James Fenimore Cooper

Cooper (1789-1851) wrote both novels and social criticism. It is his fiction that has become famous, but it is worth remembering that he also wrote books criticizing the shortcomings of democracy in his own country. He is the first important writer to be critical of the United States but he will by no means be the last. His fiction is much more memorable, however.

The Last of the Mohicans, written in 1826, is the second novel in Cooper's Leatherstocking Series. Consisting of five novels, the series gets it title from one of the names applied to its frontiersman hero, Natty Bumppo, who is also called Deerslayer, Hawkeye, Pathfinder, and Leatherstocking. The five novels tell the story of Bumppo from youth to old age. The other books in the series are: The Pioneers (1823); The Prairie (1827); The Pathfinder (1840); and The Deerslayer (1841).

The creation of the character of Natty Bumppo is probably the most significant thing that happened in American literature during the first 50 years of its history.

Like Sir Walter Scott and another romantic writers who dealt with historical or legendary characters, Cooper, in his tales about Bumppo, unfolded an epic account, Bumppo, a frontiersman whose actions were shaped by the forest in which he lived, seems to be related in some way to the deepest meaning of the American experience itself.

All but one of the Leatherstocking Tales, The Pioneers, is concerned with bloody conflict. Yet the fighting is always intermingled with passages describing the quiet beauty of nature. Perhaps Cooper's interest in painting developed in him his excellent pictorial imagination which he applies effectively, counterpointing descriptions of conflict and violence with scenes of forest beauty.

A further word about Bumppo. His greatest gift is a reverence for life, a deep understanding of the genius of man. His friendship with Chingachgook is symbolic of Hawkeye's understanding of the differences that exist between peoples. (Chingachgook symbolizes that aboriginal life and culture of America.) The friendship between the two men, which runs through all five Leatherstocking Tales, is one of the great friendships of literature, and it exists because of, not in spite of, their contrasting differences.