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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 31 - 40


How does Uncas establish his role as a leader in Chapter 31 of The Last of the Mohicans, and why is his doing so significant to the story?

In preparation for war with the Hurons, the initiation of the the war dance by Uncas shows him taking control, which encourages the Delaware men to join the expedition and to follow his lead. The purpose is to call on the Great Spirit for protection and guidance and to inspire the Delaware warriors to fight. One part of the war dance is a chanted prayer. Another part is a symbolic mimicking of what the Delaware will do when they face their enemies. According to the narrator, "Warrior after warrior enlisted in the dance, until all of any renown and authority were numbered in its mazes." Uncas is starting to fulfill the expectations of such a man who comes from the line of great chiefs whose numbers have dwindled since the arrival of European settlers. As such, his actions represent hope.

Henry V by William Shakespeare dramatizes the English king's conquest of France. Why does Cooper begin Chapter 31 in The Last of the Mohicans with a quotation from this play?

Cooper uses quotations, or epigraphs, from works by William Shakespeare, William Cullen Bryant, and others for these reasons: to set a certain tone or mood, to foreshadow events that will take place in the chapter, to give the novel unity by following a certain pattern, and to establish the novel's literary merit by referring to well-known literary works. Cooper begins Chapter 31 with a quotation from Henry V because he is foreshadowing the coming battle between the Delawares and the Hurons, and the quote from Shakespeare also functions to hint at fights to come within the play. Cooper also sets a serious, somber mood of by referring to one of Shakespeare's greatest history plays. England's King Henry had been insulted by France's king, which drove him to engage in battle.

Why does Hawkeye, in Chapters 7, 12, and 33 of The Last of the Mohicans, say he is "a man without a cross?"

The cross is a familiar Christian symbol. One interpretation points to Hawkeye's not being a practicing Christian. From the novel, the reader learns Hawkeye's parents were white settlers, and he was raised and educated by Moravian missionaries. Hawkeye, however, has lived with the Mohicans for a long time and has adopted many of their customs and traditions. Another interpretation of this statement is that Hawkeye does not follow the principles and teachings of the Bible. In Chapter 12, he explains his viewpoint to Gamut, who realizes Hawkeye derives "his faith from the lights of nature, eschewing all subtleties of doctrine." Hawkeye does not adhere to a particular set of teachings, or at least teachings that are written in "holy books." Hawkeye might also be making a reference to the fact that he is a white man despite his mixed cultural background. He is "without a cross": without cross-breeding between two races.

Compare the funeral rites for Uncas and Cora in Chapter 33 of The Last of the Mohicans and what the twin ceremonies show about the cultural backgrounds of each character.

Both funerals feature songs, chants, and eulogies. Each father, Munro and Chingachgook, sits by the body of his child. For Cora's funeral, her body is thoroughly prepared for burial, and her body is covered with herbs and flowers. Her face is hidden from view, and she's buried in a birch bark shell on a hill where her grave is covered with leaves. Her funeral is a mixture of white and Native American traditions. For Uncas's funeral, his body is seated and finely dressed in bracelets, medals, plumes, and other ornaments. Chingachgook sings a mourning song during the ceremony. Uncas's body is wrapped in animal skins and placed in a temporary grave. Uncas's funeral shows he is a Native American of high rank. The twin ceremonies show Cora and Uncas are similar even though they come from different cultures. Although Cora and Uncas loved each other, they will never be united by marriage. Instead, they are forever united by death.

Explain the intention behind Cooper's use of humor regarding David Gamut's appearance and behavior in The Last of the Mohicans.

In Chapter 1, Cooper introduces Gamut by stating: "His head was large; his shoulders narrow; his arms long and dangling; while his hands were small, if not delicate." With his odd appearance and his eccentric behavior, Gamut is a comic character who acts as a foil to Hawkeye's practical and serious character. While Cooper's tale is a tragedy, the author intersperses humorous interludes to provide a necessary break from the bleak, tragic events. The humor evoked by characters such as Gamut also helps to give the reader relief from the hectic pace of the chase sequences. A momentary easing of the mood works to help the reader become that much more taken by the plot when it returns to its fast pace.

