The Consideration of Manhood and Heroism in James Fenimore Cooper’s "The Last of the Mohicans"

Term Paper, 2015

14 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Hawkeye - The Man with a Hybrid Identity

3 Uncas - The Last of the Mohicans

4 Duncan Heyward - The Hero of the Novel

5 Conclusion

6 Works Cited List

1 Introduction

The frame story of the novel The Last of the Mohicans written by James Fenimore Cooper in 1826, deals with two young British ladies, Alice and Cora, on their journey to their father Colonel Munro. The story is set in North America in 1759 during the war between the French and British colonists who fight for their territories. The two women are escorted by Major Duncan Heyward, a confidant of Colonel Munro, by Hawkeye, a white man who is allied with the Mohicans, and his Mohican friends Uncas and his father Chingachgook. On their journey they encounter various dangers which are largely due to the Hurons, an Indian tribe that is allied with the French. Therefore, the male characters have to show their abilities in fighting and protecting themselves, as well as the females, throughout the story.

Cooper approaches several topics in the narrative like racism, colonialism, heroism and masculinity but, I will only refer to the latter two. This paper reveals the differences and similarities between the characters Hawkeye, Uncas and Heyward by analysing their outer appearance and behaviour in order to review their heroism and manhood. All those three protagonists possess abilities which could allow them to be the novel’s hero1. But only Major Duncan Heyward goes through an outstanding personal development and therefore, meets the requested characteristics of a hero by the end of the story best.

The first character that undergoes analysis is Hawkeye. I will have a closer look at his hybrid identity as he is a white man who lives in the ‘wilderness’2. Furthermore, his role in the narrative is discussed to classify his importance for the story. The character that is argued next is the Indian warrior Uncas. Considering his fate to be the last of the Mohicans and his secret love to Cora, his heroic position gets explained. Heyward, analysed lastly, is presented before and after living in the woods. It is demonstrated why he can be seen as the story’s hero. Finally, the conclusion contains the comparison of the three characters and makes clear why Duncan unites all required features to obtain the status of the hero.

2 Hawkeye - The Man with a Hybrid Identity

Hawkeye as one of the main protagonists has got a variety of features, like his appearance, his hybridity and his moral responsibility, qualifying him as the novel’s hero. Nevertheless, there are several reasons why, from my point of view, he is not the true hero. Hawkeye carries the characteristics of a fighter - skilled, harsh and brave but still civilised. Although he is illustrated as marked by “hardships and exertion from his earliest youth” (Cooper 21) his physical appearance is the one of a muscular man, who “reached the vigour of his days, though no symptoms of decay appeared to have yet weakened his manhood” (21). Hawkeye, also known as the scout, wears “the scanty garments of the Indian [and] his moccasins [are even] ornamented after the gay fashion of the natives” (22). As his outer appearance already seems very masculine, Cooper even describes his manners as “seriously impressive [without] […] any signs of unmanly apprehension” (62). In contrast to his look the author hardly gives any information about the scout’s feelings and thoughts, evoking the impression of a withdrawn person. It is obvious from the start, that he is not of Indian origin, but Cooper leaves his readers in the dark concerning his connection to the Indians and furthermore, about the scout’s actual role in the novel.

Hawkeye combines the features of a ‘white’ European man with the ones of a Native American. He is a synthesis of both cultures - a hybrid of ‘civilisation’ and ‘wilderness’ (Smith 546). He lives with the Indians but obeys the moral values from the ‘civilised world’. Although he adapted the Indian style of clothing and their muscular look like a hunter, he as a white man born with the name Natty Bumppo, evidently differs from his skin colour. Despite this difference he is accepted by the Indians as he even got an Indian name - Hawkeye - “for his sight never fails” (Cooper 339). The Natives hold him in high regard for having “the eye of the hunter […] quick, keen and restless” (22). But, Natty distances himself from the Natives as he wears a “rifle of great length” (22) instead of a tomahawk. He speaks English and Delaware - the language of the Indians - therefore, he “stands in between the red world, the wilderness and the white world, the civilisation. He is indeed a product of both worlds and […] a racial mixture, symbolically” (Mills 444). To me choosing a life in the woods over living in ‘civilisation’ with the people of his own nation indicates Hawkeye’s adaptability to a new environment and a new culture. I think he neither fully belongs to the ‘wilderness’ nor to the ‘civilisation’. However, Hawkeye is still aware of his roots and shares some values of the European culture. In contrast to the Natives for instance, he avoids vengeance as “revenge is an Indian feeling […]” (Cooper 196). The story does give a vague idea about Hawkeye’s relatives or former friends from his own people. Moreover, his reason for living with the Native Americans in the woods remains unknown. In my estimation there are only two options: he either got expelled from the ‘civilised’ society or is a dropout. Both scenarios suggest the assumption of an existing conflict between Hawkeye and the society he grew up in.

