The Twin Caves at Glens Falls: Gothic Techniques in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans

Gautam Kundu (Georgia Southern University)

Presented at the Cooper Panel on “James Fenimore Cooper and American Women Writers” at the 2017 Conference of the American Literature Association in Boston, Massachusetts.

Originally published in the James Fenimore Cooper Society Journal Spring 2018, pp. 43-54.

Copyright © 2018, James Fenimore Cooper Society.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

{p. 43} James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) is a narrative filled with pursuit, torture, and bloody massacre. Quite appropriately, therefore, the novel contains a number of borrowings from the Gothic tales of terror, a prose genre whose popularity peaked in England around the 1790s and subsequently found its literary home in America during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century ¹. Terrifying cries ring out in the night; young virgins, fleeing the threat of possible rape and mutilation, take refuge in shadowy caves; men with painted faces prowl through dark, impenetrable forests; and the stench of mortality lies thick and heavy over the events of the novel. In short, the world of The Last of the Mohicans resembles the spectral world of the Gothic where the boundaries between the rational and the irrational, the natural and the preternatural are fluid if not nonexistent. ² Elements of the Gothic, then, are part of the overall form or “rhythm” that Cooper imposes on the novel by which he is able to“uncover” the amplification of meanings that the subject generates. As a result, the reader’s apprehension of the core values and awareness of the novel’s broad patterns is enriched by the author’s use of specific gothic conventions and techniques.

While acknowledging the existence of the Gothic in Cooper’s work, commentators have tended to subordinate the Gothic to discussions of specific themes and form on the grounds that Fenimore Cooper is not, strictly speaking, primarily or even principally a Gothic romancer as, for instance, Horace Walpole, or Ann Radcliffe, or Mary Shelley, or even Charles Brockden Brown is. Be that as it may, for my purposes I am here concerned with examining Cooper’s Gothic techniques in The Last of the Mohicans in some detail as an issue in its own right by focusing solely on his rendition of the twin caves scenes at the violently raging and “rebellious“ Glens Falls, the “bloody arena“ in and around which much of the action of Chapters 5-9 takes place. ³ Cooper’s landscape painting, his evocation of atmosphere, and his handling of action and character in these chapters reveal his literary method (and his “gothicised“ imagination) at work. The specific techniques of using the Gothic paraphernalia that Cooper establishes in these chapters for the first time in the novel is repeated elsewhere in the book, most notably and successfully in the sections that describe the massacre and its {44} aftermath at Fort William Henry in 1757. However, there are no substitutes for Old World Gothic castles and ruined monasteries or the active undercutting of the “puerile superstition and exploded manners“ associated with the Gothic in Cooper as we find in Charles Brockden Brown’s work. Instead, he has replaced them with what Allan Axelrad has called the “Wilderness Gothic“: American wilderness peopled by hostile natives, and dotted with dauntingly impenetrable forests and savage beasts, underground caves, cascading waterfalls, and other perils. In the twin cave scenes, Cooper uses Gothic techniques and devices in their peculiarly American manifestations to create an American version of the Gothic environment of terror — of forbidding places where blood has been spilled — and through its usage to underline a number of themes that are later developed in the novel, such as the ‘horrid tumult’ of social change and the violation of the American ‘space’ by both the ‘red’ Indians and the white settlers of the land.

