From Resistance to Autonomy: Daughter-Father Relationships in The Last of the Mohicans and The Pathfinder

William Owen (Ryerson Polytechnic University, Toronto)

Presented at the 12ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1999.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1999 Cooper Seminar (No. 12), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Hugh C. MacDougall, editor. (pp. 69-78).

Copyright © 2000, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta.

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

{69} The relationship of fathers and daughters is central to the Leatherstocking tales since in every novel of the series, except for The Prairie, fathers and daughters constitute the family configuration in the novel. Of especial interest to Cooper seems to have been the relationship between father and daughter in The Last of the Mohicans because he adopts it when he revives the Leatherstocking character in The Pathfinder. As a number of critics have noticed, the narratives begin with almost identical opening scenes depicting the efforts of young women trying to reach their military fathers during the French and Indian War. 1 As well, the allusions and references to the earlier book in The Pathfinder are extensive as Rans has discovered. 2 Moreover, the narrative similarities extending through the novels link one of the Munro daughters, Cora, to Mabel Dunham. 3 In examining the dynamics of the father-daughter relationships in these tales, we become aware that both novels present sites of contestation between the values of the father and the emerging ones of the daughter, explorative in nature in The Last of the Mohicans and more ideologically developed in The Pathfinder. In rebelling against the codified values the fathers represent in the novels, the daughters find an unusual ally in the solitary figure of Leatherstocking. He contributes to our understanding of the roles of the daughters by defining as well as sharing the thematic significance of the relationships.

The opening scenes of both The Last of the Mohicans and The Pathfinder present the father-daughter relationship as a protector-dependent one. Indeed, as military officers, Colonel Munro and Captain Dunham act not only as fathers but also as protectors of the public, that is to say of the British soldiers and colonials during the wartime period. Yet the development of the narrative questions the capacity of the father to perform both his military and parental roles. The fact that the fathers are forced to entrust their daughters to others because their military duties limit them to their posts indicates that their professional obligations take precedence over their parental responsibilities or as Cynthia S. Jordan puts it, “the white father’s dedication to ‘duty’ and ‘station’ has deafened him to the human needs” of his children. 4 Those to whom the fathers entrust their daughters, a junior officer, Duncan Heyward, in The Last of the Mohicans and an uncle in The Pathfinder demonstrate they are unable to prevent the daughters from being exposed to danger, represented in the novels in the form of treacherous aboriginal guides. This failure of the father is emphasised in the first novel. When the party led by Duncan becomes lost on the journey, it is rescued by Leatherstocking and his two native friends Uncas and Chingachgook. Leatherstocking and his companions take charge of the expedition, thus effectively rebuking the father’s delegates.

Beyond the deficiencies of the fathers themselves, 5 it is apparent that their flaws stem to a great extent from their acceptance of and trust in the normal procedures of the military. The authority that Munro in particular and Dunham possess is that transferred to them by the state. They are thus placed in a situation wherein they can not establish their own values but must accept those of society, however incongruous or inadequate those values may appear in the wilderness. Furthermore, the hierarchy of the military ill prepares them to respond to the issues which they must deal with due to the presence of their daughters. The marriageability of the young women means that the officers must attend to their daughters’ courtships as well as the war in which they are engaged. Since war and marriage are antithetical in their aims and purposes, war leading to the destruction of life while marriage creates new life, it is no wonder the fathers are portrayed as confused and conflicted as they attempt to govern both activities. The daughters for their part view their relationship from different generational and gender perspectives, resulting in a resistance to the codes, values and authority of their fathers.

The first code we see in operation in The Last of the Mohicans, chivalry, joins the issues of war and marriage. A mode of behaviour devised to mark gentlemen of a certain class, the rules of chivalry cover conduct relating to both enemies and women. The code is witnessed when the party is forced to hide under Glenn’s Falls. It requires the men to stay and protect the women above all other responsibilities. The two women who activate the chivalric code respond differently, one accepting the protection, the other rejecting it. While Alice says nothing, Cora, perceiving that the code imprisons the men from acting effectively against an enemy unrestricted by chivalry, advises them to go to the fort for help. Her intervention demonstrates her independent judgment. Her wishes are obeyed except by Heyward who feels it is his chivalric duty to stay with the girls. The sisters’ different reactions establish a pattern developed through the tale. 6 {70} Alice, whose blonde hair and blue eyes signify her innocence, acts the role of dependent daughter. The description of Cora with her rich “blood ready to burst its bounds” 7 suggests her rebellious nature 8 even as it defines her as the Dark Lady of convention. The sinful nature associated with her defiance of the chivalric convention has transformed her into a social critic. 9

The note of inappropriateness struck by the assertion of chivalric values in the wilderness is tragically amplified in the military sphere. 10 Forced to surrender at Fort William Henry, Munro trusts Montcalm’s sense of chivalry to protect his troops. He is ill prepared for the slaughter that occurs when Montcalm is unable to keep his word. The disaster is foreshadowed in his mishandling of a marriage proposal. Munro’s negotiations with Montcalm are oddly intertwined with Duncan’s request for Alice’s hand. Munro mistakes Duncan’s intention, just as he tragically accepts Montcalm’s word.