Not only the scout’s outer appearance suggests his hybrid identity but also the development of his own responsibility can be seen as an important indicator (Smith 543). For each situation he decides which moral beliefs of which culture are most appropriate. Thus, on the one hand he kills not for reasons of revenge like the Indians often do (Cooper 116). On the other hand he clarifies “I will not hate a Mingo, for that may be unsuitable to my colour and my religion” (Cooper 211). At this point Natty Bumppo makes clear that he does not share the common opinion neither of the Indians nor of the people of his own nation. I think the reason that he does not explicitly follow one attitude of one of the cultures, depicts his inner conflict to adapt completely to one of the two ‘worlds’. He detects the faultiness of both cultures and creates his own standards. Furthermore, this explains why his behaviour seems to be imperfect for the ‘civilised’ nation as well as for the ‘wilderness’. From my point of view Hawkeye’s hybridity is basically a feature which could make him the narrative’s hero. Because Cooper did not utilise the advantage of Natty’s mixed identity, to me it seems as if he failed to wander between the two ‘worlds’ and to act as a mediator.

Hawkeye’s role throughout the novel is the one of a guide not of a hero. Cooper illustrates him as the leader of the group which first consists of Major Duncan Heyward and the Munro sisters. Chester Mills claims Hawkeye “becomes symbolic of the biblical Moses who will lead his people safely through what be considered a sea of red Philistines” (Mills 445). In this context Mills transfers Moses function as a leader to the scout. Naming Hawkeye a “limited man” (Butler 128) Michael Butler does not agree with Mills. Butler claims that Uncas is always ahead of him, he “understands new signs [more quickly and […] recognizes the characteristic mark of the Narragansett, for example” (128). Hawkeye’s. Additionally, Hawkeye fails to be courageous and fearless and rather tends to give up quickly in some situations. This is underlined by several situation like the fight in the woods at Glenn’s Falls when Natty fires his last shot and misses his target, “[he] shook his head at his own momentary weakness” (Cooper 74). Hawkeye is not able to fight his feelings to carry on. Instead his reaction gives the impression that he feels paralysed and only wants to surrender (74). A further example for his failure is portrayed by Bumppo’s completely helplessness when the group hides in the cave from the Hurons, and the scout “sits down to die” (Butler 129) not to know what else to do. He has to rely on Cora who knows how to escape and hence, saves him and the others (Cooper 74-78). Another striking situation is when the group hears a frightening sound and Hawkeye has no idea what it could be: “What it is, or what it is not, none here can tell […]” (Cooper 55). Michael D. Butler also mentions the situation when the group is lost in the fog while “[Hawkeye] follows a cannon ball’s furrow toward rather than away from danger” (Butler 121). This leads Butler to the result that Bumppo is “[i]n many ways […] a big fool […]” (Butler 129) and finally, “Hawkeye is not the hero of The Last of the Mohicans” (Butler 129). Thus, I do not share the persuasion of Mills that Hawkeye’s role can be compared to Moses’. Due to his failure it becomes clear that he does not meet the requirements of a scout, which imply qualities like leadership, protection and courage. Therefore, I rather go with the argumentation of Butler which seems conclusive to me. While, Hawkeye strives to be a good guide and protector he finally fails. He is not able to be perfect in any ‘world’. Although Hawkeye appears quite often in the novel, he has rather a passive than an active function and so, does not have a great impact on the plot. David Leverenz points out that the scout “is always on the move [and] forever estranged from stable community” (Leverenz 757). All in all, Hawkeye as a mixture of two cultures and could be the prototype of the new hybrid American with the best values from both ‘worlds’. But Cooper makes him fall short of his opportunities.

