The Last of the Mohicans (Bantam Classics)
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Last of the Mohicans Summary and Analysis

by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapters 16-20

Chapter 16:

Summary:

Munro is attended only by his daughters. Alice sits on his lap and plays with his hair, while Cora looks on with amusement. Once Alice realizes Duncan's presence, she exclaims with joy. The father hurries the sisters out of the room. Heyward tries to inform Munro of Montcalm's message, but is interrupted. Munro says the Frenchman shall not be master of William Henry if Webb comes through with reinforcements. He proclaims that Duncan will receive knighthood. Heyward says that he hoped the honor would extend to being Munro's son. Munro asks if Heyward has been this intelligible with Cora. Duncan says not at all‹he is in love with Alice. Munro expresses fondness for Heyward, and says he would not have it turn to hatred. He then speaks of his past. The sisters have different mothers. Cora's mother came from the West Indies. Munro believes that Duncan looks down upon Cora for this reason. Once Heyward makes it clear that this is not the case, Munro softens and extols Alice's grace and beauty. After this detour the men turn back to the message of Montcalm. Munro is angry that Montcalm has answered his questions with a riddle. He decides to meet the Frenchman himself.

The armies advance to a neutral spot amidst drums and fife. Duncan warns that everyone should be on the lookout for treachery of any kind. Once the leaders meet, the armies fall back a bit. Duncan translates until Montcalm makes it known that he speaks English. He hands over the letter, which is from Webb. It urges a speedy surrender owing to his inability to send any help. Munro is stunned, and determines that they should dig their graves behind the fort. Montcalm intervenes and asks that they listen to his terms: they leave the fort, carrying their colors, their arms, with a grand march around the place. Munro accepts the terms and asks Heyward to make arrangements. A treaty is signed, and the English, from a military standpoint, will retain their honor.

Analysis:

Cooper divides this chapter into two basic parts. In the first, he spends a great deal of time depicting the character of Munro and discussing the origin of his children. This is the only time in the entire novel that Munro has an extended conversation with anyone, and the reader is supposed to gather impressions of who he is. The sweet scene with his daughters makes it clear that he is a very loving father. His blustering remarks about Montcalm, whom he says "can go to the devil," indicate an overwhelming amount of confidence in the success of his operation, especially considering that Webb has failed to send reinforcements. He is a brave soldier, but not necessarily the most sharp-witted. After all, Duncan's attempts to have a serious conversation with him about the new meeting that has been suggested by Montcalm are derailed by Munro's blustering and seemingly spacey mind. The author writes him as a neutral kind of character: there is no reason to hate him, but he is frustrating at times. Munro's main flaw seems to be that he makes assumptions where they are unfounded, such as that Webb is definitely sending reinforcements and that Duncan is in love with Cora.

The comical yet touching moment in which Heyward reveals that Alice is the daughter he loves also says much about the character of Munro, for it is here that he states that the girls have different mothers; indeed, that Cora's mother was from the West Indies. Foolishly he believes that Duncan may be prejudiced against her that reason, but his anger obscures the actual importance of the information. Having a mixed child like Cora signifies that Munro does not care much for the categorizations in people that so define the country he is defending. This is a credit to him. Cora's dark countenance is explained, and her heritage marks her as an even greater symbol, that of the melting pot that so characterizes this new country over which the Europeans are fighting. In truth Cora is closer to the mixed heritage of the Indians than to the pureblood of her native country people. Perhaps this accounts for the manner in which the Mohicans and the Huron seem to fixate on her. While it is not known whether or not her mixed race is common knowledge, it is certain that those who do know do not ostracize or look down upon her. The fact that they do not extend the same courtesy to the Indians reveals a major theme: the hypocrisy of the colonizers.

