Last of the Mohicans is a study of two societies forced into contact in the forests of upstate New York. The first is “European” society, itself divided into the French and the English settlers and their armies. The other society is that of Native Americans, referred to in the text as natives, “savages,” or as Indians. Native society is then divided into many tribal alliances. Thus the novel takes up what was considered the standard division of the American colonies, into “civilized” white settlers, French or English, and “uncivilized” Natives from all tribes. Fenimore Cooper seems to acknowledge that there are differences between native society and that of Europe, but he rejects the simple idea that natives are uncultured and Europeans alone possess culture.
The activity of the novel serves to bring together members of each of these groups, either in peace or warfare. Hawkeye (also called Natty Bumppo, “La Longue Carabine”) is friends with Uncas and Chingachgook, two representatives of the Mohican tribe who have long been cut off from their native lands and people. Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook come into contact, early on, with Duncan Heyward, Cora and Alice Munro, and David Gamut, a singer, when this group is traveling between English forts. Hawkeye and the two Mohicans go on to protect this group in their various scrapes, battles, and intrigues throughout the novel. Opposed to this collection of English and native characters, primarily, is Magua, himself of Huron stock, but a warrior-chief who has played with tribal alliances in order increase his power in the region. Magua allies with the French and the “Mingos” for much of the novel.
The novel proposes that the “frontier” zone, existing at the edge of “European” America, is a meeting between native and European cultures. This “frontier” is then recreated, in human terms, in the interactions between the English, the French, and the natives allied to both. In particular, “frontier” culture is embodied by Hawkeye, who believes that his actions, his style of battle, are those of the native peoples of the region, but who also knows that he is a “pale-face.” Hawkeye often states that he is a “man without a cross,” meaning that he has disregarded his European / Christian heritage for a space between the worlds of Europe and the natives.
Throughout the novel, the customs of the Europeans and the natives are described; these systems are merged, at the end, in the twin funerals of Uncas and Cora. Cora is buried in the manner of “her people,” and Uncas is left to be mourned by his father in the Mohican style. This final sequence indicates that Fenimore Cooper envisions the interactions between Europeans and natives as occurring between two cultural systems. In other words, Fenimore Cooper does not feel that Europeans have come to the Americas simply to give the natives culture (because the natives purportedly “lack culture entirely). Instead, in Fenimore Cooper’s rendering, native and European societies share a number of common customs: religious systems; systems of honor; male-female divisions of labor; and practices for remembrance of the dead.
“Savagery,” Civilization, and the Frontier ThemeTracker
“Savagery,” Civilization, and the Frontier Quotes in The Last of the Mohicans
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.
Well done for the Delawares! Victory to the Mohican! A finishing blow from a man without a cross will never tell against his honor, nor rob him of his right to the scalp.
Ah! thou truant! thou recreant knight! He who abandons his damsels in the very lists! Here we have been days, nay, ages, expecting you at our feet, imploring mercy and forgetfulness of your craven backsliding . . . .
You know that Alice means our thanks and our blessings . . . .
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.
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.
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.
Little be the praise to such worm as I. But, though the power of psalmody was suspended in the terrible business of that field of blood through which we passed, it has recovered its influence even over the soul of the heathen, and I am suffered to go and come at will.
Several of the [Huron] chiefs had proposed deep and treacherous schemes to surprise the Delawares, and, by gaining possession of their camp, to recover their prisoners by the same blow; for all agreed that their honor, their interests, and the peace and happiness of their dead countrymen, imperiously required them speedily to immolate some victims to their revenge.
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.
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.