The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

9781587264160-usFiction — print. Ann Arbor Media Group, 2006. Originally published 1826. 414 pgs. Purchased.

Set in 1757 during the French and Indian War (or, Seven Years’ War for non-Americans), the second novel in Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales follows two young women named Cora and Alice Munro as they travel through the woods from Fort Edward to join their father at Fort William Henry. The two women are escorted by Major Duncan Heyward of the British Army and a singing teacher named Gamut, and the party of four are guided by a Native America named Magua from the Huron tribe.

Dissatisfied with Magua’s guiding and the shortcut he insists they take, Heyward grows increasingly suspicious that Magua’s allegiance lies with the French in this war. Heyward and the party stumble across Natty Bumppo, a white man raised by the Mohican Indian tribe, along Magua’s shortcut.

Bumppo (known as Hawk-eye within the tribe) is joined by two of his Mohican friends, Chingachgook and Uncas, and all three agree with Heyward’s suspicion about Magua and the French. Magua flees when confronted by Hawk-eye and Heyward’s suspicions, proving to them that he is, in fact, working for the French and bent on hurting the British who have hired him.

Hawk-eye, Chingachgook, and Uncas lead the party to a hidden cave on an island in the river to seek refuge in the belief that Magua will return with Huron reinforcements. Once again, Hawk-eye’s suspicions are correct: the party is attacked by the Hurons and Hawk-eye and the Mohicans flee after the ammunition runs out, promising to return for the Munro sisters, Gamut, and Heyward.

This novel was published in 1826 and, therefore, employs racist tropes about Native Americans that were prevalent at the time. Magua is a heathen obsessed with possessing and violating a defenseless white woman.

Chingachgook and Uncas, though, are “noble savages“. While Indians are inherently violent people (in this novel), these particular savages along with the savage-raised Hawk-eye are “good” because they are aligned with the British (who were still the good guys for the colonists in 1757) and they protect a British major, teacher, and two young ladies as they travel through the woods.

It isn’t the racist tropes used in this novel that makes it difficult to read, though. Rather, Cooper’s love of long-winded sentences and prose overshadow the action of the story.

I try to make it a point to rarely complain about language in older novels as speech-patterns change overtime and such differences should not overshadow the content of a novel. In this case, though, I found I had to pause and reread paragraphs over and over again as I tried to discern what Cooper was saying. Even switching to audio –my tried-and-true method of making it easier to follow unfamiliar speech patterns — didn’t work in this case.

I went into this novel with such high hopes because my dad counts it as one of his favorite novels of all time, and I can’t help but be disappointed it just didn’t work for me. I enjoyed the overarching story and the vivid setting that Cooper crafts, but I won’t be rushing to read more of Cooper’s writing any time soon.

This is my fourteenth book for #20BooksofSummer. I’m sure when exactly I purchased this novel, but it likely would have been before Borders closed in 2011. 

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. This deadline has since come and past, but I am still trying to work through my list by August 15, 2020. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post or project post.

6 comments

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer 2018 | Ardent Reader

  2. J.E. Fountain

    Hmmm…I read this years ago, and I intend to get around to others in the Leatherstockings Tales. I don’t remember the elaborate sentences bothering me much, but I do remember finding Hawkeye too good to be true. But as I say, it was a long time ago. I’m due for a reread. Perhaps my opinion will change.

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  3. I had the same problem. I tried to read this one just a few weeks ago- and its predecessor The Deerslayer. I couldn’t get very far in either one, the language bogged me down so much. If I ever try again, I’ll probably look for an abridged edition.

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  4. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer 2018 Recap | Ardent Reader

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