The second part of the chapter addresses once more the ceremony of European warfare. The meeting between Montcalm and Munro is very formal, each being escorted by a portion of the army. The actual surrender is also very premeditated on the part of Montcalm. When the secret letter is read aloud, Munro knows that his defeat is certain. His pride in his country is plain as he first decides that they should dig their graves in the fort. He is not willing to relinquish any part of military honor. Yet Montcalm's proposal is surprising. The colors and weapons, such emblems of patriotism, are left with the English army; they are allowed to march out intact, preserving all glory. The entire ceremony reiterates the fact that Europeans are not concerned with fighting to the death in warfare; they prefer to make compromises. Thus, their concept of honor differs hugely from that of the Indians. To men such as the Mohicans and the Huron, honor is measured by the number of scalps killed, not saved.

Briefly, we can see that the character of Montcalm is generally a positive one. He is not mentioned very often, but his proposal is exceedingly fair to the English. Clearly he is unwilling to use his advantage for profit. The author overall spends more time delineating the Indian warriors as opposed to the European soldiers.

Chapter 17:

Summary:

The conquered are sullen and dejected, while the victorious are jubilant. In the early hours of the morning, a man in a cape is leaving the French encampment. It seems to be an officer. He is not stopped or interrupted at all. By the light of an obscure moon he waits. Soon a figure approaches him from the side. Another figure is in the bushes with a rifle. The officer is Montcalm, and the man who has approached him is Magua. Montcalm asks for the meaning behind the rifles‹the hatchet is buried between England and France. Magua says not a single warrior has a scalp, and the "pale-faces" become friends. He demands to know why Montcalm brought his men into the woods, and "fired at the earthen house." He grabs Montcalm's hand and makes him feel the scars upon his body. Magua says he knows how to speak to a Huron warrior.

The first tap of drums signals the beginning of the surrender. The English army has all the signs of a hurried and forced departure. Women and children run about, holding the "scanty" remains of their baggage. Heyward approaches Munro, who asks that he look after his daughters. He finds the sisters and sees that David is with them‹he finds much that is "comely and melodious" in the sisters. Heyward instructs David to let no one insult the sisters. Cora says they must go; the fort is no longer fit for children of an officer. They go with the parade. In the crowd, Cora spots Magua and his comrades. It seems that they will let the crowd pass. But a colorful shawl attracts a Huron, and advances upon her. In terror the woman wraps her child in the garment. He grabs the child and dashes its head upon a rock. He then drives a tomahawk into the mother's head. Magua raises the war cry, and 2000 Hurons attack. Alice calls for their father. David begins to sing. The savages who are about to attack stand listening. Magua approaches and shouts with pleasure upon seeing his old prisoners. He asks Cora once again to be his wife. She refuses. In retaliation he grabs Alice and throws her upon a horse. He motions that Cora should mount the other one. She complies, and he puts Alice on the same horse as he leads them out of the fray. David sees this, and jumps on a horse to follow them. Finally, the shrieks of the wounded are drowned out by the triumphant yells of the savages.

Analysis:

The fury of Magua in this chapter makes it clear to the reader that the travelers will never be completely safe until he and his comrades are dead. He speaks in nature images, saying that he is "the sun of his tribe" and that "there were mountains between his people and himself, but now the skies are clear." He is greatly incensed that the whites have become friends, while no Huron have scalps. The nature talk illustrates Magua's grand scheme‹the clear sky is a symbol of his freedom to do as he pleases. Montcalm seems to think nothing of his anger, which is a huge blunder on his part. Obviously he does not know the character of the man he is dealing with.

Although we have an understanding of the root of Magua's anger, we are unable to forgive him and his tribe for the unprovoked attack upon a mother and her baby. Cooper describes this scene graphically, writing that the infant's head is "dashed upon a rock" while the mother, "a statue of despair," is killed when a Huron "mercifully drove his tomahawk through her head." The author's mastery of order of events has the effect of letting the reader picture the scene clearly without too many adjectives. The picture of the mother crumbling to the ground as she clutches her dead child is horribly pathetic and maddening. Like the travelers, they are innocent victims of European ambitions. That they have no one to help defend them at this moment makes them even more pitiful. The author uses the attack of the Huron upon the retreating families to turn the tides of the battle between the foresters and the Huron. The nature of battle has a different purpose, not just for glory, but for the future of European settlement in the new country and for the future of Indian tradition. Magua and the Huron are setting a dangerous precedent with their violent behavior. The burden rests on the foresters to stop them.

