The Last of the Mohicans | Study Guide

James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans | Chapters 17–18 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 17

Montcalm and Magua meet early in the morning of August 10. Montcalm explains the English and the French have made peace. Magua is disappointed because he still wants revenge.

Inside Fort William Henry, the mood is somber. Heyward instructs Gamut to keep watch over Cora and Alice. At dawn, the signal to evacuate is given. Unarmed English men, women, and children march peacefully out of the fort. Meanwhile, the French soldiers stand at arms. The orderly transfer is interrupted when a Huron tries to grab a colorful shawl from one of the departing women. When she resists, he kills her and her baby. After Magua calls on the other Hurons to fight, 2,000 of them carry out a brutal massacre. Alice faints at the awful sight. While Gamut sings, Magua captures Cora and Alice and takes them to the very spot where he had taken them before. Gamut follows on horseback.

Chapter 18

This chapter vividly describes the "frightful change" that has taken place since the surrender of Fort William Henry. The abandoned fort is in ruins, dead bodies are scattered about, and the weather has turned stormy and cold. Uncas, Chingachcook, Hawkeye, Heyward, and Munro search the piles of bodies for signs of Cora and Alice. The sight sickens and angers them. After Heyward discovers some footprints, he is able to determine from their distinctive impression that Magua is likely holding one or both of the women captive. Hawkeye finds Gamut's pitch pipe, so the men presume he has been taken captive as well. Finally, the search turns up a piece of jewelry Alice had been wearing; they suppose she, too, may still be alive. Heyward wants to go after the women right away, but Hawkeye suggests that they spend the night in the fort and start out in the morning.

Analysis

The Last of the Mohicans was originally published in two volumes. The first volume ended with Chapter 17, and the second volume began with Chapter 18. The reader was left hanging in Chapter 17 after Cora and Alice are recaptured. Of course, readers had to buy the second volume to find out what happened next.

Chapter 17 starts the second major chase sequence in the novel, and the events launch a second round of the pursuit-capture-escape pattern. Magua captures Cora, Alice, and Gamut. This time, Munro will join Hawkeye, the two Mohicans, and Heyward in an attempt to rescue them.

The events in this chapter illustrate the theme of culture clashes. The baby's murder and the senseless massacre of innocent civilians exemplify savagery. In contrast, Munro's surrender to Montcalm and the way he is treated by the French is an example of civility. Munro demonstrates nobility, even in defeat, and is accorded respect.

Chapter 18 describes how the fort has changed physically and demonstrates how some characters' roles have changed. In this chapter, Heyward demonstrates he is more confident about using his powers of observation to track Magua and his captives. This shows he has acquired some valuable skills from the woodsmen and is better able to survive on his own. Conversely, Hawkeye missed the obvious sign of Alice's jewelry and shows that he is capable of making mistakes. Munro, once a powerful leader, is a broken man as a result of "his late overwhelming misfortunes."

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