The Last of the Mohicans | Study Guide

James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans | Motifs


Originally, this novel was published in two parts. Cooper employs various motifs to create a recognizable pattern, which helps unify the sprawling novel as a whole. Also, these motifs are familiar conventions of different genres upon which Cooper drew while writing The Last of the Mohicans: historical romance, gothic fiction, and captivity narratives.


The epigraphs that begin each chapter set the tone and mood of the chapter and also foreshadow events. Cooper uses quotes from a variety of English authors, including William Shakespeare, Thomas Gray, and Alexander Pope, and American poet William Cullen Bryant. The use of chapter epigraphs was a common practice in 19th century literature and gives readers insight into Cooper's literary tastes.


Cooper uses disguises to add humor to the novel, but another purpose is to make a point about the importance of identity and the power of transformation. Examples of disguise include Hawkeye as a bear, Heyward as a healer, and Chingachgook as a beaver. The motif of disguises, which is a convention of gothic fiction, also calls to mind Shakespeare's frequent use of disguise in his plays.


Cooper's repeated references to blood—literal and metaphorical—convey violence and death on the one hand and family ties and kinship on the other. The references to blood support the theme of prejudice against interracial relations and reinforce the central idea of father-child relationships in the story. Blood, which is an important element in gothic fiction, symbolizes life and death.

Pursuit and Captivity

The elements of pursuit and captivity are essential to understanding the structure of the plot. In addition, the numerous examples of pursuit and captivity help create suspense and contribute to the sense that the novel is indeed a mythic epic. This motif also supports the theme of culture clashes; the French and English are fighting for control of land, and Magua is seeking revenge for what Munro did to him. Cooper borrows this motif from the genre of the captivity narrative, which was introduced in American literature in the 17th century.

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