The Last of the Mohicans


James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans: Personification 3 key examples

Definition of Personification
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... read full definition
Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Great Britain:

In Chapter 1, Cooper sets the scene for the novel's plot by personifying Great Britain:

The imbecility of her military leaders abroad, and the fatal want of energy in her councils at home, had lowered the character of Great Britain from the proud elevation on which it had been placed, by the talents and enterprise of her former warriors and statesmen.

Cooper has already told the reader that the novel is set during the French and Indian War. This series of conflicts gets its name from the fact that the British were fighting the French for control of territory in North America, and both the British and French formed military alliances with different American Indian groups. Cooper goes on to describe the specific time period when the novel takes place as a moment when "the character of Great Britain" has been brought low. Whereas once the "talents and enterprise of her former warriors and statesmen" placed Great Britain on a pedestal, she is now lacking her former glory.

It was especially common during this period to refer to Great Britain as a human woman. Cooper avails himself of this trend to emphasize the dire straits in which the British and British-allied characters find themselves at the beginning of the novel. Their protector, Great Britain herself, has made a mess of things. The forest is now full of French and French-allied enemies who are much stronger and more numerous than the British troops. These enemies will be trying to hunt down and eradicate British troops and are incentivized to take civilians as prisoners of war. Great Britain herself, meanwhile, is not only powerless but also of a "lower character" than she used to be. This lower character comes into play especially when General Webb refuses to send more troops to protect Fort William Henry, leading to a brutal massacre.

The heroes of the novel are tasked not only with surviving without Great Britain's protection, but also with restoring her former glory. But an argument can easily be made that the main band of travelers, most of whom are not British soldiers, instead establish a new national character: that of the United States. This nation did not yet exist at the time when the novel is set, but the novel is nonetheless considered one of the first American novels.

Chapter 27
Explanation and Analysis—Prince of Darkness:

In Chapter 27, after Hawkeye, David, and Uncas have orchestrated Uncas's escape through use of the bear costume, Magua seethes in rage and vows revenge. Cooper uses personification and an allusion to dramatize the scene:

Occasionally the air breathed through the crevices of the hut, and the low flames, that fluttered about the embers of the fire threw their wavering light on the person of the sullen recluse. At such moments it would not have been difficult to have fancied the dusky savage the Prince of Darkness, brooding on his own fancied wrongs, and plotting evil.

The air and the flames come to life, as though they have their own sense of agency. The air "breathing" upon the flames through the cracks in the hut conjures the idea of a bellows: it is as if the air is keeping the flames alive, and the flames are lighting the fuse of Magua's anger. The entire environment is driving the feeling of vengeance to a fever pitch.

To further emphasize the intensity of Magua's anger, Cooper compares him to the "Prince of Darkness," which is what John Milton calls Satan in his epic poem Paradise Lost. Satan is the main character of Paradise Lost, and the poem opens on Satan and his devils in the fires of hell. Milton attempts to understand Satan's motivation for bringing sin into the lives of humans in the biblical Book of Genesis; cast out of heaven by a tyrannical God, Satan invades the Garden of Eden not just for fun but to exact revenge and push back against God's power. The poem can easily be read as a political allegory about revolution and rebellion. By comparing Magua to Satan hatching his vengeful plan in the fires of hell, Cooper heightens the stakes of Magua's anger. He is not just one angry man, but rather an angry man with an entire army of "devils" to back him in a revolution of biblical proportions. At the same time, the comparison also suggests that Cooper is interested in understanding the motivation behind Magua's rage. Rather than depict him as a senselessly violent antagonist, Cooper depicts him as a man who is having an intense (even outsized) reaction to being wronged.

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Chapter 30
Explanation and Analysis—Look at the Sun:

In Chapter 30, Tamenund rules that Cora must go with Magua as his captive. Uncas concedes that Tamenund's ruling must stand, but he also personifies the sun in a way that suggests a complicated stance on Tamenund's authority:

Huron, the justice of the Delawares comes from the Manitou. Look at the sun. He is now in the upper branches of the hemlock. Your path is short and open. When he is seen above the trees, there will be men on your trail.

Uncas tells Magua that "the Manitou" (meaning Tamenund) has dispensed justice on behalf of the Delawares, and he refuses to go against the declaration. As a single member of a different nation who is in the territory of the Delawares, Uncas must defer to Tamenund. But Tamenund, he implies, does not dispense all justice. There is a greater justice that prevails anywhere else the sun touches. When Magua is on the road and the sun positions itself above the trees (i.e. when it is about noon and sunlight washes over the whole forest), neither Uncas nor Magua will be bound any longer by Tamenund's ruling. At that point, Uncas will be free to lead men after Magua to rescue Cora, dispensing a higher order of justice. Uncas's choice to personify the sun helps emphasize the sense that he is not swearing to go after Magua out of selfishness. Rather, he is looking to a higher power and sense of morality to determine the right course of action. Just as he is letting Tamenund guide his course of action in this moment, he will let the sun guide him in his pursuit of Cora.

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