several years in the US Navy, then came into the family’s fortune and settled back in New York City and in Cooperstown. Fenimore Cooper began writing after a “dare” laid down by his wife, Susan, about whether he could write something better novel than a novel Susan liked. Precaution, Fenimore Cooper’s first novel and the response to this “dare,” was published in 1820. The earliest of the “Deerslayer” or “Leatherstocking” novels, entitled The Pioneers and featuring the adventures of Natty Bumppo, was released in 1823. The Last of the Mohicans, for which Fenimore Cooper is most famous, was released in 1826, and three other “Deerslayer” novels followed. Cooper also wrote non-fiction, including a volume on the history of the United States Navy. During his lifetime and after his death, aged 62, he was recognized as perhaps the first great American man of letters.
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Historical Context of The Last of the Mohicans

The founding of the United States was a complex colonial battle between the English, the French, and an overlapping set of native tribes, most of whom had been displaced by the English and French over the course of the eighteenth century. The English controlled some parts of northern North America, known as Canada, as well as the Thirteen Colonies of what became the United States. The French, who had settled North America before the English, controlled parts of Canada now known as the province of Quebec. During the French and Indian War, and continuing into the nineteenth century, the English, French, and then the Americans themselves fought for control of vital land interests across the North American continent. And the natives, with whom the whites typically and briefly allied, were then pushed farther and farther west, “relocated” into new lands, and separated from those regions in which their ancestors had lived for generations. Thus The Last of the Mohicans serves two purposes. First, it attempts to detail the methods by which white (English and French) settlers established the cities of North American. Second, it pieces together the “other” and preexisting civilizations that already existed in North America: namely, those of the natives. Fenimore Cooper, to his credit, made a valiant, if not always successful, attempt to treat native society objectively, to discuss its virtues in the same breath as those of colonial society, and to represent native culture as a complex and changing one. Fenimore Cooper’s depiction of native life in The Last of the Mohicans is one of the novel’s enduring legacies in the history of American literature.

Other Books Related to The Last of the Mohicans

James Fenimore Cooper was, in many senses, a “pioneering” American writer. His five Deerslayer novels, of which Last of the Mohicans is the most widely read, take up the founding of the United States not on the level of grand political statements, or abstractions, but from the point of view of Hawkeye, their protagonist. Fenimore Cooper’s novels see the development of an American sensibility, an American work ethic and temperament, in the relationship between white settlers, natives, and the difficult land they are to tame and farm. From Fenimore Cooper, there then descended a great number of American writers, either writing in response to, or in criticism of, Fenimore Cooper’s ideals. Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden and of “Civil Disobedience,” was a reader of Fenimore Cooper’s books, as were numerous European intellectuals. The stories of Nathanial Hawthorne and the sea-tales of Herman Melville, including his magnum opus Moby-Dick (considered by many to be the greatest American novel ever written), are also indebted to the structure of the adventure novel set down by Fenimore Cooper in his “Deerslayer” tales.
Key Facts about The Last of the Mohicans
  • Full Title: The Last of the Mohicans
  • When Written: 1825
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1826
  • Literary Period: The first wave of domestic American literary production
  • Genre: historical novel; frontier novel
  • Setting: The forests of upstate New York, near Lake George, 1757
  • Climax: Magua murders Uncas and is killed by Hawkeye
  • Antagonist: Magua
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Last of the Mohicans

Film version. Many who have not read The Last of the Mohicans are nevertheless acquainted with the 1992 film version, directed by Michael Mann and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye. The film, which is not a faithful adaptation of the novel, was praised by critics and audiences upon its release.