Magua's evil nature is again confirmed as he kidnaps Alice in order to make Cora follow him. Truly he cancels out his better behavior from earlier. He is now the complete enemy to all the Europeans; even his French fathers cannot control him. That he takes such shameless advantage of Cora's love for her sister is terribly despicable. Out of affection, with bravery, Cora follows. The more selfless she appears, the more the reader admires her. There is no thought of her own safety; she easily could have let Alice go. But we expect more from her. Remarkably, David, who appears little in the preceding chapters, takes it upon himself to follow her. This is certainly a slight transformation: the singer is exhibiting a courage that no one, including himself, would suspect. Still, he is not totally changed, as he proves when he comically manages to save himself from savage violation by singing a beautiful hymn and impressing the Huron.

Chapter 18:

Summary:

"The Massacre of William Henry" is complete. The woods are possessed with stillness and death. The warmth of the sun is hid, and the whole landscape is referred to as "a pictured allegory of life." The forms of five men can be seen in the distance. Two are Indians, three are white. It is the foresters, with Heyward and Munro. They walk along the battlefield, observing the victims. The scout speaks of revenge as an Indian feeling, and says he has never seen the hand of the devil so plainly. He denounces the French commander. Uncas finds the green veil of Cora. Munro asks for his child. Uncas says he will try. The scout says she must have been captured, and they must look on the trail for signs of their departure. Moccasin tracks are found. Uncas examines them, and says they are from Magua. David's horn is also found. Heyward is happy that David has not deserted them. Hawkeye says he can sing, but cannot kill food or fight. They cautiously start the trail. Horse prints are observed. A trinket of Alice's is found. Duncan wishes to leave immediately, but the scout says an Indian never undertakes an arduous journey without smoking over a council-fire. They will rest tonight in the ruined fort, and start fresh tomorrow.

Analysis:

This chapter calls into question the idea of historical accuracy. The fact that there is an actual William Henry massacre in colonial history indicates that Cooper is playing with time and is writing fiction about real events. It is important to keep in mind while reading that this is a piece of literature, not an historical document. Thus, all characters and events are subject to more bias than usual. We are primarily concerned with characters and authorial attitude towards what happens to them‹but we should remember that while they are based on real people, the author is not writing for history.

The terrible picture of the landscape is accompanied by a "frightful" change in the season: the sun is "hidden behind an impenetrable mass of vapor," "green angry waters lash the shores," the plain is "scathed by the consuming lightening." The imagery brings forth the antiquated theme of nature as an indicator of the rightness of the world. Shakespeare commonly used scenes such as this one to indicate that foul play was at work, that evil forces were alive and working against the protagonist. The scene has a similar meaning here. It is testament to the unjust attack which has taken place against the retreating army. Presumably such conditions will persist until everything is set right.

When the author says in so many words that the scene is atrocious, he convinces us when Hawkeye, the man without religion, remarks that he has never seen so much of the Devil's handiwork. While the scout blusters about in vengeful anger, the Mohicans are resentful but calm. It is essential that the rituals of attack be observed‹only these rituals are not white ones. Trying to find the trail, Uncas comes across Cora's veil. As Munro begs him to find his child, it is clear to the reader that the foresters are in charge of this mission. The soldiers have intelligently relinquished control to them. The reader is relieved to see that they are at last learning their limits. The idea of the meeting around the council-fire illustrates this point more forcefully. It is not a European rescue mission, but a Mohican one.