The dark and labyrinthine recesses descending to catacombs deep in the earth figure prominently in the European Gothic tales, where writers frequently use the device of enclosures, “hidden and separate from the outside world” as they are (Botting 81), to evoke fear and horror, especially, what Howard Lovecraft calls “fear of the unknown” (12) and the consequent “psychological disorientation” associated with it (the phrase is Botting’s). Drawn with consummate power and skill, the picture of the twin caves at Glens Falls prepares the readers for the terrors and horrors of which they are the witness. Expressive of the dark spirit of the American landscape, the caves are used by Cooper as threatening enclosures and as a motif of entrapment. Also, as part of the wilderness that surrounds them, they are emblems of the mysterious and the preternatural over which man has little control. Wedged precariously between “high and cragged rocks ... surrounded by tall trees” and many “deep and roaring caverns,” the subterranean area is described by Hawkeye in chilling terms: “a cluster of black objects” collected in the “deeper shadows” of the Hudson (The Last of the Mohicans 47). Hawkeye’s assessment of the caverns is daunting: here “Waters leave no trail,” and “an owl’s eye,” he says, “would be blinded by the darkness of such a hole” (47). If the caves have a certain wild beauty, that beauty is deceptive; there is no romantic elation in this place, only gloom and blood-curdling terror. Enclosures in Cooper are seldom safe, secure places; they are places of entrapment. And if the Munro party, especially the sisters Alice and Cora, feel a sense of security in the safe enclosure of the cavern, it is quickly belied; the “peril” here is very real, because the caves confine and entrap all those who enter. Although Hawkeye 45} sardonically refers to the caves as “burrows” with two exits, actually there are no escape routes save those that lead either to death and destruction or to capture by the “savage” Indians. By presenting an enclosure as a form of entrapment, Cooper expresses a vision of the world as a place where there is terror and pain, ugliness and evil, damnation, and no escape route—a “dark” vision commonly associated with the Gothic genre (Hume 111-112). The twin caves in Cooper’s novel function much in the same way that Manfred’s subterranean dungeon does in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto(1764). They increase the atmosphere of gloom and oppression, and intensify the dangers that Alice and Cora, the damsels in distress of the Gothic romance, face. By using the caves as tomb-like enclosures that very nearly engulf the characters in a primal darkness, Cooper holds the readers in suspense to shock, alarm, and rouse them. In the process, Cooper does what a Gothic writer would normally do: he elicits a strong emotional response from his readers rather than a moral or an intellectual one. As substitutes for the medieval cathedral or castle as the theatre of events, the caves at Glens Falls evoke the supernatural, the fantastic, and the terrifying. Also, Cooper’s depiction of the caves and GlensFalls strongly suggests a paradox found in Gothic literature, the principal image of which is the Gothic cathedral itself, with the “outward, upward” movement of its spires and steeples and the “inward, downward” motion of its vaults and recesses (Thompson 4). On the one hand, the awesome sublimity of the falls inspires the thrill of vastness, mystery, and wonder, and captures in its majestic height the outward, upward movement of the Gothic cathedral. On the other hand, the subterranean location of the caves corresponds to the inward, downward motion of the cathedral, convoluting in upon itself in dark cavernous recesses, while its dim, shadow-filled interiors evoke the ponderous, depressive sense of somber gloom of cathedral vaults.

The caves are, of course, part of the larger design of Cooper’s landscape in the novel. In the scenes at Glens Falls, the landscape is nothing if not chaotic, discordant, even phantasmal. It is an environment that manifests in its excesses the turbulence of the novel. The waters of the falls, Cooper says, are “perverse”; they “fall by no rules at all” and violate all patterns of order. The “whole design” of the river seems “disconcerted,” and, fabricating “all sorts of images,” it is “rebellious,” trying its hand at everything (56). Cooper presents us with a violent, chaotically gathered world, where no man, European or American Indian, can be certain of anything—least of all himself. Much of the violence related to this shadow-dark world of “spectral, unearthly, {46} [and] vanishing Indians” (Bergland 83) is reflected in Cooper’s imagery suggesting death (and burial) by water). In Chapter 8, Chingachgook drops into the water and quickly “sinks” from view; as Hawkeye enters the waters of the falls, it closes above his head, and he is “lost to view” (87); finally, Uncas dives into the “troubled stream” and “hardly a breath was drawn from those he left behind” (87) before he sank and was “seen no more” (88). And earlier in the chapter, the whirling currents of the falls claim a young Huron brave who “appeared to rise into the air, with uplifted arms and startling eyeballs, and fell, with a sullen plunge, into that deep and yawning abyss over which he hovered” (74). Such graphic images of sudden disappearances points to the fact that the wilderness overwhelms Cooper’s characters and draws them into its vortex of chaotic energy. In the Glens Falls scenes, Cooper weaves the warp of Gothicism with landscape painting techniques to suggest the limiting reality of man’s diminished position in a terrifying and inscrutable universe. As Cooper’s forbidding natural environment confronts the Munro party with the shock of sepulchral memento mori, we recognize the wilderness as a reminder of death in the midst of life.