3 Uncas - The Last of the Mohicans

Uncas is ascribed a special role in the story due to his status as the last of the Mohican dynasty, his outstanding appearance and heroic behaviour. He competes for the role of the hero but finally fails and falls behind Duncan. Cooper nearly glorifies the appearance of Uncas when he first appears in the narrative:

“The travellers anxiously regarded the upright, flexible figure of the young Mohican, graceful and unrestrained in the attitudes and movements of nature. Though his person was more than usually screened by a green and fringed hunting shirt, […] there was no concealment to his dark, glancing, fearless eye, alike terrible and calm; the bold outline of his high, haughty features, pure in their native red; or to the dignified elevation of his receding forehead, together with all the finest proportions of a noble head, bared to the generous scalping tuft.” (Cooper 48)

While describing him, the author directly produces the image of Uncas being in harmony with nature and thus, fits in the picture of ‘wilderness’. The last of the Mohicans is represented as a brave and fearless person, who seems impressive and simultaneously reliable to others. The glorification of Uncas is strengthened by Alice who “gazed at [Uncas’] free air and proud carriage, as she would have looked upon some precious relic of the Grecian chisel, to which life had been imparted by the intervention of a miracle” (Cooper 48). The comparison to a relic of the Greeks shows how Uncas captivates Alice with his aura. Not only women are deeply impressed by him, even Major Duncan Heyward “openly expresse[s] his admiration at such an unblemished specimen of the noble proportions of man” (48). This argumentation finds support in Donald Darnell’s statement that “[Uncas] is a person inspiring awe and subtle kindred sympathy” (Darnell 260). Terence Martin claims that “Uncas lacks nothing in the way of bravery, manliness, and an Indian thirst for battle. In the forest he repeatedly displays greater perception than either his father or [Hawkeye]; in battle he is athletic and fearless.” (Martin 227). This depicts that Cooper created Uncas to be an exceptional character in the novel. The author even illustrates him as animal for his fighting abilities are compared to “a hungry lion” (116). Later on Uncas’ body language is contrasted to a tiger, when “his nostrils opened like those of a tiger at bay […] so rigid and unyielding” (269). Those animals imply royal features like strength, proudness, domination but also beauty and admiration. Both creatures reflect the properties of Uncas’ character, which makes Cooper’s magnification of Uncas even stronger.

The considered stereotype of a Native American - the ‘savage’4 - is reflected in the ruthless and barbarous figure of the Indian Magua (Cooper 272). To my mind Uncas differs from this stereotype as he does not act as violent but rather provides a more ‘civilised’ attitude. Because of that he appears superior to the Indians that belong to Magua’s tribe. Thus, Uncas could serve for them as a role model. During a fight against the Hurons, Uncas shows his noble qualities by always keeping an eye on the two Munro ladies and protecting them (Cooper 118). In another scene the last of the Mohicans rescues the Munro sisters from Magua:

“Uncas stood fresh and blood-stained from the combat, calm, and, apparently, an unmoved looker-on, it is true, but with eyes that had already lost their fierceness, and where beaming with a sympathy, that elevated him far above the intelligence, and advanced him probably centuries before the practices of his nation” (155).


1 Hero: A person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Furthermore, the reader is expected to sympathise with this Person. <(>, [accessed 25 Feb. 2015].

2 Wilderness: In Puritan terminology, ‘wilderness’ denoted the habitation of Native Americans. (Engler/ Scheiding A companion to American Cultural History 44).

4 Savage: The view of Native Americans as ‘savages’ i. e., as barbaric, violent, and lawless, has its roots in the European failure to understand Native cultures. Europeans saw the later resistance of (mostly) North American indigenous population against the encroachment of white settlers as proof of “Indian savagery” (Engler/ Scheiding, A companion to American Cultural History 42).

Excerpt out of 14 pages


The Consideration of Manhood and Heroism in James Fenimore Cooper’s "The Last of the Mohicans"
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Anglistik)
19th Century Frontier Novels: Gender, Race, and Class on the American Frontier
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consideration, manhood, heroism, james, fenimore, cooper’s, last, mohicans
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Michelle Klein (Author), 2015, The Consideration of Manhood and Heroism in James Fenimore Cooper’s "The Last of the Mohicans", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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