Munro’s errors in war and chivalry are compounded in his treatment of Cora in discussing marriage with Duncan. Disclosing her mother’s African ancestry with shame, 11 he indicates that he regards his own daughter as unsuitable for a good marriage. When he reveals these views, it appears that the social bias against miscegenation affects his opinion of her more than his own concern for her as a daughter. 12 However admirable she appeared at Glenn’s Falls, she suffers according to social biases once she is repositioned in society, this time with respect to marriage. As in the opening scenes, Munro’s public role overrules his personal loyalties and duties to his daughter. The irony of course is that he has created the situation but escapes from it.

Yet however poor a father Munro appears, Cooper seems to share his attitude towards miscegenation. We see this in the author’s use of Natty to develop the concept of racial and personal “gifts” into a philosophy of cultural relativism 13 to counter the European sense of superiority to the Native Americans. The concept of gifts as individual or racial traits should lead to a respect for the differences of others. The implication is that the two races of Native Americans and whites should be able to develop mutual respect for each other’s way of life. After all, Natty has been able to live with Chingachgook and Uncas who practice activities, such as scalping, he cannot endorse. Natty’s idea of gifts however seems to carry with it the corollary obligation to remain true to one’s racial gifts, which suggests that individuals should not acquire the “cross of blood” through miscegenation.

While Cooper disapproves of miscegenation, he is also sensitive to the plight of Cora, whose biracial nature constitutes the only clear example of miscegenation. Moreover, her style is a significant one. 14 In his discussion of the thematics of texts featuring biracial characters, Werner Sollors 15 asserts that such characters often play prophetic roles (240) and represent a testing of boundaries. (241) This aspect of Cora’s role emerges in the playing out of the second captivity of the sisters which occurs after the battle of Fort William Henry. The two parts to this second journey focus alternately on the plight of each of the two sisters, providing radically different outcomes and creating contrasting meanings in the narrative. Alice, left by Magua with one tribe, is rescued by all of the white and aboriginal males, led by Natty. Cora, however, is left with another tribe. When all the characters arrive at Tamenund’s, Cora is the only one to act when she objects to his decision to heed Magua’s argument that the group remain his prisoners. Cora challenges the patriarchal authority of Tamenund initially on the grounds that Magua’s claim for the repossession of his prisoners is immoral (303), then she pleads that he exchange a favour done by her father (304) and finally she asks him as a father to free another father’s daughter, her sister.(305) In effect, she is asking him to act like a father interested in the personal welfare of his children. When she manages to get Tamenund to hear Uncas, a male, the patriarch changes his position. However, he does not accept her values but bases his decision on the circumstances of war-whether the prisoners were conquered or freed themselves. The argument is one of agency rather than autonomy, that freedom can be achieved by violence, which allows Alice, Natty, Duncan, Uncas and Chingachgook to be freed. However, since no one rescued Cora, she remains Magua’s prisoner. Thus his act spurred by revenge holds more legal status in Tamenund’s system of values than her request. It should be remembered that Cora has already used the same grounds in pleading with Magua to set aside his revenge. Now she is applying to someone with authority over Magua.

The devotion of Tamenund’s tribe towards him as a patriarch links him with Munro. Both claim to be father to more than their immediate children but their patriarchal role is enacted with rules rather than with parental love, so that the patriarch is left with legal rather than moral authority. Patterson suggests that Tamenund’s reply, like Munro’s earlier, means that children receive no special favours. 16 Munro’s presence at the scene where Cora pleads with Tamenund reminds us of his own ineffectiveness and foreshadows the fate of the patriarchs of the Native Americans. He is now without authority and unable to help his own daughter. In the struggle between her morality and Magua’s vengeance, Cora loses. Tamenund accedes to the codes which are those of war and not of natural justice. McWilliams notes that her last plea to God is to another patriarch who fails her. 17

{71} Leatherstocking provides the best commentary on Cora’s action. Combining the traits of Native Americans and whites, Natty is the character closest to Cora’s biracial nature. As she continues to act independently, pointing out the shortcomings of the rigid codes prevailing in both white and Native American societies, Natty ponders intently the question of how to avoid being trapped in inaction by the insistence of being true to one’s gifts. As he says to Duncan, who is slowly going through a process of reeducation 18 from the limitations of chivalry, “Remember, that to outwit the knaves it is lawful to practise things, that may not be naturally the gift of a white skin.” (29) His advice acknowledging contingency sanctions the independence of Cora’s earlier actions.

