Thursday, June 11, 2009

83. Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper

I listened to this book in September 2007
History: first published in 1826. Cooper named a principal character Uncas after a real person. Uncas was a Mohegan, not a Mohican, and Cooper's usage has helped to confuse the names of two tribes to the present day.
Plot: The narrative is about Natty Bumppo, the “Hawk- eye”, the scout, the Kill-deer; and the culmination of his abundant love for Uncas – the last Mohican. It signifies, above all, the moral wisdom and 19th Century values of compassion and fellow feeling.
The novel describes a journey of two groups of people. The first part of the journey begins with the description of the union of two parties in the journey, both separated racially and in their attitudes to life – a group of Whites, consisting of Hayward, Alice and Cora and a group of Indians, consisting of Chingachnook and Uncas and also Hawk-eye in Chapter III.
David, the singer, provides gracious moments of joy through his song all along the journey, in particular after the massacre at Fort Williams. The two groups of characters drawn against the vast landscape try to know each other in suspicion, innocence, fear and wonder. Landscape shapes their moods and attitudes. Nature implicitly ‘instructs’ them. The journey of these two groups continues unmixed till the French camp, under the leadership of Moteclam, sieges Fort William in Chapter fourteen. In the second part, narrative action moves quickly, interspersed with acts of savagery and moments of insecurity till the climax occurs with the massacre at Fort Williams. This is followed by dramatic loss and recovery of Alice, the death of Cora – the mulatto girl, and the heroic death of Uncas in trying to save her. With the death of Uncas, the last Mohican, his race is decimated. Finally, with Magua’s (the Heron) death the narrative action ends. However, the grand union of minds across race and prejudices is an extraordinary and highly romanticized narrative moment. The complete reading of the novel leaves us not with visions of endemic savagery but with feelings of compassion, fraternity, and democracy of ideas. Finally, love triumphs over savagery.
Review: the book is not without flaws. The momentum of the book lags for a brief stretch, and some of Cooper's characters (in particular, his women) at times sound a bit stereotypical. But the overall power and intelligence of Cooper's work is undeniable. Particularly impressive is his re-creation of a multilingual world of complex cultural and personal conflict. Also noteworthy is his evocation of the American landscape. A tale of death and survival, of betrayal and loyalty, and, above all, of the extraordinary bond between a white man and an Indian, "The Last of the Mohicans" is one classic that deserves to be read and reevaluated by each generation.
Opening Line: “It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts were to meet.”
Closing Line: “In the morning I saw the sons of Unamis happy and strong; and yet, before the night is come, I have lived to see the last warrior of the wise race of the Mohicans.”
Quotes: “When the white man dies, he thinks he is at peace; but the red-men know how to torture even the ghosts of their enemies.”
Rating: Mediocre.

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