The Deerslayer is the last entry in what has become known as the Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper. This final look back at the story at the title character actually named Natty Bumppo (but more often referred to as Hawkeye) and his Mohican comrade Chingachgook takes place in the familiar environs of the wilderness territory in New York. The narrative surrounds an exciting showdown with members of the Huron tribe who have abducted a young woman from Delaware to whom Chingachgook is engaged. The cast is rounded out by what might well be interpreted as a prescient precursor to the stereotype of the grizzled old prospector—grizzled old trapper Thomas Hutter—and his two stepdaughters: the simple-minded Hetty and her haughty sister Judith.
Published in 1841—a century after the time period portrayed in the novel—the story looks back on the Deerslayer’s moment of truth in transforming into a man of action as he confronts not just the violence of the untamed world around him, but the violence of the untamed humanity around him as well. In this way, The Deerslayer becomes a novel about initiation into contemporary rites and rituals of manhood. Other themes touches upon are the conflicting values that pit man and against man. While action and theme are handled with Cooper’s steadfast familiarity, the overriding sensation many readers take away is a firm grasp upon the reality of the setting of mid-18th century colonial America and the grit and determination required to carve out a modern country from such a savage wilderness.