Compare the effects of the deaths of Munro's and Chinachgook's children in The Last of the Mohicans.

Both fathers are proud of their children, and both are protective of them. Both are also heartbroken when they lose one of their children. Munro and his daughters, Cora and Alice, have a deep love for one another. The plot of the novel revolves around Cora and Alice being desperate to reunite with their father. They risk their lives to be with him. Likewise, Chingachgook loves and admires his son Uncas. However, while Cora's death is a personal loss for Munro, the death of Uncas is a tragedy for the Mohican people as well as a personal loss for Chingachgook.

Discuss how the relationships among Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachcook evolve throughout the course of The Last of the Mohicans.

At the beginning of the novel, Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook already have a close bond. Although they are from different backgrounds and different races, they have formed a profound connection that runs deeper than friendship. Hawkeye and Chingachgook share a bond that is more like father and son, and Hawkeye and Uncas are more like brothers. They have lived together, hunted together, and fought together. As the novel progresses, these bonds only deepen. The three men experience a series of trials as they try to protect the white travelers from Magua and the Hurons. While they are being pursued and captured, they must trust one another with their lives. At the end of the novel, the relationship between Hawkeye and Chingachgook becomes more important than ever after Chingachgook loses his only biological son. After Uncas's death, Hawkeye assures Chingachgook in Chapter 33 that he will not be alone: "The gifts of our colours may be different, but God has so placed us as to journey in the same path." Despite their visible differences, they have found comfort in their journey together.

Does Cooper portray Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans as a complex, dynamic character or as a stereotypical noble savage?

Cooper does portray Chingachgook as a powerful, wise, and noble warrior. Hawkeye explains in Chapter 7 that Chingachgook's nickname le Gros Serpent refers to how he "understands the windings and turnings of human natur', and is silent, and strikes his enemies when they least expect him." In difficult situations, Chingachgook remains calm and in control without panicking. An example of his steady leadership is when he waits for the right moment to make his move against the Hurons in Chapter 32: "The chief was seated on a rock, with nothing visible but his calm visage, considering the spectacle with an eye as deliberate, as if he were posted there merely to view the struggle." His body language elevates him even more in his leadership position. However, Cooper also reveals in Chapter 19 that the Mohican chief is a loving father with a playful side. His depiction of Chingachgook is a more fully developed version of the "noble savage" stock character.

How does the frontier setting in The Last of the Mohicans convey two important themes?

The frontier setting conveys two important themes: the beauty and challenges of man in the wilderness and the impact of the clash of cultures. In 1757, northwestern New York was a wild, undeveloped place full of mountains, forests, lakes, and caverns. Travel in this region proves difficult because of the threat of attacks by hostile enemies and because of the challenging terrain. The frontier is where different groups of Native Americans and Europeans come into contact with one another as a result of colonization. It is also where the French and British fight for control during the French and Indian War.

Why does Cooper dramatize two plot events that actually happened in the novel The Last of the Mohicans?

Cooper dramatizes two plot events that actually happened because the text is a historical novel, albeit one that takes liberties with some of its plot points. The action takes place during the French and Indian War in 1757. To bring this setting to life, Cooper draws on the siege of Fort William Henry and the massacre there. The siege of Fort William Henry is dramatized in Chapters 15 and 16. During the French and Indian War, French forces and their Native American allies under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm conducted a successful siege there, forcing the English to surrender after six days. Another historical event dramatized in Chapter 17 is the massacre at Fort William Henry. Following the British surrender, the Native American allies of the French killed a number of soldiers and civilians. These two events, in Cooper's hands, represent the reality of the conflict between Europeans and Native Americans on a grander scale than what is evidenced via Magua's hatred of Munro. Detailing real-life events within a fictional narrative helps add credibility to the conflicts and themes the author aims to draw attention to.

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