Last of the Mohicans Summary and Analysis
The party is on a steep, pyramidal hill. The tribe catches a fawn and begins to eat it. Magua sits apart and watches. Heyward joins him and says that Munro will be most gratified to see his daughters before another night passes. Magua coldly asks if he will love them less in the morning than at night. He tells Duncan to get Cora because he wishes to speak to her. When Cora arrives, Magua makes Heyward leave, albeit against his will. Magua tells Cora that he was happy before white men appeared, before his Canadian fathers made him a "rascal." He recalls the whipping punishment made to him by Munro for being a member of a rival tribe. Cora begins to feel nervous that Magua intends some great danger to them. She asks that he purchase wealth by Alice's safety and pour out his malice upon her. Magua's price: that Cora herself consent to be his wife and live in his wigwam. Cora is revolted. She tells Magua that he well deserves his evil name. Magua leaves her to talk to his tribe. Heyward demands to know what was said, but Cora, reluctant to upset Alice, evades a direct reply. In the meantime, Magua is rallying his tribe to fight and find Hawkeye. The warriors turn upon the travelers and bind them, preparing to kill. Magua repeats his offer to Cora, and sneering as he points out Alice's weeping. Cora looks upon her and tells both Duncan and herself of the offer. They are astounded, and refuse to let it be; Alice says it is better to die as they have lived: together. Magua pronounces their death. Some of Alice's ringlets are cut by a tomahawk. Infuriated, Heyward jumps upon him. Before he can meet his death by means of the long knife carried by the Indian, a rifle shot is heard and the savage falls dead.
The characterization of Magua becomes more complex. We receive an even fuller account of his interactions with the white conquerors. The diction of the author certainly portrays the experience as a forceful one. Comparing himself to a "haunted buffalo," Magua speaks of being made to drink "fire-water" and becoming a "rascal." The nature imagery calls to mind the Mohican heroes. It is clear that at one time, the Huron chief was as pure as his Mohican counterparts. The statements indicate that Magua felt as helpless as a hunted animal might feel, and his conversion to a more evil life is not something in which he takes pride. We feel further sympathy for him when he tells Cora how he was publicly whipped by her father for drinking the fire-water that other white men gave to him. It should not make sense that he is punished for the negative influences which he has experienced, but that is what has happened. Cooper means for us to struggle against a proper judgment for Magua. He is not a character who is easily categorized, which makes him the perfect villain.
Still, the authorial voice itself makes up the reader's mind. Cooper constantly refers to Magua's people as "savages." Magua himself is often called "the Huron." It is important to see that the foresters are never called by insulting, impersonal names, even though they can be extremely cruel, as Hawkeye was when he let the Indian dangle in death from the tree for an extended period of time. The insinuation is that their violence is for a higher purpose, whereas Huron behavior seems mostly profiteering. Thus we cannot think well of Magua and his people, no matter how much we might sympathize with Magua's plight. The reader can look upon him as an instance of colonialism gone wrong. Far from being an asset to the whites who conquered him, Magua is now full of vengeance and evil intentions. We sympathize with our travelers, but again on some level the behavior of this Indian is their own fault.
The Huron chief seals his unpopularity and his evilness to the reader through his horrid marriage proposal to Cora. She has now truly become the tragic heroine of the novel. If we didn't admire her before, we certainly do now. The proposal is nothing more than a means of "legalizing" the rape of a white woman. For Cora plainly says she cannot love Maguathus any bed she shares with him would have to be against her wishes. While it is to Magua's credit that he does not try to violate Cora in any way without her consent to live in his wigwam, in some way the plan he meditates is more cruel. To bind her for a lifetime, away from all that she knows and loves. Looking upon her, Magua states that he has the "spirit of the gray-head in his hand." The Huron chief is not foolishhe knows the bond that exists between a father and his daughter. Holding Cora hostage hurts Munro's sentimentality and his mission in this new country. It is not accidental that Munro is the commander of forces. Cooper recalls here some of the traditional rules of war: that women do not fight but are defended, that women are the heart of their country. If Magua forces Cora into a warped marriage, he essentially rapes the entire English army. Therefore, the daughter of Munro becomes a symbol of military pride. She must be rescued, or the entire operation is in disgrace; a white enterprise confounded by red vengeance.
Cora handles the situation admirably. She is still concerned for the welfare of Alice. To their credit, both Heyward and Alice will not hear of her sacrificing herself in such a manner. As they prepare to die "as they have lived, together," Magua is rallying his tribe to create more unrest. Nature imagery is again used to excite the warriors. This is their land, and they will fight against Hawkeye, their most dangerous enemy. Magua's language is flowery and descriptive. He has the gift of good orator skills, and can easily convince others to follow him.
