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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 21 - 30


Why might Cooper have chosen to make Hawkeye a man with a mixed cultural background, not a mixed racial one, in The Last of the Mohicans?

There are several reasons why Cooper might have chosen to depict Hawkeye as a man with mixed cultures rather than mixed blood. First, he clearly makes a case against interracial marriage through the tragic love triangle of Cora, Uncas, and Magua. If Hawkeye had been a biracial character, he would have been the product of such a union and might have seemed less "noble" to his readers. In addition, by giving Hawkeye a mixed cultural background, Cooper can show that interracial friendships can flourish even though interracial marriages cannot. Hawkeye's friendships with Uncas and Chingachgook would not have been as unusual if he himself were part Native American. Instead, he has mastered Native American ways and so represents the best of both cultures.

How does Cooper encourage readers to suspend disbelief in The Last of the Mohicans when Hawkeye and Heyward don't recognize Gamut in Chapter 21?

The term "willing suspension of disbelief" refers to a reader's response to a skillfully constructed scene in which something improbable occurs. Cooper's treatment of Gamut's mistaken identity requires readers to suspend their disbelief. They must assume Hawkeye and Heyward's point of view as the characters encounter David Gamut in Chapter 21. Gamut is watching the beavers in the pond. The two men don't recognize him because he is wearing deerskin moccasins, hawk feathers, and a loose piece of clothing without sleeves. His face is painted, and his head is shaved. Seen from a distance, he might plausibly have resembled a Native American, although the men are not able to recognize his tribal affiliation.

How can David Gamut move freely about the Huron encampment in The Last of the Mohicans without fear of being captured or harmed?

Gamut is an eccentric, impractical, comedic character who does not fit in and does not react the way people expect. For example, he sings Christian hymns even if he is in grave danger because that is how he deals with conflict. To the annoyance of the more practical Hawkeye, Gamut does not even know how to handle a weapon. In Chapter 22, Hawkeye explains why Gamut is left alone: "The Indians never harm a non-composser." In Chapter 26, Hawkeye tells Gamut the Hurons will likely not bother him once they find out he has switched places with their prized captive Uncas: "If you are not then knocked on the head, your being a non-composser will protect you." In other words, the Hurons believe Gamut is mentally ill and does not pose a threat.

How does David Gamut's lack of familiarity with the customs of Native American tribes impact the plot in Chapter 22 of The Last of the Mohicans?

Gamut is able to tell Hawkeye and the others where Magua took him and the Munro sisters. He also reveals Magua has separated Cora and Alice, bringing Alice to the Huron camp and sending Cora to a tribe in a nearby valley. To Hawkeye's dismay, however, Gamut cannot identify the name of the tribe holding Cora. It is Hawkeye who realizes Cora is being held by the Delawares because Gamut recalls how they drew in paint the image of a "creeping tortoise." Hawkeye then explains Chingachgook himself "is of the high blood of the Delawares, and is the great chief of their Tortoises!" Through Gamut's lack of familiarity with the wilderness, the author portrays Hawkeye's superior understanding and deductive skills.

How does the motif of disguises figure in Chapter 25 of The Last of the Mohicans?

Disguises help Hawkeye and Heyward deceive Magua and catch him off guard. Hawkeye, disguised as a bear, holds Magua in a bear hug while Heyward ties up his arms, legs, and feet in twenty folds of a buckskin thong. Once Magua is tied up, Hawkeye gags him. The pair is able to capture the Huron in his own village because Magua believes Heyward is a healer and Hawkeye is his bear. Through the transformative power of disguise, Hawkeye and Heyward are able to accomplish something they haven't been able to do before: capture Magua.

How isThe Last of the Mohicans a metaphor for the destruction of Native American culture in the United States?

The Last of the Mohicans is named for the character Uncas, who is portrayed as the last member of the Mohican nation. When he dies, the Mohicans die with him. The novel is a metaphor for the destruction of Native American culture that the author witnessed as the government discussed the policy for Indian Removal. The Indian Removal Act, passed in 1830, called for the forced removal of Native peoples from their ancestral lands to federal territories west of the Mississippi River. Cooper set the story in an earlier time but gave its Native characters the fate they would face in his own time.

How is Magua characterized as a master manipulator inThe Last of the Mohicans?

Magua's character is a master schemer, as shown in his nickname, The Sly Fox. His powers of persuasion are so formidable that he can pretend to be allied with both sides in the war while being loyal to neither. His speaking skills help elevate him to the role of leader of the Hurons. He has the ability to size up a situation and take stock of his adversaries, as he does when he goes to the Delaware camp in peace in order to plan his next move. Through Magua's abilities as a manipulator, Cooper shows him to be highly intelligent. At the same time, because Magua uses these abilities for his own vengeful goals, he remains the story's villain.

What is significant about Cooper's choice of the French and Indian War as the setting for The Last of the Mohicans in light of the culture clash theme?

The French and Indian War required Native American groups to ally themselves with either the British or the French. The Native Americans hoped their alliances would help them if the side they backed was victorious. However, as Cooper shows through his characters, alliances with Europeans led to the destruction of Native culture. As Tamenund says, "The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the red-men has not yet come again." For example, Magua has been weakened by exposure to the white culture's alcohol. Chingachgook allies himself with the white Hawkeye and loses his son, the "last of the Mohicans."

How does the shooting contest between Hawkeye and Heyward in Chapter 29 of The Last of the Mohicans advance both the plot and the characterization of Hawkeye?

Hawkeye and Heyward have a shooting contest to establish who is actually "la Longue Carabine." Both men claim the nickname of Long Rifle, but only one man has the legendary sharpshooting skills to back up the title. The two characters attempt to confuse the Delawares in an effort to save each other's lives. By keeping Hawkeye's true identity secret for as long as possible, the men also put off whatever judgment or punishment they may face when Tamenund makes a ruling. The contest is a demonstration of Hawkeye's extraordinary marksmanship skill. At the same time, it shows his superiority to Heyward. While Heyward is a likable character, Hawkeye far exceeds his physical abilities and his understanding of the wilderness.

How does the concept of social hierarchy among Native American characters work to the advantage of the white characters in Chapter 30 of The Last of the Mohicans?

While Cora makes a passionate plea for Tamenund's mercy, it is the sight of Uncas's blue tortoise tattoo that changes everything. When the young Delaware warrior accidentally uncovers the tattoo, Uncas's rank is revealed for the first time. "The eye-balls of the Delaware seemed to start from their sockets," Cooper tells readers. Once the Delawares understand Uncas's rank, he is freed. Uncas is now in a position to help the whites because Tamenund will listen to him. He is able to release Hawkeye and creates doubt about Magua's version of events. This proves to be a huge boon to the white characters.

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