As many critics have commented, her death signifies failure. 19 I would like to present it as the defeat of promise. The values she represents, the freedom of the individual, the defiance of the limiting role ascribed to women, the acceptance of the different and the ability to play a role in society traditionally denied by social customs and codes are all lost. 21 The Native American maidens note in their lamentations Cora’s “noble resolution” (342) which has received direct and explicit attention throughout the tale. It is truly ironic that her boldness and resourcefulness are lost from the world while the father, reduced now to a pathetic figure, is left as survivor.

While Forrest G. Robinson says the relationship between Uncas and Cora is at the heart of the book, 21 it is important to note that the idea of a union, which might bring about mediation between the races in conflict in the book, is only stated by the maidens during Cora’s and Uncas’s elaborate burial ceremony. 22 The union has proved impossible because Uncas, unlike Cora, abides by the codes of his tribe. While Robinson’s argument that Cooper is expressing feelings that he wants to suppress at the same time 23 primarily concerns her sexuality, it can also explain the sense of incompleteness attached to Cora’s actions. Her boldness presents itself in the form of social criticism; she offers no alternative values. It is as if the author has not been able to develop her meaning because both he and Cora succumb to the power of the codes.

When Cooper decided in 1840 to resume writing about Leatherstocking, Cora’s marriage dilemma and her protest against the patriarchal authorities suited his thematic needs. In The Pathfinder the treatment of the father-daughter relationship between Mabel and Sergeant Dunham intensifies both Munro’s and Cora’s entrapment by the hierarchical structure of the society, suggesting Cooper’s increased frustration with society. The setting is still that of the French and Indian War and the opening scenes are similar to those in The Last of the Mohicans, but in The Pathfinder Cooper manages to quickly transfer out of the military plot to focus on the romantic plot. The intermingled confusion between war and marriage in the earlier book is disentangled with the creation of analogous plots. 24 The protracted discussion between father and daughter about marriage seems to obscure the fact that Dunham is actually involved in war. Indeed, despite the potential for war and violence, the romantic plot has now taken center stage in The Pathfinder to the extent that Donald Ringe comments that the book continues to discuss the social themes of Home as Found. 25 Given Cooper’s controversial reputation after the publication of that book, it was undoubtedly a wise move to distance his social interests of the 1840s by displacing them to a wilderness setting.

At the same time, the dominance of the military in the novel lends a sense of incongruity to the courtship. While many of these suitors are unsuitable from the reader’s perspective, the social and military authorities and even her father approve of them and attempt to sway Mabel’s opinion. Although Duncan, the commanding officer, knows of Lieutenant Muir’s unsavoury history of failed marriages, he accedes to Muir’s request to advance his cause as a suitor because their friendship dates back to their youth in Scotland. Cooper harshens his criticism of the military hierarchy’s abuse of power by showing that Dunham is forced by his superior officer Duncan to set aside his duty as a father to consider Muir as a suitor. Dunham’s unwillingness is evident in his reply to Duncan, “If respect for his rank, sir, did not cause me to do this, your honor’s wish would be sufficient.” 26 When Mabel learns from Natty of Duncan’s wishes, she exclaims “and what care I for Lundie” (273) making the distinction that Duncan’s responsibilities do not include her courtship. She immediately recognises the impropriety of military involvement in her relationships.

In addition to Muir, Mabel’s other suitors include Jasper the young man who helped in her rescue, Leatherstocking himself, whose case is being advanced by Mabel’s own father and surprisingly, the Tuscarora Arrowhead despite the fact he is already married. Dunham’s parental flaws are more explicit than Munro’s and emerge earlier due to the much greater role he plays in the courtship than Munro did with Cora’s and Alice’s. When he pushes Natty to propose and then uses his paternal authority to request Mabel to consider the scout, we realise that he has overstepped his proper role. Because Natty recognizes that Mabel does not view him as a husband, he pleads with Dunham: “Serjeant, we must let Mabel follow her own fancy,” but Dunham is angered: “The girl has not dared to refuse you — to refuse {72} her father’s best friend.” (279) His expression of filial obedience extends to the unjustifiable assumption that parental authority can be delegated to and coexist with others. This erroneous definition of authority is inexcusable since, as Baym points out, the codes of marriage require Mabel to obey her father. 27 Still, she exercises her own judgment with respect to the suitors. She puts off Muir and is polite with Natty, thus she does not encourage either suit. She displays tact in the face of unjust manipulation by her father and the military hierarchy. She is forced to become more independent because her natural protectors fail to perform their roles. 28