The tribe are stunned, and they begin to shout "La Longue Carabine!" as the foresters approach. The savages look to Magua for instructions. The Huron chief unsheathes his knife and aims it at Chingachgook. Hand to hand combat begins. Heyward grabs a knife and joins the fray. Cora's ropes are accidentally cut. She manages to find Alice and tear her binding ropes asunder. A savage forces Cora to her knees and cuts off some of her hair. While he laughs exultantly, Uncas descends upon him. The tomahawk of Heyward and the rifle of Hawkeye kill him quickly. Chingachgook and Magua still fight. The other men stand around them, watching. For a moment it looks as if Magua is dead, so they are triumphant. But as Hawkeye lowers his gun, Magua rolls off the precipice and is seen leaping through bushes. The scout urges them to let him go for now. He makes the round of the dead while Uncas and Heyward attend to the sisters. David is released, and he apologizes for not being helpful during the fight as he expresses heartfelt gratitude. Hawkeye, softened towards him, tells him that his words are unnecessary. David says he has the true spirit of Christianity. The scout scoffs and says he has little use for that doctrine. The musician demands a song to express thanks for their deliverance.
After the song is finished, Hawkeye says it is time to move. After some time, the group stops to build a fire and prepare dinner. The scout shares that they were hiding nearby most of the time, watching the movements of the Huron. They heard the capture and made their way along the trail. Had it not been for Uncas, they might not have found them: the young Mohican had the sense to recognize the gait of the sisters' horses in the footprints. Hawkeye then assumed they would have to be somewhat near the body of water by which the group now sat. Dinner is finished, so they eat and drink from the water until Hawkeye decides it is time to resume travel.
The fight that occurs is truly Indian: each man fights a single opponent, and everything is done by hand. Even though Hawkeye carries his rifle, it is interesting to note that he does not fire it. At this moment, when everyone is evenly matched up, that would be an insult to the ceremony of battle. Hand to hand is the most honest way to fight, and Hawkeye clearly respects this. The matching of opponents itself involves some hierarchynotice that Chingachgook fights with Magua, leader against leader. Again this appears to be a propriety that is observed without question. Everyone is around them, but no one interferes until he appears dead. Only then does Hawkeye come forward to give one more blow.
Magua's "faking" of death is clever, but violates the honesty of the hand to hand combat. Unlike the Mohicans, who are willing to accept death proudly, the Huron chief will not submit. It is difficult to decide whether or not this is cunning or cowardice. It is an illustration of how white Magua has become. Heyward is the one who fears death, while the foresters welcome it when it comes for sure. This fray between leaders is the only battle we see up close. Cooper's description of the fight is extremely intense: sentences are long and choppy to create a chaotic tone, images such as "twined serpents" and "fabled organs of the basilisk" describe respectively body form and eyes. They have ceased to be human, and fight as animals do, without the safety of rules. While Magua's tactic is maddening to the reader, we must grudgingly admit that it is fair in these circumstances.
The nature and role of Uncas are briefly addressed in this chapter. Cooper takes the trouble to tell us that he springs to the aid of the sisters while his father and friend go around making sure that all are dead. He is certainly a gentleman in the European sense of the word. Again the author shows the unreliability of stereotypesfew would expect Uncas to behave in this way. It is also satisfying for the reader to hear from Hawkeye's mouth that the young Mohican was responsible for their coming to the rescue: he recognized the horse prints in the ground. The reader is meant to admire Uncas. He is a brave warrior who has to contend with having two fathers. The scout especially tends to boss him around. Yet we can see that Uncas is beginning to come of age and take on a greater role in the fighting. It is likely that he will become even more involved as the novel continues.
Hawkeye and David's conversation about Christianity reveals the scout's complete disbelief in religion. Of course David finds this terribly upsetting, but does not try to convince Hawkeye otherwise. It is ironic that David should look upon the scout as a Christian when Hawkeye repeatedly refers to himself as a man without a cross. It is evident that he was brought up with such teachings, but abandoned them for some unknown reason. The scout's scorn for organized religion seems to mingle with a bitterness, whose origin is also not known. Obviously Hawkeye did not belong in whatever colonial community he lived in. It is not certain how long he has been with the Mohicans, but revealing that his age is forty years old, he has probably been with them for about half of his life.
