The Last of the Mohicans


James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans: Situational Irony 1 key example

Chapter 15
Explanation and Analysis—Prisoner of War:

In Chapter 15, General Webb sends news that he is essentially abandoning Fort William Henry, which Munro has been holding against Montcalm's siege. Montcalm thus releases Hawkeye, who he had taken prisoner; when Duncan sees Hawkeye, there is a sense of situational irony in the scout's appearance:

The countenance of Hawkeye was haggard and careworn, and his air dejected, as though he felt the deepest degradation at having fallen into the power of his enemies. He was without his favorite weapon, and his arms were even bound behind him with thongs, made of the skin of a deer.

Hawkeye prides himself on his freedom from many colonial customs. A "man without a cross," he is not bound by Christian religion or European customs. Instead, he has spent most of his life in the wilderness with Chingachgook and Uncas. He is a skilled hunter and survivalist. It is ironic, then, that he now finds himself powerless in Montcalm's custody. He has been stripped of his weapon, which he calls "Kildeer." Symbolically, "his arms were even bound behind him with thongs, made of the skin of a deer." Part of the very animal Hawkeye is known for being able to shoot with uncanny accuracy is now being used by his enemy to tie him up.

Cooper does not humiliate Hawkeye in this passage to strip him of his status as a hero in the novel. Rather, the irony in this scene serves to demonstrate just how desperate circumstances have become at Fort William Henry. Montcalm has such an advantage that he has been able to turn the most unlikely person imaginable into his prisoner. Not only that, but Montcalm is so confident that Munro is no longer a threat that he is willing to release Hawkeye to him: Montcalm no longer feels any need for this highly valuable human bargaining chip.