The Pioneers was the first novel of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales series, featuring the character Natty Bumppo, a resourceful white American living in the woods. The story focuses on the evolution of the wilderness into a civilized European-American community. The story takes place in the town of Тempleton, which is said to be modeled after Cooperstown, New York, founded by Cooper's father after the Revolutionary War.
Naturalist Ideas: Although not classified as a naturalist novel, Cooper depicts many naturalist based ideas in The Pioneers. His use of language, dialogue and description help to convey this movement within this novel.
- Landscape: In The Pioneers, Cooper thematically debates the complexity of landscape within a new American frontier. The battle between nature and civilization is a constant and competing force within the minds of the characters and in the general surroundings. Cooper evaluates his landscape as one that will be established by a civilization unable to escape its own traits of wastefulness and arrogance.
- Characters: Cooper expands the conflict between nature and civilization in his characters. Specifically Cooper writes much more detailed and in depth dialogue for “Natty Bumpo’s” character than he does for any of the others. During these conversations Natty stresses the importance of respecting the land and criticizes the greed and selfishness of mankind. The “civil societal” characters are background characters to Natty’s heroic natural character. He emerges as the antithesis to wastefulness as demonstrated and embodied in the settlers. Cooper's main theme is wilderness versus established society. While the settlers see wilderness as being tamed by their presence, Natty has a vision of civilized life coexisting with nature. Ideally, he wants to sustain the unique role that this vast unexplored wilderness contributes to the complexity of America.
- “It is much better to kill only such you want, without wasting your powder and lead, then to be firing into God’s creatures in such a wicked manner.” (Natty to Judge Marmeduke) – Chapter III, The Slaughter of Pigeons
- Description: Alternating between dialogues, Cooper writes vast paragraphs of descriptive writing to paint the natural wilderness. To him, the natural landscape exemplifies a peaceful wilderness. When the dialogue begins, it shows the disruption civilization wreaks on the natural abundance of the wilderness. Cooper contrasts the giving, natural and serene wilderness versus the arrogant and greedy society.
Tone: Cooper’s tone in The Pioneers is critical and mocking of traditional Puritan society, “established society”. The dialogue of the settlers displays the carelessness of their society towards the wilderness. The scene in Chapter II (The Judge’s History of Settlement) is an exaggerated depiction of the reactions of the settlers to a falling tree and storm. The naivety of the settlers is portrayed in their responses to their journey into the wilderness. Cooper’s mocking and critical tone is seen throughout the novel.