Last of the Mohicans Summary and Analysis
Heyward and the sisters are feeling anxious, but the musician seems perfectly at ease. The scout and his friends are lighting a fire. In the light there is an air of "romantic wildness" to Hawkeye. The travelers regard the graceful, powerful Uncas with concern. His features are haughty, his eyes at once terrible and calm. Alice speaks to Duncan, saying that the terrible murders they hear about could not be committed by someone like him. Heyward replies that they must hope the Mohicans match their looks and are friends. Cora languidly expresses gratitude that Duncan is judging the men by character instead of skin color. Hawkeye appears once more to tell them to gather around the fire and start eating supperthe Mohicans have supplied venison. The cave has two entrances, and two falls surround it. The scout assure the travelers that they are safe here. Uncas tries to attend to the females, which amuses Heyward. Although he serves Alice well, he looks upon Cora more steadily. Chingachgook sits immovable for most of the meal. All three men are constantly vigilant.
At one point, Hawkeye asks the musician to name himself. He is David Gamut, "an unworthy instructor in psalmody." The scout laughs, saying that his long legs are suited for more useful work. But David says this is his calling. Hawkeye asks to hear what he can do. The sisters and the musician sing a psalm. The Mohicans listen with great attention, and Hawkeye's features gradually become relaxed as he remembers a boyhood in the colonies. Tears roll down his cheeks. In the middle of the song a strange cry is heard that none can identify. The foresters investigate, but can find nothing. They recommend that the travelers sleep. Alice is worried about their father. She regrets her selfishness in urging a visit at this time. The strange cry is heard again. Hawkeye stands vigilant.
European prejudices surface once again as Duncan and Alice look upon Uncas with concern. They see him as "powerful," with eyes both "terrible and calm," and therefore slightly dangerous. It is beyond their comprehension that looks are not always the truest indicator of character. It is interesting that this should be the case, though, since Hawkeye is able to judge Magua accurately by his looks. Why the author gives Hawkeye this leeway is not certain, but it is likely that the scout has hard-earned experience on his side, while the English travelers have probably led very sheltered lives. However, seeing that Uncas has a "noble head" Alice believes that atrocities they hear about cannot be committed by someone like himself. Her conclusion may be correct, but again her method of reasoning is faulty. Cora alone demonstrates sagacity as far as reading Uncas goesshe says that judging his character by his deeds, which have so far been impeccable, is far more intelligent. Again Cooper sets Cora apart from her fellow travelers. More than anyone else she deserves our respect.
The foresters exhibit a nurturing nature that is very charming. They prepare food for the travelers, and Uncas tries to attend to the ladies in the manner to which they are accustomed. Their behavior in these moments does much to discredit the European stereotypes in the minds of the travelers and the reader. Yet even as they coddle the travelers, they are using the Indian perceptiveness and vision to scan out all entrances to the cave. It is protected by waterfalls and rocks. Again we see the principle of minimalism in actionuse everything that is available in nature to aid in a given quest.
The musician is finally introduced as David Gamut. His conversation with Hawkeye immediately shows how much these two white men differ from one anotherHawkeye seems to make fun of him when he finds that David cannot use any tools aside from his singing pipe. They are foils to one another, stronger ones than Hawkeye and Duncan. Despite his jokes, the scout has a deep admiration for the musician's art. The singing of David and the women is described as "rich" and it fills every nook and cranny of the cave. It has a transfixing power: the Indians listen with such attention that they appear to be made out of stone, and Hawkeye, most remarkably, allows tears to roll down his face. This is a shock to the reader, who does not expect this show of emotion. It demonstrates, however, that Hawkeye has an appreciation of beauty and art that he probably does not show often. We are told that the song reminds Hawkeye of his colonial boyhood. It is the first time we receive any information about Hawkeye's past; we have no idea how he came as a white man to join the Mohicans. David clearly connects the scout to a past that included religion and churchgoing. Whether his reason for leaving this life will be revealed, we do not know.
Incidentally, this chapter is a good example of how Cooper leaves his reading hanging so as to move his story along more quickly. While reading, it is clear to see that each chapter ends in the middle of an event. We must keep reading to find out the conclusions.
