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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 11 - 20


What do Cora's and Alice's reactions to Magua's offer in Chapter 11 of The Last of the Mohicans suggest about race relations?

Cora is horrified by Magua's proposal of marriage because the idea of accepting a forced, interracial marriage is disgusting. She refuses Magua's offer and tries to persuade him to take the reward from her father instead. She says, "And what pleasure would Magua find in sharing his cabin with a wife he did not love; one who would be of a nation and color different from his own? It would be better to take the gold of Munro, and buy the heart of some Huron maid with his gifts." Cora also believes Magua is a "monster" because his plan for revenge is so evil and goes beyond racial bias. Like Cora, Alice is disgusted by "the degradation of the proposal" and insists Cora reject Magua's marriage proposal even though this will cost them their lives. The idea of allowing Cora to marry Magua is so repulsive Alice would rather die than allow her sister to make such a sacrifice. Alice says, "No, no, no; better that we die, as we have lived, together!" The reaction of both sisters to interracial marriage reflects their cultural upbringing and the times they live in.

How does Cooper present both an idealized depiction of Native American characters and a racist one in The Last of the Mohicans?

In the novel, Cooper portrays Native American characters such as Uncas and Chingachgook as an idealized "noble savage." In addition to being adept at survival in the wilderness, they are at one with nature as well as fearless, selfless, and principled. At the same time, Cooper portrays Magua and other Native American characters in a racist way. Magua and the Hurons are depicted as brutal, bloodthirsty, violent killers without scruples or human decency. One explanation for Cooper's portrayal of Native American characters is he is modeling them on the stock characters of villain and hero. Rather than depicting fully realized, complex characters with flaws and strengths, Cooper's Native American characters represent two different stereotypes.

How does Cooper use details to make the rescue of the captives in Chapter 12 of The Last of the Mohicans seem plausible?

Cooper asks the reader to accept that Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas have superior tracking skills. Their actions are made believable by Cooper's painstaking use of details. First, the three woodsmen watch the Hurons from the bank of the Hudson River to see where they took the captives. Then they track the trail by following the moccasin prints. They almost lose the trail into the wilderness until Uncas notices the distinctive hoofprints caused by the "peculiar movement" of the Narraganset horses ridden by Cora and Alice. Finally, the men find a broken branch near the prints and decide the Hurons had tried to make it look like "a buck had been feeling the boughs with his antlers." As miraculous as this story is, Cooper's skillful portrayal of the woodsmen as superheroes leads the reader to suspend disbelief and accept how the events unfold.

What do the religious beliefs Hawkeye and Gamut express in Chapter 12 of The Last of the Mohicans tell readers about each character?

Gamut's religious views come from "holy books." He has acquired his beliefs from reading Calvinist doctrines that teach predestination: "He that is to be saved will be saved, and he that is predestined to be damned will be damned!" The beliefs Gamut expresses tell the reader he is deeply religious in a conventional sense. He is a passive person who accepts what happens without question. On the other hand, Hawkeye rejects what Gamut says. He believes humans can determine what happens to them and can forge their own destiny through their actions. Hawkeye's views come from his direct, firsthand experience in nature. For Hawkeye, the proof of God's existence is what he has witnessed and experienced "from the lights of nature." From the beliefs Hawkeye expresses, the reader can tell that he is a spiritual person who follows his own path rather than blindly accepting traditional religious teachings.

How does the near-discovery of Hawkeye and company in Chapter 13 of The Last of the Mohicans break the anticipated structure of events established in previous chapters?

The structure of the novel is a series of chase sequences where various main characters are pursued by their enemies and then captured. Once the characters escape, the relentless cycle of pursuit-capture-escape starts again. In this chapter, there is a variation in this pattern. The Hurons do follow Hawkeye and his companions to the ruins of the abandoned fort, but they leave the area once they discover a sacred burial ground. This time the pattern is broken. Hawkeye and the others remain still in the shadows. They are not detected before the Hurons depart, so they manage to elude capture.