Apart from the landscape, whose fearful visage Cooper exploits as a device to create a sense of Gothic terror in the novel, he also uses the American Indian characters in the Glens Falls scenes toward achieving a similar end. As The Last of the Mohicans begins, Cooper suggests the supernatural through the demon-like forms of the “savages” who glide noiselessly in the dark forest and whose yells mingle with “every fitful gust” (reminiscent of the gusty winds so frequent around haunted mansions in Gothic tales). These are the Mingoes, whose crafty and at times cruel machinations under the leadership of Magua take the place of the exploits of Ann Radcliffe’s fiendish barons, or those of the spectral villains of Horace Walpole or those of “Monk” Lewis. The cave scenes at Glens Falls, too, are filled with analogous “monsters” from Gothic fiction. Chingachgook, for instance, is described as a “spectrallooking figure” silently and furtively stalking from out the “darkness” (55). As this “appalling object” comes into view, Alice “shrieks,” and even the more self-composed Cora hastens to her feet. Later, in the halflight of the brand burning inside the cave, the “artificial terror of [his] war-paint” seems to stand out, and Chingachgook appears as a “terrific emblem of death” (23), a fitting native symbol and a stark narrative portent. The effect of Gothic terror and dread is heightened by Cooper’s vivid (and often melodramatic) description of “bad” American Indians. The Hurons are presented as “savages,” as “bloody-minded hell-hounds” who exist only to kill and despoil (76). Analogous to {47} “monsters” in Gothic tales, they are of a “savage gigantic stature” (76), possess the “fiercest mien” (77), and terrorize their enemies. Magua, who is portrayed both as a “monster” and a keeper of “monsters,” is “malignant, fierce, and savage” and his “dark figure” is seen skulking treacherously through the forest (97). Ghastly and hideous in the cave scenes, Magua is presented as a demonic figure who inspires fear and dread. Thus, Cooper’s villainous American Indians correspond to the gloomy scenery the author paints; their projects are dark, singular, and atrocious; and their exploits are tinged with a sinister purpose, so that they seem to belong to an unearthly sphere of powerful mischief.

Another crucial characteristic of the Gothic tale is its atmosphere of lurking evil and brooding terror. In the cave scenes, unexplained sounds, sights indistinctly caught, dim shadows endowed with motion by the flicker of the firelight or the shimmer of the moonbeams invoke a chilling fear. Cries “that seemed neither human nor earthly” shake the caverns to their very recesses and send “horrid” chills of foreboding in the hearts of all who hear them (61). The sequence of the “inhuman sounds,” now “mysterious,” now “horrid,” is so well arranged and the responses of the Munro party to these cries are so artfully managed that our minds move to obscure intimations of unearthly dangers. Similarly, Cooper maintains the atmosphere of sublimated terror by the chiaroscuro-pattern of light and shade used by painters to create a desired effect This pictorial technique significantly enhances the Munro sisters’ fear; “dark,” “darkness,” and “shadows” recur time and again in the text, defining the contours of Cooper’s fictional world and suggesting the relation of actor and his natural environment. Cooper’s people are characterized by what surrounds and frames them. The forest is covered over by “dense shadows” (46), while “the thickening lay like a dark barrier along the margins of the river”; the waters of the Hudson are “dark” with the high barracks casting a “deeper shadow” than usual; and the caves are like “dark holes” (47). This darkness, however, is occasionally dispelled either by a flaming brand inside the caves or by the mild moonlight outside. In either case, light creates shadows that add an eerie shroud to the surroundings.

