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The Last of the Mohicans

by James Fenimore Cooper
Series: The Leatherstocking Tales #2
448 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Jeanne

A gut-wrenching, epic novel of the French and Indian War with violence and debatable morality.

Plot

The second and most well-known of Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales is set during the French and Indian War in North America. The novel begins with English colonel Munro sending his daughters, Cora and Alice, to another fort, accompanied by loyal soldier Duncan Heyward and the Indian brave Magua. When Magua betrays them, the three turn to strangers for help - the white man Hawkeye and his Mohican friends Chingachgook and Chingachgook's son Uncas. Subsequently, Cora and Alice are kidnapped by Magua and his tribe, and it is left to Heyward, Chingachgook, Uncas, and Hawkeye to save them.

Morality

The morality of the Indians is rather sketchy, especially from the perspective of 21st Century readers. Many of the tribes of the northern lakes live in deep animosity toward each other, and there is much bloodshed even among brother nations.

Chingachgook is a very stoical and typically Indian character who has no qualms about killing anyone who might remotely pose a threat; Uncas is equally a warrior, but shows other characteristics that make him shine in the story, such as his devotion to recovering Cora and Alice. Hawkeye also lives by the law of the woods (which is not much of a law at all) and works under the philosophy that they must kill or be killed. Cora is the other star of the novel and represents all things virtuous and pious in her speech and her actions. Magua, the villain of the story, has no morals, and his darkness serves to make Cora's faith show more brightly.

Spiritual Content

Hawkeye holds to the belief that the Great Spirit that the Indians worship is the same as the One True God, and this is discussed fairly often. David Gamut, one of the more minor characters, is a singing master and seems quite overdone in his Christian beliefs; he is portrayed as weak and silly for most of the novel, though he does participate in the climax. God is mentioned frequently and Cora, Alice, and their father pray for protection and to thank God for protection. There is some question in Hawkeye's mind as to whether or not there will be two different heavens for white men and Indians.

Magua is once described as like the Prince of Darkness. His tribe has a medicine man, known as a conjurer, and the Indians are very superstitious. The Indian mythology deals heavily with animals, and the different tribes use the creatures which they believe to be their ancestors as their symbols. Uncas sings to the Great Spirit before a battle.

Violence

As a novel set in the early frontier of North America, Cooper's novel is extremely violent - and he doesn't mince words. At one point Hawkeye and the others have to get rid of their horses and ensure the beasts' silence, so they kill them in a rather graphic manner. The Indians of the northern lakes did have the practice of scalping their victims, sometimes when the person was alive, and this comes up several times as a possibility for the main characters. There is a lake in which many Indians were drowned years before the time of the novel, and its eerie qualities are remarked on several times. After the English surrender to the French at one point, the French-allied Indians break the truce and commit whole-sale slaughter against the defenseless English; a child and its mother are killed at the beginning of this, also graphically.

During the chase to recover Cora and Alice, Hawkeye, Heyward, Uncas, and Chingachgook are pursued by hostile Indians and there is some shooting from both sides. There is a battle between Indians wherein quite a few people die. Two characters are stabbed to death; another falls off a cliff and is thus killed.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Magua was once thrown out of his tribe for his drunken tendencies. "Fire-water" (alcohol) is referred to by the Indians as an evil that the white men brought with them from Europe.

Sexual Content

Magua is set on having Cora for his wife, though she despises him, and he tries various ways to make her marry him, including kidnapping her and Alice. Heyward is in love with Alice and requests permission from her father to court her.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

"Lord!" is exclaimed several times by Hawkeye, and "By God!" is also used. "Damned" shows up less frequently.

Conclusion

"The Last of the Mohicans" is one of those novels that is difficult to get into because of the amount of description and the slowness with which the plot develops, but it is certainly worth the wait for the intrigue to begin. The primary protagonists shine as only an excellent writer can make characters shine, and each has a unique personality that, no matter how much or how little they participate in dialogue or action, attaches the reader to them very early on. The evil of Magua is also fantastic in the opposite way, as it certainly secures a reader's hatred.

For the values of this story, much of the theology posited by Hawkeye is clearly, from a Biblical perspective, untrue. While the manner in which the Indians view the "Great Spirit" and worship it is in some ways similar to the only God, in other ways it is clearly different and mistaken. However, this view is interesting in juxtaposition to Cora's firm belief in the One God and unbounded trust in Him, as well as David Gamut's more flighty theology.

The morality of Hawkeye and the Indians also raises questions that are difficult to answer in the context, about the way the Indians war against each other and the amount of killing that takes place. Because of these matters, plus the large amount of violence, this classic is certainly for mature readers.

With all its wonderful facets and its puzzling questions of morality and spiritual truths, the best way to describe "The Last of the Mohicans" is to say that it is gut-wrenching. It covers a wide range of the reader's emotions from beginning to end, which is one of the best signs of a fantastic book.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: adult

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