Cooper shows in The Pathfinder that the courtship battles can be as difficult to withstand as the physical attacks on women in The Last of the Mohicans . If war thrusts Cora into the middle of moral and cultural conflicts, Mabel is deciding how to act ethically in choosing a suitor. She also has an acute sense of the restrictions class places upon her choice. While her problems with social codes are minor compared to Cora’s, Mabel also feels very much out of place in this structured society. She considers herself, on the one hand “too good to be the wife of one of the common soldiers” (214) because of her education, and on the other hand “not good enough to be the wife of one of the gentlemen of the garrison.” (214) Natty also is not regarded as suitable by these standards.

The criticism of class extends to the shooting match. The scene’s careful construction and close analysis becomes that of a scene from a novel of manners rather than a frontier adventure story. Its relaxed atmosphere has no counterpart in the earlier novel. The scene demonstrates how the traditional competition between men for women has been transformed into a ritualized game that shows how the raw rivalries of ambition among individual members of society now take place within the rigid codes and classifications society has developed over time to regulate its affairs. The military context makes the social codes more rigid since the assumption of hierarchy means that the women take on the coloration of their husbands’ ranks and demand similar obedience, regardless of their individual worth. The actual shooting match appears to displace brutal competition into a game in which pure skills are tested. However, Cooper arranges the event to show how a ritualized society may not guarantee a fair contest but allow for the development of new tactical weapons in the fight for supremacy. These include the psychological warfare between Muir and Natty and the pleas Jasper makes to his friend Leatherstocking to allow him to win. When Jasper wins and bestows the prize upon Mabel, her acceptance of the silk bonnet (calash) dismays and upsets the social hierarchy of the fort. When they exclaim that it is too good for her, they are trying to acquire it to consolidate their own status within the society and simultaneously respond to the challenge that Jasper and Mabel pose to the existing order by removing any status she may have acquired from the trophy. 29 She is prepared to claim the bonnet as hers regardless of the women’s opinion that it improper of her to do so. It also shows her interest in Jasper, in defiance of her father’s wishes. 31

While the scenes involving Mabel’s courtship are often regarded as being determined by class considerations, especially since Henry Nash Smith’s treatment of her role, 31 Mabel’s actions can be seen as another defiance of social mores. Moreover, Cooper creates an egalitarian satire of the hierarchy that controls and restricts the individual and plays too large a role in determining one’s supposed worth. Mabel’s acceptance of the bonnet endows her with a new identity that helps mark her rise in the novel’s society. It also displays her new sense of self or as Franklin says her full consciousness of herself. 32

At this point, the romantic plot seems to disappear as the entire company go on a journey to a fort in the Thousand Islands. The military plot, long dormant in the novel, reemerges. The false sense of security, present at times in The Last of the Mohicans, is evident in Sergeant Dunham’s invitation to his daughter to accompany the expedition. While the journey appears radically different from the second captivity of Cora and Alice, Mabel comes to face the same danger as Cora. Soon after the company reaches the fort at Station Island, Mabel is left virtually alone on the island after most of the company leave in an effort to surprise the French. She is warned by Dew of June, the wife of Arrowhead, to retreat to the safety of the blockhouse. Rosenzweig’s treatment of Dew of June as a secret sharer is a valid psychological reading of the relationship. 33 It is also important in that Dew of June’s transgression of racial boundaries evokes Cora’s significance. In the ensuing scenes Mabel appears to acquire from Dew of June some of Cora’s boldness. The relationship between Dew of June and Mabel is promising — Dew of June calls Mabel sister — but it is ultimately undercut by the author. Despite the suggestion that gender bonds are more important than marriage or race loyalties, Dew of June is actually not disobeying the ties of marriage since she is acting on the orders of her husband Arrowhead whose interest in Mabel leads him to protect her.

