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"The New World is a rough land. James Cooper uses this land to define his characters and conflicts. Physically, nature surrounds the characters, brutal battles and even the regular lives of pioneers, townspeople, natives….. The new landscape is foreign to the new settlers and its harsh realities shape them. The English must fight a type of war they are not familiar with. The Indians, loyal, to the French, use the landscape to hide in and attack by surprise. British sense of "honour" in battle has no place in this wild country; they are slaughtered by the hundreds. The landscape also defines the characters on a metaphorical level. The harsh and mysterious wilderness defines Hawkeye. He respects it and is, what my students called, “a badass”. (a real force). On the other hand the English Major Heyward does not respect nature’s signs and rhythms, consequently he is inept. The “evil” Magua knows the land and uses it for trickery. Cooper uses nature to add depth and texture to his writing."
In the first chapter, most of the initial observation of the detached, third-person narrative voice is rooted in the harsh nature of the surroundings. We are told that wilderness of the continent confronts armies before they can face one another. The "toils and dangers" of nature waste time and energy of colonists who might otherwise be considered "hardy." Mountains block paths; lakes have "daring leagues." The environment "offers" few benefits. The author immediately seeks to personify nature as an ephemeral being that has the powers of agency and decision. Nature is practically divine: the waters of a lake are "so limpid as to have been exclusively selected by the Jesuit missionaries." Thus, the lake is "holy." The audience interpretation here is simplenature is not something that should be taken on lightly. It is both a theme and a character, who is as strong as any that we will meet in our reading. The author is setting it up to be a major antagonistic force in the novel, and we wonder how well these strangers to the land will fare.