The sun is falling low as the group continues to walk. By the time twilight arrives, they have made good progress on the trail. The hue of the forest changes from green to purple. The scout leads the party into a dense thicket. Signs of struggle are evident to the foresters. A decaying building stands in the middle. The foresters enter without hesitation, and the travelers eventually follow. Chingachgook recalls a battle fought in that spot. Many Mohicans are buried there. Hawkeye assures the travelers that not many know of the existence of the building. Chingachgook and himself fought with many of the dead. Uncas and his father are all that remain of the Mohicans. Heyward expresses fatigue and wonderment at the never-ceasing energy of the foresters. The men make pillows for the "tender heads" of the travelers. The sisters pray for further mercy before laying themselves on the grassy couch. Duncan prepares to be the night watch, but Hawkeye stops him, saying that Chingachgook will be the best sentinel. Uncas and the scout lay themselves down. Heyward follows their example but remains watchful for a while. When the moon is high Chingachgook wakes the group and says it is the best time to continue the journey. As they are rousing themselves, the Mohicans hear an enemy. Hawkeye is sure that it is a man. Quietly the group begins to ready itself. About twenty voices are heard, approaching the thicket. A Huron comes through the brush and sees the building. He utters a sound of surprise. Other Huron join him, but they do not come in the house. They respect the dead, so they leave the thicket. When the voices have completely faded into the forest, Chingachgook motions that it is time to leave.
The existence of the old house as a memorial to the dead is the centerpiece of this short chapter. It is a testimonial to how much the Indian cultures revere and fear their departed. The scenery is depicted as "gloomy," with a "roof of bark" that has caved in, and "huge logs of pine" still preserving their original positions. Despite its disrepair, no one has touched or bothered the house. The entrance of the group is urged by the foresters, who are not afraid but interested in this building. They are markedly different from the Huron, who approach the house but refuse to enter out of superstition. They do not respect the Delaware tribes, but they respect the right of their dead to rest peacefully.
We receive a bit more information about Hawkeye's pastas a young man he fought with Chingachgook against the Mohawks. Apparently they have been together ever since. The author demonstrates that Hawkeye is no less than an adopted son. He fought with the Delaware because they were "a wronged people." The fact that he fought with no expectation of reward is exceedingly touching, and confirms that he is very unlike the rest of his white race, who looks to interact with Indians solely for profit.
It is mentioned again that Uncas is the last of his tribe. From the information we have read, it is evident that the Delaware are a respectable tribe, and that Uncas comes from the uppermost echelon of that tribe, which is the Mohicans. Cooper is conferring upon Uncas the duty of what might be termed as a last stand. We have seen in the previous chapter that the young warrior is becoming more involved in fighting and battling. The author is setting up the expectation for Uncas to be a great warrior, like his ancestors, and to be a credit to his people.
No one speaks as they leave the building. The scout is in the lead, marching with deliberate steps. He briefly pauses to consult with the Mohicans. The entire forest sleeps except for the flowing rivulet. Hawkeye removes his shoes and wades into the water to leave no trail. David and Heyward are to follow suit. Hawkeye pauses before what he calls "the bloody pond." He recalls a day in which the Englishmen that he guided made three battles with the French. The dead were tossed into the body of water presently in front of the group. Duncan asks if the scout has seen much service in the hills; Hawkeye proudly says it is so. A man approaches who speaks the French tongue. Heyward and Cora speak in his language and manage to convince him that they are members of the French army. When the soldier leaves they continue walking. A groaning is heard in the distance, and Chingachgook has disappeared. When he returns he carries a scalp and a bloody tomahawk. Hawkeye looks shaken and says the deed would have been monstrous for a white. Heyward shushes him, lest the sister realize the cause of the delay.
The scout decides they must get out of the line of sight from Montcalm's spies. The group enters a low basin, goes toward the mountains. After climbing a bit, they arrive at a mossy rock. Hawkeye sends the horses to seek food and bids them to be safethey have no further need of them. Mountains close in around them, but the buildings of Fort William Henry are visible. Tents of French/Iroquois encampment are also visible. Alice wants to be turned into Montcalm: she believes he will restore children to their father. Hawkeye says he will push through and down any Mingoes in their path. Cora says they are equal to the challenge. The scout admires her courage. The fog is no longer very thick, so their journey is precarious. They hear a cannon fire, and a man approaches speaking French. Hawkeye urges them to continue pushing on. Heyward speaks in French, but he is not believed this time and they are fired upon. The scout fires back, but this only excites the soldiers. The group is still heading towards the fort. They hear the voice of Munro urging fire upon the enemies. Alice cries out that he should spare his daughter. The gates open and he rushes out, enclosing them in a hug.