Through the chiaroscuro, Cooper creates an ambience which becomes particularly sensitive to imaginary fear. Alice mistakes Chingachgook as a “spectre” in the half-lighted cave; similarly, the savagery of the attacking Hurons and their demonic appearances are magnified in the shadowy caves where flickering light evokes fright by rendering objects and people bizarre. Cooper also uses the chiaroscuro to invoke a morally ambiguous mid-region where appearance and reality {48} seem to lose their distinctions and perceptions are clouded. ¹⁰ Finally, Cooper’s contrastive juxtaposition of sound and silence sharpens the Gothic effect of the scenes as it helps reinforce images of chaos and dread. There are “roaring” caverns in Glens Falls; the river “roars” like “thunder.” “Barbarous sounds” (70) interrupt the gentle tunes of songs; Alice “shrieks” twice (55, 70), while a demonic tumult of “yells and cries” curdle Heywood’s blood (70); and there are also the frequent “reports” of rifles (78, 79, 81). These calamitous sounds portend the “terrific ... peril” in which the Munro party stand (46). Opposed to the pattern of “horrid” sounds is the alternating pattern of stillness and silence. The stillness that follows the first Indian war whoop, in Chapter 6, is “deep”; later, after the party hears the war whoop a second time, “a long breathless silence” follows Heywood’s cautionary words to Alice and Cora; and, also in Chapter 8, “a fearful stillness” (94) envelops the caves after an Indian attack. The contrapuntal pattern of sound and silence is an aural device that helps Cooper create a Gothic environment of terror by stimulating the passion of fear and by raising supernatural anxiety. Cooper also uses the aural device as a metaphor for the violence and discord that is at the heart of his world.

However, despite the Gothic machinery that Cooper uses in the cave scenes at Glens Falls (and elsewhere in the novel), The Last of the Mohicans is less a Gothic romance than it is an exemplary instance of what Joshua Bellin identifies as the historical romance (159). Nevertheless, what Cooper tries to achieve through his use of the Gothic is to fix and define the unique nature of his fictional world. Consistent with this design, Cooper’s Gothicism is directed toward establishing a number of themes which explain and reconstruct some important American experiences. This particular objective also explains Cooper’s Gothic environment as an American one: Cooper is a mythologist of the American frontier. In the novel, Cooper is facing the reality of the violence and the inequalities of the Indian-settler colonist contact that underscore the “truth of history” and the “irreversibility of events” (to use Mircea Eliade’s phrase)—the European conquest of the Americas and the possession of and the subsequent displacement from much of the American territories that render the Indian doomed in the New World (Peck 139). The “barbarous confusion” of history, racial and cultural discord, and both red and white men’s despoilment of the natural environment that seems at first “impenetrable and unreliable” (Bergland 1) are all manifested in the chaos and violence that characterize the events in and. around the caves. Similarly, the frenzy and the bloodiness of Chapters 8 and 9 anticipate, in tone and substance, {49} two other actions in the book, both of which underscore the twin themes of violated harmony and conflicted identity: the combat between Chingachgook and Magua, and the massacre at Fort William Henry. Furthermore, the shadowy darkness of the cave scenes invokes the moral confusion of Cooper’s book in which friend and foe and good and evil are indistinguishable, and where the complicity of both races in violating and defiling the land is often apparent and terrible. Besmeared with blood and human carnage, and violent in its manifestations, the American landscape is the very image of death, arrogating, as Wayne Franklin says, “all those who would seek to appropriate it” (230).

As a Gothic setting, the wilderness inspires terror and dread; as a spiritual metaphor, it reminds us of the gruesome reality of the world that the novel attempts to reveal. The conflation of and the conflict between the need for social order and the need for evolutionary change are part of the moral value of Cooper’s landscape—envisaged in The Last of The Mohicans as a daunting wilderness (or “the landscape of difficulty,” as Peck calls it), and a constant thematic in Cooper’s novels, as Donald Ringe points out (151). While this conflation and conflict form the larger imaginative pattern of the novel, Cooper’s trepidation regarding man’s ability to carefully reason through the possible jeopardizing consequences of frontier expansion, and their effect on American culture and history (not to mention on the emerging notions of the “new” American) constitute an important sub-text of the work. And as Joshua Bellin has shown, the publication of The Last of the Mohicans (in 1826) was bookended by two related events of considerable importance that help us historicize the action of the novel—and establish Cooper’s authorial stance toward the American Indians: first, James Monroe’s proposal to the United States Congress in 1824 for sending the American Indians voluntarily west of the Mississippi River; second, in 1826, the Seneca tribe in New York State ceded their two last reservations to the Ogden Land Company (159). As someone who proclaimed his debt to the “Muse of History” (quoted in Bellin 159), Cooper was well aware of political and the socio-cultural realities of the “Indian Question” and, especially, of the dire consequences surrounding the Jacksonian project, the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In his Leatherstocking Tales and in The Pioneers, like Henry David Thoreau, Cooper treaded “in the tracks of the Indian” but “walked another nature, and another fate” from his (Thoreau 179). Thus, while he creates a familiar Gothic environment of terror in the cave scenes and peoples his dark world with phantom fears and anxieties, what emerges in the end is something that is beyond the local terrors and horrors of stage {50} villains and trembling heroines and ghostly manifestations of conventional Gothic romance. Cooper uses the Gothic mode of terror and horror to express his complex vision of social and moral dislocation that accompanied a process of great historical change in America—culminating in what has often been referred to as a “modern tragedy of extinction”—the brutality of the Indian Removal—during which the culture and civilization of the “red” Indian gave way to the creation and consequent rise of the “pale” American.