The scout says that David and the ladies may sleep, but that the others will have to stand guard at upon the rock. Cora wonders if this is a trick of the Mingoes. Hawkeye says that he has heard every Indian call, and this one defies his comprehension. All of them leave the close cave and step into a more open land. The cry comes again, from the riverbed. This time in the open air Heyward recognizes it as a horse in agony. The foresters believe that wolves are approaching the terrified animals. The three men urge the travelers to sit quietly in the clearing while they see if they can stop the noise. The sisters fall asleep in one another's arms. The men return and stand guard. When day begins to approach, Hawkeye tells Duncan to wake "the gentle ones" and ready the group for a journey in the canoe. Suddenly there arises a tumult of yells. David is wounded by a rifle shot. They bear his body inside the narrow chasm where the sisters and Duncan sit in fear. The attackers subside, but Hawkeye knows they will return soon with reinforcements. They decide to try and keep the rocky cave until Munro might send help.
Everyone takes cover. Heyward ventures a glance outward to see many foes wading through the ebbing current. Uncas and the scout are extremely calm. Hawkeye says there is no better weapon than a rifle in skilled hands. The savages approach, and meet the scout's fire. He and Duncan chase them with pistols. Hawkeye shouts that they are meeting "a man without a cross." He battles a foe with his hands and manages to grasp his knife and stab him through the heart. Heyward meanwhile also combats with an Indian by hand. Just as he is almost thrown over, Uncas slays the enemy. Heyward is rescued and they join Hawkeye in the cover of the bushes.
The character of Hawkeye is a good point to examine in this chapter. We see that he takes much pleasure in being the one in control. Although his Mohican friends know the forest better than he, the scout always leads the group. When he is unsure, he definitely consults those who are more learned. Thus the read can excuse his at-times overbearing nature. In some ways the hierarchy is inevitable, as Hawkeye is the only member of the party who can speak both English and Delaware. However, it is clear that Hawkeye thrives on the dependence of others on his leadership skills. Throughout the story he seems to be ordering Uncas around. At times this becomes annoying, but we are to look at the scout as a brave protagonist who like anyone else has character faults. Hawkeye can be seen as a colonial superhero. The travelers and the readers develop expectations for himwe do not want to think it possible that he can fail at anything.
As strong and hardy as the foresters are, it is crucial to realize that they can be scared, and that Hawkeye is only human. There is a moment of weakness when neither the scout nor the Mohicans can identify the strange sound in the wilderness. Immediately Hawkeye sets up a watch; the movements of the Indians are no longer so deliberate, the speech of Hawkeye is no longer so languid. Their fear is justifiedthe forest is their domain, and to feel threatened there by something unearthly should not be possible. They are obviously frightened until Duncan provides the explanation for the noise. Once the mystery is cleared up, the manner of the scout is described as "seriously impressive" without any traces of "unmanly apprehension." The strength of Hawkeye may waver, but he is talented at quickly regrouping his emotions.
Once the battle begins, the actions of Hawkeye are slow and meditated. Even Uncas starts to waste his gunpowder, and is chastised by the scout. He becomes the general, and everyone else obediently follows directions. To the group and to the reader, Hawkeye inspires confidence. Whenever he is questioned, the scout provides a reasonable explanation for his daring actions. He appears to be that daring, though, because he is "a man without a cross," a phrase we might interpret as lack of belief in religion, and subsequently less fear of the unknown. This strange pairing of bravery and agnostic atheism is somewhat warranted. After all, none of the travelers are particularly brave, and they are all highly religious, especially David, who is wounded out of carelessness and cannot participate in the battle at all.
Eventually the battle turns to hand-to-hand combat. This is truly the most Indian way of fighting. The scout is reputed for his marksmanship with the rifle he has named "Kildeer;" but the fact that Hawkeye can beat a Huron on his own terms says much about his Indian nature. Duncan is not nearly that successful, and has to be rescued by Uncas. Again, we see that as Cooper describes battle, little mention is made of the sisters (who constitute an ironic image of peace as they sleep in one another's arms) or of Chingachgook, who are not directly involved in the action of the moment.
The group recuperates a bit as the enemies yell with rage from the outside. Hawkeye says to let them burn their powder. He scolds Uncas for using the rifle ineptly. Heyward interrupts and says that his life was saved by the young Mohican. The two grasp hands in friendship. A shot comes near them. Looking out, they see a savage nestled in the branches of a high oak. Uncas and Hawkeye approach the tree from different angles and fire. The savage laughs tauntingly and shoots once more, knocking the scout's cap from his head. The three foresters discuss a plan of action. They let the savage shoot a bit more. By the time his aim becomes fatal, Hawkeye has crept near enough to shoot him truly. The rifle and the Indian fall from the tree. The savage still grasps branches. His death is slow and agonizing, but the scout will not shoot againhe wants to conserve ammunition. Uncas goes to the canoe to get the hidden powder, but they find it has been stolen by a Huron, possibly Magua. They are completely trapped. Hawkeye says within an hour the enemies will be in the cave. Cora urges the foresters to escape under water and take a message to their father of the recent events, that they might later be rescued. The Mohicans and the scout hear sense her in words. Uncas says he will stay, but Cora makes him leave. She wants Heyward to follow, but he flatly refuses. The travelers retreat into the deepest recesses of the cavern.