Approximately half of the author's tale is ended. It is important to realize that there has been little discussion of the official war up until this point; it is being fought alongside a more personal kind of war. We might see Cooper's technique as slice-of-life writing, because he focuses so distinctly on a small group in the midst of a larger conflict. All warfare has been limited to conflicts between Huron and Mohicans. This chapter contains the conclusion of the first "battle" in the bookseeing the travelers safely to William Henry. The danger that they encounter along the way is testimony to the safety that they are about to reach. Cooper frequently juxtaposes impending good fortune with bad fortune along the way, and vice versa. The number of times that the group is almost harmed becomes somewhat ridiculous. All of the imagery of their surroundings in the forest is dark and forboding. As soon as they set out from the deserted building, they come upon what Hawkeye refers to as "the bloody pond." The phrase doubles by describing a famous battle spot and expressing disgust with the pond through the English use of words. The phrase makes certain the scout's dual persona of white man and Indian. Hawkeye's descriptions of his past fights are clean and full of flowery languagedeath is described as "seeing the sun for the last time." In the end, it all comes back to nature; the ability to perceive his surroundings is how a warrior knows that he is alive. But this description of death is oddly at variance with the scenes we have so far witnessed. Hawkeye's triumphant attitude does not completely capture the suffering that has been shown to us. We wonder if he ha become hardened to extinguishing life.
Immediately it seems, the question is answered. As soon as Chingachgook scalps the young Frenchman who approaches the party, asking questions, Hawkeye is visibly shaken. We do not usually see him express weakness so openly. Then, the first words out of his mouth slightly condemn the action of the old Mohican: "Twould have been cruel and inhuman for a white skin." Now the reader is truly surprised. Never before has the scout said anything against his friends. Hawkeye wishes that the tomahawk had fallen upon a Huron instead of "a gay young boy from the old countries." It is fine for an Indian to die the Indian way, but Hawkeye is repulsed when a white man is attacked in that manner. Furthermore, he himself would not do such a horrendous deed. The incredible solidarity that Hawkeye has with his Mohican friends is slightly cracked at this moment. The division between them, white and red, is much more noticeable. The scout oscillates between his two cultures, often pitting one against the other. The reader is slightly angry that he would resume to judge those whom are his constant companions, but we realize that it cannot be helped. A leopard may change his spots, but he remains a leopard all the same.
We are gratified to see that Duncan is finally of some real use as he and Cora are able to initially fool the French into believing that they are fellow country people, thereby buying the group more time to escape. Entering the official battlegrounds, the reader is leaving the domain of the foresters and entering the domain of Duncan and Munro.
A few days pass. Munro is fighting a power against whom he does not possess adequate means of resistance. It appears that Webb has forgotten about them. The soldiers are still spirited, however. Heyward is pacing by the bastions on the lake. It is a lovely evening, and the mountains are green and fresh. From his vantage point he sees Hawkeye being escorted to the fort by a French officer. The scout is bound and unarmed. The sisters are also wandering, and they meet Duncan by the bastions. They thank him for his bravery in bringing them to William Henry. Heyward goes in to see Munro. He apologizes that the recommended messenger is in the hands of the enemy. Munro states that Montcalm has returned Hawkeye but kept a letter of importance. Heyward remarks that the camp will not be tenable for much longer. Munro informs his major that he has been invited for an interview with Montcalm. He wishes Heyward to go in his place. He accepts. Once with the French leader, he sees Magua, who smiles at him bitterly. While talking to Montcalm, Heyward is told that there are 20,000 Frenchmen as opposed to 8000 Englishmen at the most. Heyward strains to hear knowledge from the intercepted letter, but the French general offers none. Duncan leaves, escorted by French soldiers, and returns to Munro.
This short chapter invites the reader to start making comparisons between European warfare and Indian warfare. We have seen that Indian warfare involves a constant vigilance and sneakiness: one never knows when an ambush might be coming. European warfare, however, runs on a strange kind of schedule. From his vantage point in the English fort, Duncan can see Frenchman setting up nets in the lake to block cannon balls. As they do this, they are playing in the water and being frivolous. Heyward watches, but he does not rally his troops to shoot them. There seems to be an unspoken understanding that soldiers cannot be ambushed while performing such a duty. The same is true for the French officer who escorts Hawkeye back to the English fort. It would be easy enough to shoot the man, but that is neither honorable nor permissible. In a case of Indian warfare, the messenger would most likely have been shot to prevent him from revealing any secrets to his tribe. Most likely, a messenger would not have been sent.
The ceremony of European warfare is very evident. The fact that Hawkeye is released but the letter retained is both civilized and frustrating. While Indians would rather disclose information and have the battle as soon as possible, face to face, there is an odd dancing about that goes on with the Europeans. Clearly they prefer to stop wars instead of propagating themherein lies the major difference between the two peoples. The fact that Duncan goes to have a conversation with Montcalm in Munro's place, and that Montcalm does not reveal the contents of the letter, illustrates that this interaction resembles a poker game in which everyone has to be very careful not to show too much of their hand. Strange that under the pretense of meetings that supposedly demonstrate "civilized, honest fighting," there should be so much effort to deceive. The Indians at the very least are much more straightforwardwhat you see is what you get.
The brief appearance of the sisters, during which Alice teases Duncan and Cora thanks him and expresses worry for the military situation, shows once again the immense differences between them. Alice needs to be sheltered, while Cora can stand alone.
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