The Last of the Mohicans | Study Guide

James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans | Preface and Introductions | Summary

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Summary

In his 1826 Preface, James Fenimore Cooper explains historical references he uses in the novel and cites one of his sources, John Heckewelder, a Moravian missionary who lived among the Delaware and Mohicans. Cooper provides a brief explanation about why there are different names for the same geographic locations and Native American groups. According to Cooper, the influence of the Dutch, English, and French languages and the existence of different Native American languages and dialects is the reason for the discrepancies. For example, Cooper explains one tribe central to the book lived in parts of New England and New York and was "called the 'Mahicanni,' or, more commonly, the 'Mohicans.'" Further, he explains the confederation of six tribes, which was dubbed Iroquois by the French, is also known as the Mengwe, Mingoes, and Maquas. In the Preface, Cooper criticizes the way the Dutch and the Iroquois treated the Delaware and condemns how whites treated Native Americans in general. Finally, Cooper singles out three groups of readers—young ladies, bachelors, and the clergy—to warn them they will find his book disturbing.

The 1831 Introduction further discusses the historical allusions that Cooper uses in his novel. He describes the traits that many Native Americans possess and compares their physical appearance, clothing, and language to peoples in Asia and Africa. As he did in the Preface, Cooper blames the confusion over names in his novel on how different groups used different terms to mean the same thing. Here, Cooper also gives his rationale for portraying Hawkeye as the hero of his story. According to Cooper, Hawkeye is ideally "a witness to the truth of those wonderful alternations which distinguish the progress of the American nation."

In the 1850 Introduction, Cooper deleted two paragraphs from the 1831 Introduction and added a paragraph to explain how he derived the name for the lake that figures prominently in the setting of his novel. Instead of using the American, Native American, or French names for Lake George, Cooper chose to appropriate the name Horican, from an old map. It was the name the French gave to a tribe that once lived close to the lake.

Analysis

The Preface and the Introductions provide explanations for Cooper's use of multiple names throughout the novel. By presenting the reader with the historical background for the confusion over names, Cooper introduces one of the novel's important themes: the mixing of cultures. The information Cooper provides also helps establish the setting.

The purpose of the Preface and the Introductions is to prepare the reader for a historical novel rather than a work of pure fiction. Cooper also provides insight into the work's construction. He did not merely invent place names and tribes; he researched them.

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