The Last of the Mohicans


James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans: Hyperbole 2 key examples

Definition of Hyperbole
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations intended to emphasize a point... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements... read full definition
Chapter 8
Explanation and Analysis—Scale Heaven:

In Chapter 8, Hawkeye, Uncas, and Duncan realize that one of the Mingo warriors is firing on them from up in a tree. Hawkeye uses a hyperbole to describe the enemy's fierceness:

“These devils will scale heaven to circumvent us to our ruin,” said Hawkeye[.]

The Mingos are not literally devils, nor have any of them literally "scale[d] heaven." One of them has simply climbed a tree, which is not a terribly unusual move for the guerrilla warfare that Hawkeye has already admitted is common in the forest. Hawkeye's exaggeration is meant to emphasize the fact that even he, Uncas, and Chingachgook, who are skilled fighters, are well matched by the Mingo warriors. The three of them have all demonstrated impressive skill at navigating the many perils of the forest, so it is even more impressive that the warrior in the tree has been able to take them by surprise. Readers can be sure that this will be a challenging and high-stakes fight that will require everyone to stay on their toes.

Note that Hawkeye's hyperbole makes use of not only exaggerated but specifically religious language. The Mingo warriors are "devils" who can nonetheless "scale heaven." This language paints the Mingo people as evil or corrupt beings who are trying to infiltrate territory that doesn't belong to them. Their tactics are "devilish," or wily and dishonorable. By contrast, Hawkeye, the Mohicans, and the band of travelers are innocent people in danger of being led "to our ruin" by these devils. Cooper is playing into the cultural stereotypes of "good Indians" and "bad Indians." Christopher Columbus and other colonists whose writing shaped European perceptions of American Indian people drew a distinction between American Indians who were welcoming, helpful, and open to European culture (like the Mohicans) and American Indians who were uninterested in letting colonists into their territory. White colonists demonized the latter group, even stereotyping them as cannibals. They held up the former group as an example of the way American Indians "ought" to behave. In The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper depicts the tragic demise of "good Indians" at the hands of "bad Indians."

Chapter 33
Explanation and Analysis—Rare Charms:

In Chapter 33, the Lenape sing a sort of funeral dirge for Uncas and Chingachgook. Their song also refers to Alice; the way Cooper describes the song, they use a string of hyperbolic similes to describe Alice's beauty:

Still they denied her no meed her rare charms might properly claim. Her ringlets were compared to the exuberant tendrils of the vine, her eye to the blue vault of the heavens, and the most spotless cloud, with its glowing flush of the sun, was admitted to be less attractive than her bloom.

Cooper admits that the song is less favorable toward Alice than her dead sister, but it seems that the Lenape nonetheless feel obliged to show extreme reverence for Alice's "rare charms." They compare her hair to "the exuberant tendrils of the vine," her eyes to "the blue vault of the heavens," and her blushing cheeks to a spotless cloud glowing with the reflection of the sun. In fact, they "admit" her to be more beautiful than this glowing cloud. These similes are hyperbolic. For a people who consider nature divine, it would be next to impossible for a single human to exceed nature's beauty. If Alice is this perfect in their eyes, there is hardly room for them to show even more reverence to Cora.

The hyperbolic similes allow Cooper to call attention to Alice's pure whiteness. Her blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and soft ringlets are all markers of her whiteness. Throughout the novel, she is figured as an angelic and innocent white woman, as opposed to the more worldly Cora. Cooper heavily hints that Cora's Creole ancestry makes her an imperfect daughter who is outspoken, unpredictable, and more corrupt than Alice. Alice is Munro's ideal daughter, whom he waited many years to have; he loves Cora, but she was the consolation prize he got in the meantime, when Alice's grandfather would not allow his daughter to marry Munro. The Lenape recognize Alice as a living symbol of whiteness and purity who has outlasted both Uncas (the "last of the Mohicans") and Cora (a symbol of hybrid identity).

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