How and why does Cooper use both human and natural obstacles to build suspense in Chapter 14 of The Last of the Mohicans?

As the characters approach the fort, they face both a human and a natural obstacle. First, the group encounters a French sentinel as they make their way to the fort. The French guard stops them, but they are able to get past him because Heyward, who speaks French, pretends he is a French soldier taking prisoners to the French fort. Then the group encounters thick fog around Lake George, which makes it "difficult for the different individuals of the party to distinguish each other, in the vapor." The group heads in the direction of the fort by feeling its way along the path that a British cannonball has made in the ground. When the group finally reaches the safety of the fort, the achievement feels heroic because they have managed to vanquish all obstacles in their path.

What shift in Munro's perspective takes place after he agrees to surrender Fort William Henry in Chapter 16 of The Last of the Mohicans?

At first, Munro is stunned and disappointed at what he perceives as a betrayal. During a meeting, Montcalm strikes the final blow when he reveals the contents of the intercepted letter from Webb. Munro realizes General Webb is not going to send reinforcements to help him break the French siege, so he is left with no choice. Munro says, "The man has betrayed me! . . . he has brought dishonor to the door of one where disgrace was never before known to dwell, and shame has he heaped heavily on my gray hairs." Munro expresses feelings of shame, humiliation, and dishonor. Then, as the reality of the situation sets in, Munro shows resignation. Heyward tries to persuade Munro not to surrender by stating "we are yet masters of the fort, and of our honor!" but Munro knows his men are greatly outnumbered and supplies are low. It is inevitable the British will lose Fort William Henry, so Munro reluctantly accepts Montcalm's terms. Munro's spirit is crushed because he is a proud man and a brave soldier. The narrator tells us he never recovers: "from that moment there commenced a change in his determined character, which accompanied him to a speedy grave." Humbled, Munro feels touched and grateful when Montcalm offers the terms of a surrender that will preserve the honor and dignity of the English.

How does the massacre in Chapter 17 of The Last of the Mohicans reflect the novel's theme of betrayal?

The massacre showcases the anger of the Iroquois regarding the treaty between the English and French, heightening the theme of betrayal in the novel. Magua says, "Not a warrior has a scalp, and the pale faces make friends." He is disappointed the English and French have made peace and feels betrayed by Montcalm. As the English begin leaving the fort, Magua gives the war cry, and the Native American allies of the French attack the defenseless English soldiers and civilians. This massacre occurs both because of Magua's perception of the shifting loyalties of the French and English and because Munro betrayed Magua and had him whipped.

What is the role of physical violence in The Last of the Mohicans?

One role of physical violence in the novel is to demonstrate what happens when cultures clash. Violence erupts when different groups compete—Native Americans versus white Europeans and French versus English—and try to gain control. In addition, violence supports Cooper's theme of man in the wilderness. Cooper does not sugarcoat the beauty of nature. Instead, he shows physical violence is an inevitable part of the cycle of life on the frontier. Finally, violent episodes in the novel highlight the contrast between Native American and European cultures. While Cooper idealizes Native Americans like Uncas and Tamenund, he also depicts Magua and the Hurons as barbaric and inhumane.

In Chapter 16 of The Last of the Mohicans, what role does race play in Munro's reaction to the news that Heyward wants to marry Alice?

Munro is surprised, upset, and defensive. He believes Heyward has rejected Cora because of her mixed heritage. Munro explains his personal history and defends his decision to marry Cora's mother in the West Indies. Munro accuses Heyward of prejudice: "You scorn to mingle the blood of the Heywards, with one so degraded—lovely and virtuous though she be?" Munro has misjudged Heyward, but he exhibits a fatherly instinct to protect Cora from being hurt by racial discrimination. Munro's reaction demonstrates his sensitivity to how people in the 18th century viewed the mixing of races and his awareness of how prejudice might negatively impact his own daughter's life.

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