The Last of the Mohicans: Book Review

As a citizen of a country that was colonised by the British for nearly two-hundred years, I have grown up with the distinct idea that the colonisers, irrespective of their homeland, came with the feeling that they are superior to the colonised. Their sense of superiority stemmed from a pride in their history, culture, education, and martial prowess and training. Therefore, it was not surprising for me, as I read The Last of the Mohicans, that the colonisers from Great Britain and France considered themselves above and superior to the Native Americans or as they referred to them, the ‘savages’.

The pages of history have shown that, initially, while the colonists may have been trained in martial conflict they were not superior to the savages in the warfare of the wilderness. However, with time, these colonists too adapted and learnt the craft of the warfare of the wild, practiced by the Native Americans. A combination of the martial prowess that the colonists brought with them and the warfare tactics of the Native Americans that they acquired, should have rendered the colonists lethal but that was not to be so.

Where the colonist was adapting so was the Native American. However, while each of them was taking steps that served to blur the distinctiveness of warfare practiced by each group, the character of the white man and the Native American still seemed starkly distinct and exclusive. James Fennimore Cooper published The Last of the Mohicans in 1826, a time in the history of America that witnessed increasing clashes between the Anglo Americans, French and Native Americans. Set against this political backdrop, the book, rather than building up to a moment of high drama, begins at the moment of tension when Fort Edward (near New York, held by Anglo Americans and commanded by General Webb) has been requested to send aid to Fort William Henry (near Lake George, also held by Anglo Americans and commanded by Colonel Munro) as it is facing the threat of an attack by the French army (commanded by Montcalm) and their Native American allies.

In a curious, strange and yet commendable show of courage, Cora and Alice, daughters of Colonel Munro, begin a journey from Fort Edward to Fort William Henry in order to support and be with their father in a moment of crisis. They are accompanied by Major Heyward, Le Renard Subtil, a Native American, who serves as their guide through the forest and David Gamut, a psalmist. However, they soon discover that Subtil has plans to betray them and hand them over to the enemy. At this time they encounter Hawkeye, an Anglo American, Chingachgook and his son Uncas, Native Americans who identify themselves as Mohicans. Hawkeye, Chingachgook, Uncas and Heyward take it upon themselves to deliver Cora and Alice to their father Munro.

Thus begins a thrilling tale, where Cora and Alice are captured by Subtil, rescued, then recaptured and then again rescued through the endeavours of Heyward, Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas, while the action winds through the wilderness of the American landscape, where the pursuer and the pursued keep changing places, seldom allowing the reader a moment of respite. Readers take a deep dive into nineteenth century America, its fascinating landscape and the political turmoil raging through the country and ravaging foes and friends alike. You are made to see heroic and cowardly deeds as wells shown how distinct religions, drive men and women spiritually on the path of humanity. You are made aware of corruption, as well as love, transcending the boundaries of race and colour.

Thus begins a thrilling tale, where Cora and Alice are captured by Subtil, rescued, then recaptured and then again rescued through the endeavours of Heyward, Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas, while the action winds through the wilderness of the American landscape, where the pursuer and the pursued keep changing places, seldom allowing the reader a moment of respite. Readers take a deep dive into nineteenth century America, its fascinating landscape and the political turmoil raging through the country and ravaging foes and friends alike. You are made to see heroic and cowardly deeds as wells shown how distinct religions, drive men and women spiritually on the path of humanity. You are made aware of corruption, as well as love, transcending the boundaries of race and colour.

In a way, Cooper has sought to counter the claims made through the pages of history and popular narratives that seek to highlight contrasts between people. Cooper shows his readers that the White American and the Native American character did not form two exclusive sets. Taking a deeper look into the narrative we find that these two groups rather show a great deal of similarity. Cooper has created characters that are trying to explore and discover their individuality. As readers you will come away with a deeper understanding of the white and Native Americans. Most importantly, you will feel guided towards the idea that under the common bonds of humanity, each of us–no matter how distinct we outwardly appear–displays similar qualities and flaws homogeneously found throughout humanity, albeit more or less exaggerated.  

Happy reading!

Until next time.

In obeisance to the divine in you,
Trishna

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: