CONTRASTS AND CONFLICTS IN THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
In James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, everything is structured as a double, with the massacre of Fort William Henry standing eerily in the middle of the chapters. The first part of the novel is set within the confines of civilization, the second part in situated in the world of the Indians. The characters also have mirrored opposites. The “good” and “bad” Indian, the dark and fair lady, the noble red warrior and the dashing and aristocratic white soldier. However, it is the contrast and the interplay of the two Indian figures, Uncas and Magua, that make up the main theme of the story. It is in the portrayal of these two characters that Cooper examines the main theme of the story, the fate of the Indians in the America.
The undisputed hero of the Leatherstocking series is the frontier figure, Natty Bumppo. However, in The Last of the Mohicans, the second book in the series, Natty Bumppo, or Hawkeye in this case, does not seem to show the mythical qualities of the isolated scout and hunter. Terence Martin has pointed out that “in The Last of the Mohicans . . . we encounter an anomalous and unfinished Natty Bumppo.” And Donald Darnell states, “although there is no falling off his powers – he is in his prime, his eye is sharp as ever, and his role as hero is usurped by Uncas, whose movement to the position of dominance at the novel’s conclusion Cooper skilfully develops.” Uncas and Magua are the protagonist and antagonist of this story, and they both serve as a symbol of the vanishing people, the ultimate victims of encroaching civilization of the white man.
Uncas is the brave warrior, who embodies the noble characteristics of the proud Indians. In the second half of the novel, Uncas infiltrates the Huron village, to rescue the captured maidens. The setting of the story is now shifted to mythical Indian territory. It is a world where the white man is powerless. “Moreover, it is a world where bravery is the sine qua non, and it is appropriate that Uncas’s emergence as hero begins here.”
The other Indian that Cooper contrasts with Uncas is Magua. He is the traditional “bad” Indian, the villainous and machiavellian devil. According to Leslie Fiedler, “Cooper manages to propagate both aspects of the American ambivalence toward the Indian: the Easterner’s or missionary’s sentimentalizing of the Vanishing American, and the Westerner’s or Indian fighter’s cynical contempt for the savage.”
By organizing his narratives around two Indian atrocities – microcosmically, Magua’s abduction of Cora and Alice; macroscopically, the slaughter at Fort William Henry – Cooper is able to grant the Indian’s sense of wronged innocence and at the same time present the Indian’s revenge as compromising their claims to justice and perhaps even to survival.