The Last of the Mohicans | Study Guide

James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans | Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

Heyward returns to Fort William Henry and finds Munro visiting with his daughters. Heyward wants to relay Montcalm's message to the colonel, but Munro wants to first return to something Heyward brought up days before. Heyward tells Munro he seeks "the honor of being your son" and wants to marry Munro's daughter; however, Munro mistakenly believes he is asking permission to marry Cora. To Munro's surprise, Heyward reveals that he wishes to marry Alice.

Munro reacts defensively to Heyward's request; he believes Heyward has rejected Cora because she is "considered of a race inferior." Munro takes this opportunity to disclose his personal history with Heyward. Munro talks about the heartbreak of his broken engagement and his first marriage to the West Indian woman with whom he had Cora. Munro explains that after his first wife died, he returned to Scotland and eventually married Alice's mother, the woman to whom he had once been engaged.

After Munro shares his personal story, he finally asks Heyward about Montcalm's message. Heyward tells Munro that Montcalm wants a meeting with him. This time, Munro agrees. The two commanders meet, and Heyward interprets what Montcalm says in French. After Montcalm produces Webb's intercepted letter, Heyward reads the letter. He learns that Webb has denied Munro's request for reinforcements and has advised Munro to surrender immediately.

After a discussion of the terms of surrender, Munro bitterly agrees to hand over Fort William Henry to the French. With surprising generosity, Montcalm offers to let the English keep their arms, their flags, and their belongings so they can retain some measure of honor and dignity.

Analysis

Chapter 16 represents a pivotal moment in the plot, as the hostilities between the English and the French are temporarily resolved after Munro agrees to surrender Fort William Henry. The unfolding of Munro's surrender mirrors the pursuit-capture-escape structural pattern of the novel. Munro's surrender also mirrors what actually happened August 3–9, 1757. Following a six-day siege by the French under Montcalm, Lieutenant-Colonel George Monro surrendered the fort.

Through the devastating process of surrender, the reader learns about the art of negotiation and about the military codes under which battles and treaties are carried out. The meeting between Montcalm and Munro is a formal affair, accompanied by drums and flags and organized by certain protocols, such as speaking in order of rank.

This chapter also provides additional background about Munro's life and helps readers understand why Cora and Alice are different. Through Munro's own story, the reader learns that the sisters have different mothers and were born in different countries. Munro's revelations call forth the theme of race. Since Cora's mother was a West Indian descended from slaves, she is racially mixed. Because of the prevailing attitudes of the time, Munro feels compelled to justify his marriage. He also condemns the practice of slavery, since his wife was descended from slaves.

The backstory about the women also highlights the themes of racism and prejudice. The novel has, so far, focused on the racism against the Indians. Munro's revelations of Cora's mixed-race heritage show that racism is in play in other ways, especially in a specific instance of situational irony. Cora and Alice's disgust in response to Magua's proposal is ironic in this sense since Cora is of mixed-race heritage, but finds the idea of entering a mixed-race marriage with an Indian appalling. Alice expressed the girls should die before entering a marriage with a "savage."

The end of the chapter is a cliffhanger. What will happen to Cora, Alice, Heyward, Hawkeye, and Gamut after the fort's surrender to the French?

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