Chapter 19:

Summary:

The foresters prepare to pass the night in the fort. They light a fire, and make a meal of bear's meat. Heyward observes. He thinks that he hears a noise. He alerts the scout. Hawkeye does not believe it is a Huron. They are too superstitious to linger about the dead. He believes it is a wolf. After the noise continues, however, Hawkeye becomes suspicious and vigilant. He calls Uncas, who throws himself flat on the ground to listen. Heyward believes they should alert the others of possible intruders, but Hawkeye will not. Still, he is concerned about Uncas. By hissing he calls Chingachgook, who goes to join his son. A shot rings out, a fruitless attempt on the old Mohican's life. Another shot issues from the rifle of Uncas. Chingachgook returns, and says that there would be one attacker. Uncas returns to the circle, and says it was an Oneida he killed. The scout is agitated, says they will be flanked on all sides if the Oneidas are involved. Hawkeye says the attacker knew who he was trying to shoot, and he wishes he could have shot him. Heyward says this would violate the treaty, but Hawkeye does not care. He thinks little of the Huron and the Oneida, who speak the same language but take each other's scalps. Chingachgook lights a pipe, and the foresters smoke it as they discuss the situation. Hawkeye speaks the most. Eventually, he is tired and sleeps. The Mohicans continue talking. Father speaks to son affectionately, and their manner is completely changed. The language is musical. Soon they both sleep. Duncan, looking at the example of the foresters, finally closes his eyes.

Analysis:

The near-attack by the Oneida is a means of enlarging the scope of the battle. This conflict is no longer limited to the foresters and Magua‹other tribes are becoming involved. As this warrior tries to shoot at the men, Uncas is the one who goes after him. This is further evidence of his emerging role as a warrior, which is ever so important. We might view this as a rise in the power of Uncas. He is not trying to assume complete control of the group, but he is demonstrating more of his skills. Hawkeye, on this rare occasion, misjudges the sound that Duncan hears. Freely he says that "being a white-skin" he will not deny his nature, and asks the young Mohican to use his senses to discern the source of the disturbance. The more fallible he is shown to be, the more necessary it is that Uncas take a bigger piece of the action; his father, though strong, is still older and not as quick. It is certain that Cooper is preparing the reader for another large-scale conflict. The battle for the sisters must be fought, and although it is not yet clear how, Uncas will have to play a large part in the fight, as he is the last representative of his people.

The scout's brief words on the nature of the Oneida indicates once more how different the Mohicans are from their enemies. Hawkeye notes that the Oneida and the Huron share "tongues," but will kill one another anyway. There appears to be little loyalty between them. If the Oneida are aiding in the fight, we can assume it is for profit. The scout knows they will have to result to sneaky tactics if they are to be successful. Heyward speaks about violating the treaty, but Hawkeye waves him away impatiently. Evidently Duncan still has not grasped the concept of the guerilla warfare that defines Indian conflicts. He wants to play by European rules, which will not result in victory. Magua and the Huron did not respect the treaty; the foresters have no choice but to ignore it as well. Hawkeye appears well-poised to blaze the trail towards the enemies. After his speech around the fire, the Mohicans become converts to his way of thinking. The author inserts a small commentary, saying that had father and son been representatives of a great and civilized people, their reputation for consistency would have been tarnished by the scout's influence. The authorial voice appears amused at how easily the two men are swayed, but it is not disapproving at all. The opinions of Heyward and Munro are not considered at all.

When the white men all sleep, there is an unprecedented moment of tenderness between the two Mohicans. We are told that Chingachgook speaks in "soft, playful tones of affection." The features of both men are relaxed and loving. Their language is described as "musical," conferring upon it a new level of beauty. The private nature of their interaction almost makes the reader feel that we are eavesdropping. Their conversation makes certain the idea that their austere countenances can be dropped, and that they can be as affectionate towards one another as anyone else is to their parents and children. That Uncas makes sure the coals warm his father's feet is a sign of sweet concern. We are meant to see the Mohicans as extremely human, very unlike the savage Huron.