The nature of friendship is somewhat defined in this chapter. The bonds between the scout and the Mohicans are strong and comfortable. It is easy to see that they work as a team, their movements as well-coordinated as those of a machine. Yet their interactions with one another are not mechanical. Indeed, there is a tremendous amount of affection that underlies the military speech of Hawkeye as he speaks about the numerous times Uncas has saved his life, and he has saved Uncas. "Life is an obligation which friends owe each other in the wilderness." Hawkeye's definition of friendship is revised but accurate. In the forest, friendship does consist of sharing daily lives to the point that one is willing to go to battle for any of his cohorts. Hawkeye, who was not born into the Mohican tribe, would have had to prove his friendship with constant companionship. Everyday that the foresters are together is an affirmation of their commitment to one another.
Cooper also addresses the issue of cruelty in warfare. The moment in which Hawkeye shoots the "savage" out of the tree, it is certain that his death will be agonizing. The description of the death, with its long, drawn out sentences, makes the reader feel how much time the poor man is hanging desperately to the tree. We are alongside the horrorstruck Mohicans, watching but wanting to turn away. The fact that Hawkeye will not shoot him again in an effort to conserve powder indicates that he is, as the cliché goes, tough as nails. There is a struggle inside of him, but prudence wins out. The inner struggle is what allows us to forgive him. Otherwise, he would be plainly cruel.
The impending death causes disparate reactions in the group. The foresters are ready to meet it head on; Chingachgook prepares his garb and speaks for the first time in a while about the triumph of his people over the Huron. Uncas and Hawkeye affirm these sentiments and want to fight. The travelers will hear of no such thing. Certainly this is a cultural difference, but in this case it does the whites justice, for Cora comes upon a plan that might be able to save them and have them rescued. It is most notable that Cooper allows a woman to formulate such a plan, and to exhibit such bravery. Clearly Cora is not of average gentry stock. The reader is meant to admire her deeply; like an Indian, she sees what needs to be done and sets forth to accomplish it, without complaining or crying.
The change in atmosphere, from bustling to quiet, throws Heyward into a dream-like state. He is totally uncertain of their fate. The only sounds he can hear are those of birds. They give him some hope and confidence. David is extremely bewildered, and dreads hearing again the shrieks and cries of war. Heyward leads him into the inner tunnels of the cave. There seem to be no enemies in the vicinity. Duncan expresses dislike with the seemingly easy submission attitude of the foresters. He tells Cora that she is equal to the approaching challenge, and wonders if they can dry the tears of Alice. They sit quietly, and David plays some music on his pipe. He sings a bit, drawing his listeners into reverie. A yell bursts through the silence. There is no prospect of escapethe travelers can only sit and hide. Cries and yells take possession of the rocks and crags. The savages examine the area, shouting Hawkeye's French name: "La Longue Carabine!" (The Long Rifle) Duncan hopes they will be able to elude the examination. When it seems that all have gone, the sisters begin to quietly rejoice. Before Alice can say anything, her words are frozen and a look of horror is upon her face. Standing on a ledge, looking down in their direction, is Magua. His eyes penetrate the dark and he sees them. Duncan shoots at him, but the attempt is futile. Clamorous yells betray the triumph of the Huron. They are dragged from their hiding place.
This short chapter contains some very interesting nature imagery. As Duncan looks about the cave, bewildered as to what is going to happen next, a fish-hawk "secure on the topmost branches of a dead pine," surveys the scene and looks for his prey. Meanwhile, the jay bird, who had been muffling his voice, begins to sing. Even though we are not shown the actual capture of the jay by the hawk, we can easily look at these birds and see a parallel to the relationship between the Huron and the travelers. Cooper is telling us that they are going to be captured. It is ironic, however, that Duncan looks at the birds and sees hope. He appears unwilling to accept their fate.