Works Cited

  • Bellin, Joshua David. The Demon of the Continent: Indians and the Shaping of American Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
  • Bergland, Renee L. The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects. Hanover: University Press of New England, 2000.
  • Botting, Fred. Gothic: The New Critical Idiom (Second Edition). London and New York: Routledge, 2014
  • {54} Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. 1826. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1903. All citations are to this edition.
  • ------. The Letters and Journals of Fenimore Cooper. Ed. James Franklin Beard. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-1968. Volume I.
  • Engel, Leonard. “The Role of the Enclosure in the English and American Gothic Romance,” Essays in Arts and Sciences 11 (September 1982): 59-68.
  • Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Dell, 1969.
  • Franklin, Wayne. The New World of James Fenimore Cooper. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
  • Howard, David. “James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales: ‘Without a Cross’” in Tradition and Tolerance in Nineteenth Century Fiction Eds., David Howard, John Lucas, John Goode. London: Routledge, 1966.
  • Hume, Robert D. “Three Varieties of Negative Romanticism” in The Gothic Imagination: Essays in Dark Romanticism. Ed. G.R. Thompson. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1974: 111-112.
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. Supernatural Horror in Literature New York: Dover, 1973.
  • Pearce, Roy Harvey. Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press; Revised ed. Edition, 1988.
  • Peck, H. Daniel. A World by Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977.
  • Sayre, Gordon M. Les Sauvages Américains: Representations of Native Americans in French and American Colonial Literature . Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Thompson, G.R. “Romanticism and the Gothic Tradition” in The Gothic Imagination: Essays in Dark Imagination. Washington University Press, 1974.
  • Thoreau, Henry David. “Early Spring in Massachusetts” The Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, Volume 5. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin, 1881.


1. For the purposes of this essay, it will be useful to think of gothic literature as that which attempts to disturb or unsettle the orderly, ‘civilized’ course of society. As commentators have noted, Gothic works probe the dark side of humanity or unveil socio-cultural anxieties of the time. Consequently, much of this literature, it has been argued, also frequently thrusts its characters into mystery, torment, and fear in order to weigh in on and pose disturbing questions to our familiar and comfortable ideas of humanity, society, and the cosmos. For a critical introduction to the genre, and a discussion of the popularity of the Gothic mode in eighteenth and nineteenth century American writing, especially fiction, see, among others, Botting and the following: Gregg Crane, The Cambridge Introduction to Nineteenth Century American Novel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Jerrold E. Hogle, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction (London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Matthew C. Brennan, The Gothic Psyche (New York and London: Camden House, 1997); Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Priscilla Wald, Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995); and Donald A. Ringe, American Gothic Imagination and Reason in Nineteenth Century Fiction (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982). The popularity of the gothic in late eighteenth and nineteenth century America demonstrates (among other things) the power of genres to cross cultures and transmute the social reality of Walpole’s and Radcliffe’s England into the defamiliarized form of the American Gothic (see Dennis Berthold’s review of Goddu’s American Gothic at Romantic Circles,

2. See Fiedler 202; Howard 44-45; Thomas Philbrick, “The Last of the Mohicans and the Sounds of Discord,” American Literature 43 (1971): 25-41; Michael D. Butler, “Narrative Structure and Historical Process in The Last of the Mohicans,” American Literature 48 (May 1976): 118-120; Donald A. Ringe, James Fenimore Cooper (Boston: Twayne, 1982) 42-48; Ringe, “The Last of the Mohicans as a Gothic Novel,” James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art 6 (Oneonta, New York: The State University of New York College at Oneonta, 1987): 4153; David Mazel, “Performing the Wilderness in The Last of the Mohicans,” in John Tallmadge & Henry Harrington, eds., Reading under the Sign of Nature: New Essays in Ecocriticism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000) 101-115; {51} Allan Lloyd Smith, American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction (London and New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004). Also, see related essays in Literature in the Early American Republic: Annual Studies on Cooper and His Contemporaries (Brooklyn, New York: AMS Press, Volumes 1-7: 2009-2016).

