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The Last of the Mohicans | Study Guide

James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans | Symbols



Rivers, as well as any other type of waterway, function in the novel as a symbol of life itself. Like life, a river runs deep and shallow, fast and slow. With its twists and turns, the river embodies the changes and setbacks the characters face.


In The Last of the Mohicans, the cave is a symbol of security and safety. The secret many-chambered caverns of the Mohicans at the beginning of the novel and the gloomy caverns at the end of the novel represent a womb-like place of refuge. Whenever characters leave a cave, their lives are at risk.


The waterfall is a powerful symbol of change and chaos. Glenn's Falls in Chapter 7 is the place where Heyward and an Iroquois warrior fight, and Uncas saves Heyward's life by killing the Iroquis.


The character of Uncas represents the purity and nobility of the Mohican people, and fulfills the stock character role of the noble savage. His death symbolizes the dying of both the Mohican tribe in particular and the vanishing of Native American culture in general.


In Hawkeye, the best of European and Indian cultures are combined. His character shows the ideal woodsman in the new frontier. Hawkeye is a mix of the moral and pragmatic as well as a great marksman. His lack of romantic involvement in the storyline enables Hawkeye to more readily become a symbolic father to Uncas, thus showing the reader another facet of how relationships are formed.

Questions for Symbols

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Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
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