With Hawkeye gone, Heyward takes on the role of protector/leader. He places the sisters in the deepest part of the cave, and has to convince David to follow him. The musician proves himself once more a tragicomical figure when he asserts that he is being punished for his sins and will not go into the recess of the cave. Obviously his religion is more of a hindrance than a help in this situationhe winds up sitting dazedly for most of the time, when he is not singing. Alice is also not a tremendous help: she cries more often than anything else. Cora alone is a pure model of strength. Heyward does not patronize her with "idle encouragement" because he believes she is suited to deal with hardship. In her own way Cora is warrior, one who leads by example and fights impending danger with quiet and calmness.
During the capture, it is important to note that Hawkeye is the principal target of this attack. The author does not provide an explanation for this, but we can assume that Hawkeye's gun has killed many Huron; he sees them as a "thievish race." The reappearance of Magua is unexpected yet not surprising. It is certain that Cooper is setting him apart to be the main antagonist to Hawkeye's protagonist. This pairing addresses several contests: white vs. Indian, colonizer vs. colonized.
Duncan surveys their captors. They are treating the party respectfully. The savages continue to look in vain for the foresters. Magua eyes the group with quiet satisfaction. Heyward asks him to translate the language of his cohorts. Magua replies that they seek Hawkeye's blood, and his whereabouts. Heyward says he is beyond their reach, having swum down the river. The Huron asks why Duncan did not go; the answer is that only a coward deserts women. He relates that the Mohicans are gone as well. Magua interprets these findings to his comrades. They yell with anger. Duncan calms the sisters, but inwardly is very scared. The savages lead the party to canoes and seat them. They take a short journey down the river. Heyward imagines the agony of Munro, and thinks he is to become a prisoner of Montcalm. He pulls Magua aside for a private conversation, in which Heyward pretends that he is seeing a grand plan of Magua's to deceive his old tribe members who treated him so ill. Duncan tries to have Magua concede to double-cross the tribe by releasing the prisoners, tries to convince him that the foresters and himself only spared his life because they knew of his plans. Magua stops the speech and tells Duncan not to speak until spoken to. He allows Heyward to help the sisters into saddles, while he and David accompany them on foot. As they follow, Cora remembers the words of the scout to leave markers on the trail. She subtly breaks twigs and tries to drop her glove. Her captors see what she does and confound her signs. They look at her threateningly and hold their tomahawks. The entire group reaches a low valley where Magua sits and seems to invite a resting time.
It is to the credit of Magua and his comrades that they treat the travelers with some modicum of respect. They do not physically violate them in any wayinstead they look to handle their various trinkets. This behavior demonstrates the greediness to which the foresters alluded. Even though the white men are the captives, they still seem to exert some kind of influence over the Huron. Allowing the women to ride on horses demonstrates at least a slight concern for their welfare. The travelers could have been killed immediately. The reader is happy that this is not the case, but nonetheless we are suspicious of the reasoning behind this decision.
This is the first chapter where we start to draw a real character sketch of Magua. Clearly he is very vengeful and duplicitous. Yet there is a moment where he provides a partial explanation for his horrible behavior: "Was it war, when the tired Indian rested at the sugar-tree to taste his corn! Who filled the bushes with creeping enemies! Who drew the knife!" Notice that these are not questions, but simple statements that all have the same answer. Up until now, Cooper has avoided addressing the role of the whites, specifically the English, in tearing apart the peaceful existence of the Indians. Although we are supposed to root for the well-being of the travelers, such sentiments as these expressed by Magua make the whole situation much more complicated. The reader must realize that on some level, the whites in story are being victimized because of their own greedy and cruel dealings with the Indians. Partly they deserve what is happening. Unfortunately, this particular group of travelers has little to do with how Magua and his people have been treated. They are being forced to answer for all other members of their race. This is not just; but Magua's resentment is not unreasonable or unfounded. This Huron chief is also characterized by his ambition and hunger for power. When Heyward tries to dupe him into believing that he should let them go, the reader sees that his appeal to Magua's prowess and his reference to the past wrongs that Magua has suffered do effect the chief somewhat.
Still, Duncan's attempt to trick Magua is both admirable and silly. The reader knows that he is coping with the situation as best he can, but his insistence on "not submitting without a fight" causes him to do foolish, useless things. Heyward still has a superiority complex as far as Indians are concerned. He truly believes that he will turn a warrior of Magua's cunning and skill against his own people that quickly. Again, Cora takes a far more practical view of matters as she tries to leave traces of their trail. Despite the danger that this places upon her, she is more than willing to risk herself for the well-being of her friends.
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