3. Cooper’s Gothic mode in these chapters deserves a closer attention as my study, analysis, and presentation fill a small lacuna in the scholarship of The Last of the Mohicans, Thomas Philbrick’s and Donald A. Ringe’s much longer essays on the topic notwithstanding (see n.2, above). As a side note we may acknowledge, albeit briefly, an instance of minor anachronism in Cooper’s reference to Glen’s Falls in his 1826 text. In Chapter 5 of the Mohicans, Hawkeye tellsHeyward, “You are at the foot of Glenn’s.” In his 1917 essay called “The Last of the Mohicans: Cooper’s Historical Inventions, and his Cave,” James Austin Holden claims that while in 1826 Cooper “refers to the ‘Falls at Glenn’s” in The Last of the Mohicans,” he does so “but, manifestly, improperly and incorrectly.” (See nyhistory/1917nyhistory-holden.htm.) And as Professor Steven Harthorn (University of Northwestern-St. Paul) observes (in an email to the author), “Holden raises a good point about the anachronism of having Hawk-eye — ‘in 1757 — call the falls “Glenn’s” after Col. Glen when Glen would not reach the area until the 1770s.”

4. For an extended discussion of the role of landscape in Cooper, including The Last of the Mohicans, see Blake Nevius, Cooper’s Landscapes: An Essay on the Picturesque Vision (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1976). For more recent discussions on the subject, see Russell Newman, The Gentleman in the Garden: The Influential Landscape in the Works of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: Lexington Books, 2003), and Allan M. Axelrad, “Mountain Gothic to Forest Gothic: and Luminism: Changing Representations of Landscape in the Leatherstocking Tales and in American Painting,” James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art 15, State University of New York College at Oneonta, July 2005.

5. Apparently, such “massacres” and “other substantial evils” facing the English colonists were common during the years of the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), and as Allan Axelrad points out, “Anglo-American victimization plays an important role in The Last of the Mohicans.” See his “Historical Contexts of The Last of the Mohicans: The French and Indian War, and Mid-1820s America” in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art 17, State University of New York College at Oneonta, July 2007. For Cooper’s awareness of the French and Indian War and his knowledge of the massacre of 1757, see David P. French, “James Fenimore Cooper and Fort William Henry” in American Literature 32.1 (March 1960): 28-38. See also Thomas Philbrick, “The Sources of Cooper’s Knowledge of Fort William Henry” in American Literature 36.2 (May 1964): 209-214. Cited in Peck, 119. Interestingly, as Gordon A. Sayre points out in his Les Sauvages Américains, during this frequently cited instance of “Indian atrocities,” the total number of English deaths numbered between 40 and 50, whereas “the British attack on Fort Carillon Ticonderoga eleven months later saw 550 British die” (310). This disparity underscores {52} Sayre’s larger point that during the Seven Year War, especially, the “French is an ambivalent signifier susceptible to assimilation with the “savages” (310).

6. See Engel 60. It is to be noted that in Cooper the caves as an enclosure device does not help in shaping the psychological growth (or regression) of the main characters, as they do in Brockden Brown’s tales, especially in Edgar Huntly, where Edgar Huntly’s first-ever entrance into the cave in the “rude retreats of Norwalk” (Chapter X) represents his first steps toward “regression and the primitive” (the phrase is Abby Sherwood’s in her essay entitled “Inverting the cave: Edgar Huntly and the Enlightenment”); nor do enclosures exist as a device for developing characters as such. Thus, when their traumatic experiences in the twin caves are behind them, neither the Munro sisters, nor Duncan, nor Heyward exhibit any new self-knowledge or acquire special social capabilities as a result of having gone through the ordeal.

