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The Last of the Mohicans | Study Guide

James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How do events in Chapter 1 of The Last Of the Mohicans help set the plot and subplots in motion?

At the start of first chapter, the Indian scout Magua learns of a French army plan to attack Fort William Henry. He shares this information with General Webb, the commander of Fort Edward. General Webb decides to send 1,500 troops to aid the commander of Fort William Henry, General Munro, fight the coming attack. General Munro's two daughters, Cora and Alice insist on going to see their father. Concerns about the French army being on the route between the two forts lead General Webb to have Major Duncan Heyward accompany the young women on their journey. Magua agrees to also accompany the Munro sisters. He takes a shortcut through the woods known only to the Indians. These events raise questions in the reader's mind such as: What will happen to the travelers on their dangerous journey? Is Magua trustworthy? Will Fort William Henry be saved? The need to know what will happen drives the plot and subplots forward.

What does Hawkeye's suspicion of Magua in Chapter 4 of The Last of the Mohicans reveal about the different Indian tribes featured in the novel?

Hawkeye does not believe Magua could have gotten the group lost as these are the forests of Magua's childhood. Hawkeye tells Heyward, "'Tis strange that an Indian should be lost atwixt Horican and a bend in the river!" Once Hawkeye learns Magua is a Huron Indian, his suspicions are solidified. The Hurons are considered an untrustworthy tribe, and Hawkeye is clearly prejudiced against them. This reveals that not all of the tribes are universally feared or liked. The Mohicans and the Delaware are more trusted by the English. These views impact the way the various tribes are treated by the white characters.

What does the death of David Gamut's colt in The Last of the Mohicans show about the role of the individual versus the group in the frontier wilderness?

The colt is killed because it makes too much noise when it stirs the brush. Hawkeye is afraid it might betray their location to their enemies, the Iroquois, thus putting the white travelers in danger. Although Gamut asks Hawkeye to spare the colt's life, the horse is seen as a liability and is killed for the good of the group. In this case, the individual is sacrificed to spare the lives of the group. The frontier wilderness necessitates that people bond and work together to overcome a hostile, challenging environment. The needs of one individual (David Gamut or the colt) are not as important as the needs of the entire group.

How do the reactions of Gamut, Heyward, Cora, Alice, and Hawkeye to the killing of the colt in The Last of the Mohicans reveal their personalities?

Gamut is saddened about the death of the colt but believes the event to be part of God's plan. The killing disturbs Heyward, Cora, and Alice because it makes them realize the seriousness of their plight. According to the narrator, "This deed of apparent cruelty, but of real necessity, fell upon the spirits of the travellers, like a terrific warning of the peril in which they stood." The reactions of these three characters reveal they are naive in some ways because they are not fully prepared for the raw brutality of life and death in the wilderness. Hawkeye reacts with the least emotion because he rationalizes the killing is necessary "to save the lives of human men." His reaction paints him as a pragmatic leader capable of making tough decisions. A clear divide exists among the travelers when it comes to understanding the realities of life in the frontier.

What does the sisters' hiding place in Chapter 6 of The Last of the Mohicans demonstrate about the level of trust in white and Indian relations in this particular group?

Hawkeye and the Mohicans take Alice, Cora, Heyward, and Gamut to their secret hideout, which consists of two black limestone caverns situated on an island between streaming waterfalls. The waterfalls are known as Glenn's Falls on New York's Hudson River. The travelers are well hidden by the falls, and the roar of the rushing water conceals their voices. The use of this hideout shows that whites and Indians can cooperate. Both sides show a high level of trust. The Mohicans trust the English party to not share the location of the hideout, and the English trust the Mohicans to keep them safe.

What does the waterfall described by Hawkeye in Chapter 6 of The Last of the Mohicans represent?

The waterfall represents the chaos and disorder that is part of life. The falls do not flow in an orderly way, and the water is neither consistent nor predictable. It has different colors, makes different sounds, and moves in different ways. The waterfall, like life, is constantly moving and changing. As Hawkeye points out, "It falls by no rule at all; sometimes it leaps, sometimes it tumbles; there, it skips; here, it shoots; in one place 'tis white as snow, and in another 'tis green as grass." The waterfall is another facet of the untamable nature of wilderness. Hawkeye's description also calls to mind the mixing and blending of different cultures in the novel.

How is Cora in The Last of the Mohicans both a typical "helpless female" character and a surprisingly modern female character?

Cora is a typical "helpless female" character in that she is often captured by men. She is also the object of a love triangle that ends unhappily. At the same time, she is intelligent and able to help the men as a more modern female character might do. For example, in Chapter 8, Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas have been rendered defenseless after a Huron steals a canoe and ammunition from them. Cora proposes a creative solution, urging Hawkeye and the Mohicans to swim downstream in the river to escape so they can go to her father for help. At first, Uncas refuses to leave but then Cora persuades him by telling him he is "the most confidential of my messengers." She saves the men's lives.

What techniques does Cooper use to build suspense in Chapter 9 of The Last of the Mohicans?

Cooper builds suspense in several ways. He uses sensory description to contrast the tension of the characters hiding in the cave with the singing of birds outside. He uses characterization to show how helpless the characters are without their experienced guides; Alice simply cries, while Gamut sings inappropriately. The author also weaves moments of great tension with a feeling of false security on the part of the white characters. After the Hurons carefully search, they find no one and leave. Cora, Alice, Heyward, and Gamut feel tremendously relieved. It seems as if they are safe, but Magua does not give up looking. After Magua glimpses them in their secret hideout, they are dragged out of the safety of the cavern. Just as they have feared, Cora, Alice, Heyward, and Gamut become the captives of the Hurons.

In The Last of the Mohicans, why might the author have chosen to present Hawkeye as a character without a wife or children?

Hawkeye is presented as a quintessentially masculine character who is known for his hunting and marksmanship skills. At the same time, he is strangely asexual. He discusses the "feeling ... which binds man to woman" but says that while it "may be so," he has had no opportunity to explore it. It is possible that Cooper chose to make Hawkeye single so that he could carry out his heroic actions without the emotional or financial obligations he would have had to a family. In addition, he takes on the role of Uncas's father after the disappearance of Chingachgook. It is also possible that Cooper made him single so that he could form this new familial relationship.

At the beginning of Chapter 11 in The Last of the Mohicans, how does Heyward's attempt to convince Magua to return Cora and Alice to their father develop the plot?

Heyward attempts to persuade Magua to release Cora and Alice to their father, but his valiant attempt backfires. Heyward tells Magua about Munro's deep affection for his daughters and assures Magua that Munro will give him a handsome reward if his daughters are safely returned. Magua realizes there is a possibility for a much greater revenge than killing the women, so he proposes marriage to Cora. Although Magua knows he stands to earn a reward, it is clear his motivation is fueled by something "more sinister than avarice." His hatred for Munro is so deep he wants to make Munro pay: "The body of the gray-head would sleep among his cannon, but his heart would lie within reach of the knife of le Subtil." In this passage, Magua indicates how he will be able to hold sway over Munro because the reference to "his heart" is a reference to Cora.

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