{73} Acting on her new knowledge, Mabel goes to the blockhouse where she is joined by Dew of June. Muir suddenly appears with a French officer and requests her to surrender. His words carry with them the overtones of the romantic plot so Mabel’s judgment is tested a second time, on this occasion in the military affair. While less clear than Magua’s ultimatum to Cora “choose the wigwam or the knife of le Subtil!,” 34 (337) Muir’s request to surrender is more ominous. It recalls the seductive tones of the sexual request since he appears as her friend but his actions as a mediator for the enemy convey the possible implication of death if she surrenders. Mabel’s previous demonstration of her ability to judge well helps her to decide now. 35 Mabel thus accomplishes what Cora could not. While Cora challenged the authorities of both whites and Native American societies, she was unable to effect fundamental change or secure independence for herself. Mabel on the other hand is able to achieve self-reliance by transcending the codes. 36

Natty becomes important not only as another example of independence and self-reliance, 37 but also for defining what he has accomplished. Like Mabel, he has had to act on his own experience to avoid following Muir’s advice. He thus recovers a self-possession that seemed to be lost earlier in the novel, particularly in his relationship with Mabel, but also in the performance of his duties as scout. Pathfinder’s assumption of a central role in the romantic plot has given him more significance as a social figure than he acquired in the wilderness of The Last of the Mohicans . As a commentator on the meaning of the action, his redefinition of the term gifts becomes a means of differentiating the primary outcomes of the two novels. Gifts has primarily a racial and cultural meaning and thus both a personal and public dimension in The Last of the Mohicans while it acquires a predominantly personal application in The Pathfinder. Natty has a long discussion with Cap about the importance of gifts as expertise the individual acquires in a certain professional field or domain. Leatherstocking asserts he has a gift for the woods while Jasper has a gift for the water. Cap’s rebuttal that his experience on the water subsumes Jasper’s expertise is confounded when he is put to the test on the lake. Natty’s egalitarian interpretation of gifts thus refutes Cap’s defense of hierarchies. Gifts now means the individual can define himself or herself and not accept society’s assumptions. The death of Dunham, one who consistently follows the ways of the hierarchical structures, 38 underlines the importance of acting independently. 39

If the novel is constructed so that the wilderness location allows for the more straightforward development of an ideology of the independent individual, Cooper also uses the freedom of the setting to conclude his plot with scenes that resemble but revise those in The Last of the Mohicans. Of particular interest are those featuring deaths including Dunham’s. Whereas The Last of the Mohicans displayed the unnatural spectacle of a father weeping over the grave of his daughter, we now have the more natural scene of a daughter grieving for her father. We also see the traitor Muir slain by the Magua-like character Arrowhead for not providing his tribe with scalps, an echo of the massacre scene. Arrowhead in turn is slain by Chingachgook. There is also a surprising correction of the misadventures of chivalry. At the end of the novel the French officer, le Sanglier, and Jasper nod respectfully toward each other in recognition of the other’s skills. Deliberately offsetting the tragic deaths of the earlier novel, Cooper institutes acts of natural justice, making The Pathfinder more of a romance than the previous novel.

The book does not close however until Mabel herself receives natural justice. The death of her father leaves her with a promise to marry Natty. Baym contends that men are still in charge of the marriages of women, 41 but Leatherstocking acts so that Mabel is given the freedom to choose her husband. Asserting he is not a tyrant, Natty, recognising her real emotional attachment to Jasper, releases Mabel from her promise to her father. By allowing her to make her own choice, he acts in accordance with his own beliefs in autonomy. The issue of sinfulness in relation to Mabel’s actions is raised in the allusion to Adam and Eve. Like the first couple, Mabel and Jasper feel guilty about breaking their promise to Mabel’s father, demonstrating a sense of guilt about challenging the codes even if her father dishonoured them. The success of Mabel and Jasper in the city seems to be presented as a sign that though they can no longer live in Eden, their success in the city signifies a Calvinistic award of approval.

Thus in looking back to The Last of the Mohicans we may see how Cooper resolved Cora’s dilemma. He is able to address the limitations placed upon her due to her gender but only makes allusions to those of race, largely by turning from history to an imagined society in the wilderness. In its insistence on the importance of obeying one’s own gifts and holding out the promise of autonomy, the tale, as Kelly comments, is an overturning of Cooper’s prior perspective 41 that the codes are too strong to resist. A trust in oneself and one’s experience will lead to self-reliance and an escape from the confinement of history and laws, especially from those who represent themselves as authorities who must be obeyed.