7. For an extended discussion of images associated with the Natural Sublime in The Last of the Mohicans, see Steven Blackmore, “’Without a Cross: The Cultural Significance of the Sublime and Beautiful in The Last of the Mohicans“ in Nineteenth-Century Literature (June 1997): 31, 33. Also relevant to the subject is Edward Halsey Foster’s The Civilized Wilderness: Backgrounds to the American Romantic Literature 1817-1860 (New York: Free Press, 1975) 8, 21.

8. Kay Seymour House has argued that Cooper synthesized two antithetical views about the native peoples prevalent at that time: they were either demonized as being cruel, bloodthirsty, even beastly, or romanticized as “noble savages” (47). Cooper, according to House (quoting Pearce), portrays the American Indians as capable of expressing “feelings of guilt and hatred, of pity and censure” (47). In The Gentlemen in the Garden, 52-53, Newman posits that Cooper’s Indians go beyond the simple binary of good and evil. Depending on the landscapes — whether in the garden or in the wilderness — the Indian is presented either as a “noble savage,” and thus friend and trusted guide of the Caucasian characters of the novels in which they appear, or as “deceitful, merciless savages interested in bloodletting and scalping” (53). While Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans (and in the Leatherstocking tales) is an example of the Indian as the “noble savage,” Magua and his men belong to the second category, of the fearful and much-hated native peoples. There is also a third kind — those who are not so “easily defined”: “they are at one time beasts, and at other time, noble savages,” and this type often confuses and frightens the white characters who come in contact with them, such as Conanchet in The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish and Scalping Peter in The Oak Openings (Newman 53). For an earlier and a more extensive consideration of the myth of the Indian as the Noble Savage, see Robert Harvey Pearce’s classic study Savagism and Civilization (1953). Gordon M. Sayre’s treatment of the Noble Savage trope (and consequent the idealization of American Indians) in his Les Sauvages Américains makes for an informed reading as does Joshua David Bellin’s discussion of the prevalence of the theme in colonial American writing in his The Demons of the Continent.

9. Donald Ringe’s comments on this aspect of Cooper’s Gothic mode are insightful (see n2, above).

10. {53} Thus, as commentators have rightly noted, the value-laden Gothic symbols of light and dark as good and evil gain further traction by Cooper’s exploration of the “light” and “dark” of America’s race distinctions, including the problematic of mixed race heritage as exemplified in the figure of Cora. In this connection, see Zoe Ludski, “My Coloured Thoughts: Last of The Mohicans and the Perceptions of Mixed Race Peoples” (1999). James Fenimore Cooper Society Website,

11. See Michael D. Butler’s “Narrative Structure and Historical Process in The Last of the Mohicans“ in American Literature 48 (1976): 117-139 for an analysis of the relation between North American Indians and the European settlers in Cooper’s novel. For a related discussion, especially about Cooper’s ideas of American nationhood and the national experience, see the chapter entitled “Race in the New World” in George Dekker’s James Fenimore Cooper: The American Scott (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1967) 68-83; see also Pearce, Savagism and Civilization, and Donald Ringe 81. For a more recent set of discussions on Cooper’s attitude toward American Indians, ranging from studies devoted to such themes as the “mutual acculturation” between American Indians and Euro-Americans to spectrality and miscegenation to a critique of sexuality as a “technology” of European colonization of the Americas from the point of view of queer Native studies to the shadowy presence of Maori figures in the Mohicans (and in Melville’s Moby Dick) to emotional expressions of mutual sympathy between the Indians and the white settler colonists, etc., see Bergland, Bellin, and the following works: Laura Mielke’s Moving Encounters (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008); Mark Rifkin’s When Did Indians Become Straight? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Geoffrey Sanborn’s Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby Dick, and the Maori (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Sandra Gustafson’s “Cooper and the Idea of the Indian” in The Cambridge History of the American Novel (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2011) 103-116. Gustafson offers a persuasive argument against Pearce’s contention that Cooper’s Indians were a “measure of the non-civilized” whose extinction was practically assured given their reluctance to accept their acculturation into a new nation. Instead, Gustafson posits a nuanced view that broadly accentuates Cooper’s “cosmopolitanism” — that is, his awareness of and his respect for difference — cultural and racial, especially — in his complex treatment of the fictionalized American Indians in his novels: five set between 1740 and 1776, and six between 1775 and 1848.