In The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, historical romance is apparent through settings, characters and plots. Cooper is considered by many critics to be the father of the American historical romance. Fred Lewis Patee said, “Not only was Cooper the pioneer (of the historical romance) in America, and thus worthy of the highest praise, but in many respects his romances have never been surpassed.” (212) Cooper celebrated the creative spirit of the individual and had a deep appreciation for nature. He was a romantic who enjoyed the mysteriousness and exoticness of the frontier. He favored the use of emotions over reason. Through his romantic writings, Cooper is able to captivate the reader and led them on journey through his imaginary world.
The setting in The Last of the Mohicans exhibits Cooper’s historical romantic writing. The novel takes place in the American frontier. It is a place of “…wild and virgin nature.” (Roundtree 52) The immense beauty and threat of danger from its’ terrain creates an exotic impression on the reader. The mystique of the frontier entices the reader and allows their imagination to soar. Fred Lewis Pattee expresses his feelings on the use of the setting in “The Historical Romance: Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans,” when he says:
At every step throughout the romance the reader finds himself in dim, mysterious forests that stretch on every side into the unknown. All of the nameless thrills of a wild life under the open sky sweeps over him. In some mysterious way Cooper makes us feel his environments, and catch to the full all that they hold of mystery and romance. It is a new world that he takes us into, with a language all its own. We are permitted to learn the alphabet of this language… We are taught to catch the sounds of wild life in the woods; and we tremble to feel that perhaps all about us are malignant beings from whom it is impossible to hide… His descriptions are in reality lyric poems. (213)
Cooper’s descriptions of the natural scenery is picturesque and striking. (Parkmam 194) Cooper describes the frontier so vividly that the reader feels transported into the novel. Through his descriptive writings of nature, Cooper shows his deepened appreciation of nature. His descriptions create “…an atmosphere that is vast and satisfying.” (Pattee 212) Cooper, like most romantic writers, writes about an unspoiled America. (Magill 447) He writes about the comely Glenn Falls and the pure forest. He brings the reader into his unblemished world, where everything is pure. The setting in The Last of the Mohicans shows Cooper’s deepened appreciation of nature.
Romanticism is also seen in the characters in the novel. The characters are manifestly impossible. (Pattee 212) Hawkeye is one of these impossible characters. He is an ideal character who is pure and untainted by the corruption of society. Hawkeye, like Cooper, is a romantic in that he has a deep respect for nature. Cooper uses Hawkeye to celebrate the creative spirit of the individual. Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas are characters all folklores are about. They are the heroes that complete impossible task to help others. Cooper also portrays, in his novel, the stiff upper-class society and their true desire to escape to the frontier. (Magill 448) Cora and Alice represent the stiff, elegant society. The reader soon sees that under their refined life, they have a wanting to be “freed” from their upper-class society. They want to escape this boring life and be allowed to live. They see the frontier as this pure, beautiful place where they can be freed of the control of their society. (448) Cooper uses characters to portray his romanticism.
Romanticism can also be seen in The Last of the Mohicans in the plot. Cooper’s plots favor emotions over reasons. Cooper opens the novel with a historical atmosphere. However, this does not last for long. The reader is soon divulged into a world of Cooper’s imagination. In “The Historical Romance: Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans’,” Fred Lewis Pattee says this of Cooper’s use of historical background:
The romancer uses the past for a background; he creates about his characters an atmosphere that seems to the reader to be like that of some far-distant period; he may even introduce historic personages and historic scenes, but his work is not history. It is the dream of a poet over the pages of his history. (212)
Cooper celebrates the creative spirit by creating an intense plot that captivates the reader. This intensity can be seen in the novel when Alice, Cora, and Major Duncan set out for Fort Henry on the secret route. A dangerous character named Magua leads them. The reader knows that Magua was previously punished severely by the girl’s father. This situation creates a feeling of apprehension for the reader. The reader does not use reason and question why this dangerous character would be chosen to led them, but is filled with suspense as these seemingly innocent characters are put into jeopardy. Cooper keeps the plot movement swift and full of urgency. This technique gives the reader hardly any times to question seriously why Munro’s daughters would push forward their visit at this worst of times and would feel safer almost alone on a dangerous path in savage territory than in the company of several hundred trained fighting men. (Hart 103) From this early scene, Cooper’s dramatic irony is able to make the readers forget reason and be taken into Cooper’s romantic world through emotions. Cooper keeps the readers in awe by intriguing them with his stories of heroism and fighting. Critic Fred Lewis Pattee calls the novel a “book of rescues in the nick of time.” (212) This nick of time rescue can be seen when Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas save Alice and Cora on the summit of a mountain. (212) As one of the Huron Indians raises his knife to kill Heyward, Hawkeye fires his rifle to save the girls. This last minute rescue is not logical to the reader. However, the reason is not questioned because the reader is engrossed in the emotions from the chase scene.Cooper portrays his characters to do impossible feats. His plots favor emotions over reason. James Fenimore Cooper captivates the reader by his use of a romantic plot.
James Fenimore Cooper is considered by many to be the father of the American literary movement. His writings put American literature on the level of the distinguished European literature. His romanticism was seen through plots, settings, and characters. Through these techniques, Cooper was able to express his romanticism in a new American way that still fascinates critics all over the world today. James Fenimore Cooper is one of the greatest American literary figures the world has ever seen. Word Count (1033)