Works Cited

  • Baym, Nina, “The Women of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales.” American Quarterly 23(1971), 696-709.
  • ------. “How Men and Women Write Indian Stories” in New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans . ed. H. Daniel Peck, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992, 67-86.
  • Candido, Anne Marie, “A New Sea in a New Frontier: American Leadership in The Pathfinder.” Etudes Anglaises T. XLIV, No. 3 (1991), 285-295.
  • Cooper, James Fenimore, The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 . [1826]; rpt. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.
  • ------. The Pathfinder, or the Inland Sea [1840]; rpt. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981.
  • Dekker, George, James Fenimore Cooper the Novelist. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967.
  • Franklin, Wayne, The New World of James Fenimore Cooper. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
  • ------. “The Wilderness of Words in The Last of the Mohicans“ in New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans, H. Daniel Peck, ed., 25-46.
  • Haberly, David T., “Women and Indians: The Last of the Mohicans and the Captivity Tradition.” American Quarterly 28 (1976), 431-443.
  • House, Kay Seymour, Cooper’s Americans. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1965.
  • Jordan, Cynthia, Second Stories: the Politics of Language, Form and Gender in Early American Fictions . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
  • Kelly, William P., Plotting America’s Past: Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales . Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.
  • Ludski, Zoë, “My Coloured Thoughts: The Last of the Mohicans and Perspectives of Mixed Race Peoples.” Ryerson Polytechnic University, Unpublished paper, 1998.
  • MacDougall, Hugh C., ed., James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and his Art. Papers from the 1995 Cooper Seminar (No. 10). James Fenimore Cooper Society and SUNY College at Oneonta, New York, 1999.
  • McGregor, Gaile, The Noble Savage in the New World Garden. Toronto and Bowling Green: University of Toronto Press and Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1988.
  • McWilliams, John, The Last of the Mohicans: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility . New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.
  • Mann, Barbara, “Whipped Like a Dog: Crossed Blood in The Last of the Mohicans “ in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art (No. 10), ed. Hugh C. MacDougall, 48-61.
  • Milder, Robert, “The Last of the Mohicans and the New World Fall.” American Literature 52 (1980), 407-429.
  • Motley, Warren, The American Abraham: James Fenimore Cooper and the American Patriarch . New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  • Owen, William, “In Love as in War: The Significance of Analogous Plots in Cooper’s The Pathfinder.” English Studies in Canada 10, No. 3 (September, 1984), 289-298.
  • Patterson, Mark, Authority, Autonomy and Representation in American Literature 1776-1830 . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  • Peck, H. Daniel, ed., New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • ------. A World By Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983.
  • Porte, Joel, The Romance in America: Studies in Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and James. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969.
  • Rans, Geoffrey, Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales: A Secular Reading . Chapel Hill; The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
  • Ringe, Donald A., “Mode and Meaning in The Last of the Mohicans,” in James Fenimore Cooper: Historical and Literary Contexts, ed. W. M. Verhoeven. DQR Studies in Literature, Amsterdam, Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993, 109-124.
  • ------. James Fenimore Cooper. Updated Edition, Twayne’s United States Authors Series. Boston: Twayne, G. K. Hall & Co., 1988.
  • Robinson, Forrest G., “Uncertain Borders: Race, Sex and Civilization in The Last of the Mohicans,” Arizona Quarterly, 47, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), 1-28.
  • Rosenzweig, Paul, “The Pathfinder: The Wilderness Initiation of Mabel Dunham,” Modern Language Quarterly, 44 (1983), 339-358.
  • Smith, Henry Nash, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth . Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950.
  • Sollors, Werner, Neither Black nor White Yet Both: A Thematic Exploration of Interracial Literature. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Spiller, Robert, James Fenimore Cooper. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1965.
  • Tompkins, Jane, Sensational Designs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.


1 See, for example, Robert Spiller, James Fenimore Cooper, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1965, p. 32 and Kay Seymour House, Cooper’s Americans, Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1965, p. 306.

2 Geoffrey Rans, Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales: A Secular Reading, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991, p. 178.

3 One critic who has noticed the narrative similarities beyond the opening scenes is William P. Kelly, Plotting America’s Past: Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales, Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983, p. 142.

4 Cynthia S. Jordan, Second Stories: The Politics of Language, Form and Gender in Early American Fictions, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989, p. 123.

5 A number of critics have commented on this feature of the fathers, focussing particularly on Colonel Munro. H. Daniel Peck argues it is the father who fails Cora in A World By Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction , New Haven and London: Yale University Press,1977, p. 116. Warren Motley makes the same point in The American Abraham: James Fenimore Cooper and the Frontier Patriarch , New York, Cambridge, New Rochelle, Melbourne, Sydney: Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 32. John P. McWilliams, in The Last of the Mohicans: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995, says that all men in the novel are disempowered, particularly Munro, p. 76. Cynthia S. Jordan argues that white patriarchal culture itself is under attack in the novel, pp. 110-132. However, William P. Kelly places the blame for the failure of the first journey on Heyward, p. 57. With respect to The Pathfinder, Paul Rosenzweig says that Dunham fails his parental role, “The Pathfinder: The Wilderness Initiation of Mabel Dunham,” Modern Language Quarterly, 44 (1983), pp. 339-358.