Chapter 20:

Summary:

The stars are still out when Hawkeye arouses the sleepers. They gather themselves and follow him to a ditch. The scout instructs them to step on stones and wood pieces. The extreme caution is mysterious to the English soldiers, but they comply nonetheless. Hawkeye proclaims that it is a trail only a nose can follow. They are by a river. They edge the canoe into the water and paddle away. Heyward wonders at this hurried departure. The scout says that the Oneidas will return with reinforcements. Duncan believes that Munro's presence would be a deterrent, but Hawkeye disagrees. Heyward worries about Indian ambushes along the river. Uncas and Hawkeye maneuver the canoe through a twisty channel. Uncas gives a low cry‹he has spotted fire smoke mingling with the mist on the river. Hawkeye says they must turn back or make a quick row. With all men paddling, they manage to glide by quietly and are soon out of the range of bullets. Still, the war cry is heard and a shot rings out. Hawkeye raises his rifle and takes aim. Uncas cries out again: there is another canoe directly across from them. The scout resumes paddling so that the canoes are making parallel trajectories. Hawkeye raises his gun once more, urging his companions to keep rowing despite their fatigue. Duncan sees they are preparing to shoot. The scout urges the Englishmen to duck in the canoe. Heyward refuses. Shots come at the canoe, but they are poorly aimed. Hawkeye laughs and raises his piece in triumph. Heyward takes Hawkeye's paddle; the scout begins to shoot. One Huron is struck, and their canoe stops. The Mohicans take the opportunity to catch their breath. Chingachgook's shoulder has been grazed by a bullet. Hawkeye resumes rowing after Munro pleads that they find his children. For now they have lost the other canoe. They disembark and take the canoe into the wood. It is carefully concealed. The Mohicans gather their possessions, and the scout announces that they are at last ready to proceed with the quest for the sisters.

Analysis:

The highlight of this chapter is the dangerous battle that takes place on the water. The author creates anticipation at the very beginning when Hawkeye says to "think over their prayers," but not to say them aloud. The fact that our so-called "man without a cross" encourages prayer indicates that something terrible but exciting is about to happen. The reader can see Cooper's novel as a predecessor to modern-day tales of adventure and quest. The story moves along with many close shaves, escapes that almost don't happen, but we know that they must. The group must still save the sisters from the treacherous dealings of the Huron before the novel can come to any satisfactory conclusion.

Despite the fact that we know how the fight will turn out as soon as it begins, Cooper does an excellent job of describing the actual encounter. Our senses becomes involved as we read about "the crack of a rifle," "the accursed whoop," the mist that rises suspiciously "like a streak of thin cloud." We are as disoriented as the combatants. Sentence structure becomes very long, but extremely choppy since practically every noun is modified by an adjective phrase. Consider the following example: "The well known crack of a rifle, whose ball came skipping along the placid surface of the strait, and a shrill yell from the island, interrupted his speech, and announced that their passage was discovered." Although the overall message here is simple, the author provides embellishment that almost makes us lose our place. The tone is confused and panicked. Yet this makes for a captivating fight scene, and we read with tremendous concentration. This long structure also has the effect of drawing out an event which could have only taken a few moments.

The refusal of Munro and Duncan to take cover in the canoe is both brave and maddening. While their pride is understandable, they are only creating more of a target for the enemies. As they are of little use in the skirmish, they should duck down. But Heyward will not hear of this, saying that it would be a bad example for "the highest in rank to dodge." Both English soldiers are still caught upon the idea of white man's rank. They do not seem to recognize that their statuses have completely changed. They are being cared for by the foresters. That the scout and the Mohicans preserve their idea of rank is a kindness on their part. Hawkeye for a moment is far too involved in the battle‹he is losing sight of what they are after, and must be reminded by Munro, the chief "officer," that they are seeking his children. Because he has learned "obedience to superiors," Hawkeye complies. Truly, though, he did not have to listen to Munro, who has no real power over him in the forest.

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