6 Nina Baym, among others, has noted the dichotomy between the reactions of the sisters. See her article “How Men and Women Write Indian Stories” in New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans, ed. H. Daniel Peck, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 72-73.

7 James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757, Historical Introduction by James Franklin Beard. Text established, with explanatory notes by James A. Sappenfield and E.N. Feltskog. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983, p. 19. All subsequent quotations from this text will be noted parenthetically.

8 George Dekker interprets the phrase as a premonition of Cora’s interest in Uncas, another transgression of social codes. James Fenimore Cooper the Novelist, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967, p. 68.

9 Cora’s outspoken advice seems to be one exception to Nina Baym’s declaration that “the hypothesis of women’s feebleness on which the code is based is not tested in the Leatherstocking Tales.” “The Women of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales,” American Quarterly 23 (1971), p. 701. However, in a later essay, “How Men and Women Write Indian Stories,” Baym recognises Cora’s strengths, p. 72. Interpretations of Cora’s role and character vary. Robert Milder focuses on her goodness rather than her boldness and contends that Cooper has transformed her into the “locus for the Christian idealism” in the novel. “The Last of the Mohicans and the New World Fall,” American Literature 52, No.3 (November, 1980), pp. 426-427. An interesting perspective on Cora’s boldness is David T. Haberly’s view that her “courage, logic and self-reliance” are unfeminine gifts, a deviation from the norm due to her captivity. He treats this transformation in women’s nature as a feared consequence latent in the captivity tale. See his “Women and Indians: The Last of the Mohicans and the Captivity Tradition,” American Quarterly 28 (1976), pp. 437-438.

10 There has been much critical commentary on the chivalric codes in the novel. Geoffrey Rans says that the most crushing defeat is that suffered by the chivalric categories themselves, p. 126. In discussing the inadequacy of the chivalric codes, Donald A. Ringe focuses on the manner in which the novel mocks Duncan’s adherence to the codes of chivalry. “Mode and Meaning in The Last of the Mohicans“ in James Fenimore Cooper: Historical and Literary Contexts , ed. W.M. Verhoeven, DQR Studies in Literature 12 Amsterdam, Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993, pp. 109-124.

11 Barbara Mann points out that Munro is forced by law to disclose her ancestry. “Whipped Like a Dog; Crossed Blood in The Last of the Mohicans,” in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art , No.10 (1995), ed. Hugh C. MacDougall, James Fenimore Cooper Society and SUNY College at Oneonta, New York, 1999, p. 51.

12 Forrest G. Robinson says that Munro regards mixed blood as inherently inferior. See “Uncertain Borders: Race, Sex and Civilization in The Last of the Mohicans,” Arizona Quarterly, 47, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), p. 26. Mark Patterson suggests that miscegenation stands for historical mixing and change. Authority, Autonomy and Representation in American Literature 1776-1830, Princeton University Press,1988, p. 99.

13 See McWilliams’ discussion of cultural relativism in The Last of the Mohicans: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility, p. 54. Terence Martin states that the notion of cultural relativism is advanced in all Leatherstocking Tales. “From Atrocity to Requiem: History in The Last of the Mohicans“ in New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans , p. 57. In the same article he comments on gifts, pointing out that gifts “can seem inadequate when the problem of responsibility for the acts of Indian allies is brought explicitly to the fore,” p. 58. David Haberly discusses gifts specifically in relation to Cora. While he states that ‘gifts’ are “preordained by genetics environment,” (438-439) he extends the meaning of the term to gender differences. However, the term is used most often in terms of individual and racial traits. For more general discussions of the term “gifts,” see Joel Porte, The Romance in America: Studies in Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and James , Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969, pp. 15-17, and Gaile McGregor, The Noble Savage in the New World Garden , Toronto and Bowling Green: University of Toronto Press and Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988 pp. 146-147.

14 Robinson asserts that Cooper is divided against himself in the presentation of Cora, p. 15. On the issue of Cooper’s presentation of Cora, Zoë Ludsky’s student paper argues that Cooper’s depiction of Cora as a biracial character surpassed the conventional attitudes of the time and approached a twentieth century understanding of the sensitivities of biracial persons. Her paper is entitled “My Coloured Thoughts: The Last of The Mohicans and Perspectives of Mixed Race Peoples,” Ryerson Polytechnic University, 1998. Unpublished paper.

15 Werner Sollors, Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

16 Juxtaposing the two scenes in which the leader is faced with the demands placed upon him by Cora’s situation creates irony. While the traditions of the native Americans constrain the leader from protecting the virtue of the individual, the army officer’s chivalric codes intended to protect the individual prove to be useless in the exigencies of warfare. Also see Patterson, p. 97. Jordan, focussing only on white patriarchal culture, states that it loses its “ethical sensibility,” p. 123.

17 McWilliams, p. 76.

18 A few critics comment on Duncan’s re-education. Kelly specifically mentions Duncan’s resignation of chivalric conventions as evidence of his abandonment of his identity as a “Royal American,” p. 68. Franklin says that Duncan’s long re-education is a consequence of the moral order imposed by the wilderness, p. 238. Donald A. Ringe discusses the changes in Heyward’s character in “Mode and Meaning in The Last of the Mohicans ,” p. 120-122. It should be noted that Duncan realises the flaws in chivalry at the end of the book while Cora argued its limitations at the beginning.

19 See McWilliams, who points out the “limitations of society’s racial and gender boundaries and the dangers of stepping on them,” p. 74. Haberly says that her intrusive power must be destroyed in order that frontier harmony be restored, p. 443. For an opposing view, see Kelly who suggests that “the preservation of cultural boundaries implies destruction,” p. 78.

20 Baym’s list of Cora’s qualities, which describes her nature and character rather than her social relations, consists of “outspoken bravery, firmness, intelligence, self-possession and eloquence,” see “How Men and Women Write Indian Stories,” p. 72.

21 Robinson, p. 15.

22 While Baym notes that Cora “could function as the possible progenitor of an American future in which the races were combined,” it is civilization’s disregard of Cora’s feminist qualities that preoccupy Baym in her essay. Compare p. 75, the source of the above quotation, with pp. 72-73 and p. 78.

23 Robinson’s discussion of Cooper’s “having it both ways” on the issue of miscegenation occupies much of the last half of his article. He also points out Donald Davie’s early insights in The Heyday of Sir Waiter Scott , New York: Barnes and Noble, 1961, pp. 109-110, into Cooper’s attitudes on the issue. Robinson, p. 15.

24 See my article for an account of Cooper’s construction of the plots in The Pathfinder. William Owen, “In Love as in War: The Significance of Analogous Plots in Cooper’s The Pathfinder,” English Studies in Canada, 10, No. 3 (September 1984), pp. 289-298.

25 Donald A. Ringe, James Fenimore Cooper, Updated Edition, Twayne’s United States Authors Series, Boston: Twayne, 1988, p. 61.

26 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pathfinder, or The Inland Sea. Edited with an Historical Introduction by Richard Dilworth Rust. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981, p. 191. All subsequent quotations from this text will be noted parenthetically.

27 Nina Baym, “The Women of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales,” American Quarterly 23 (1971), p. 703.

28 Rosenzweig notes that Mabel’s other “protectors” prove deficient, p. 347.

29 Rans comments that “the patronizing envy” of the women is “condemned,” p. 193.

30 Kelly, seeing more than satire here, asserts that Jasper and Mabel introduce merit into the society, p. 135.

31 Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950, p. 73.

32 Wayne Franklin, The New World of James Fenimore Cooper, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982, p. 64. Kelly also comments that Mabel is capable of independent action, p. 142.

33 Paul Rosenzweig, “The Pathfinder: The Wilderness Initiation of Mabel Dunham,” Modern Language Quarterly, 44 (1983), p. 355.

34 As Jane Tompkins points out, the choice in The Last of the Mohicans is clear because it is Magua who poses the question. He predetermines the answer due to Anglo-Saxon insistence on racial purity. See Sensational Designs, p. 109.

35 Owen, p. 295.

36 Rosenzweig, p. 355.

37 Franklin comments that only Mabel and Natty are described in terms of self-reliance. The New World of James Fenimore Cooper, p. 68.

38 In another assessment of leadership in the novel, Anne Marie Candido presents Dunham as “a pragmatic authority figure” in a positive treatment of his actions: “A New Sea in a New Frontier: American Leadership in The Pathfinder,” Etudes Anglaises T. XLIV, No. 3 (1991).

39 Kelly regards Mabel’s struggles as the effort to achieve originality rather than autonomy, p. 131.

40 Baym, “Women of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales,” p. 703.

41 Kelly, p. 142.