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Coopers Chingachgook
The Death of Chingachgook as the Apogee of the tragedy of the Indian Nation in Cooper^s The Pioneers The Pioneers, written by James Fenimore Cooper in 1823 opens the popular series of books about the adventures of an inhabitant of the New England forests Natty Bampo ^ a white man, a scout, and a hunter. However, the novelist does not merely narrate the life of Natty, his main aim is to present the whole situation on the Eastern Coast of America in the seventeenth century. In The Pioneers, in particular, Cooper writes about the new settlers in America, about their conquest of the lands, and about the tragic extinction of the Indian people, who had been proud owners of the lands of America. One of the most important moments in this book, and even in the whole cycle, is the scene of the death of Natty Bampo^s best friend Chingachgook, the last representative of the Indian tribe of Mohicans. In this scene the author presents his most important ideas about the vices of the new settlers, hypocrisy of Christianity, and the tragedy of the native inhabitants of the American lands. C! ooper actually makes the death of the Mohican sound as a final chord in the calamitous history of the Indian people, who under the onslaught of European civilization are doomed to disappear. He makes the dying Indian chief a symbol for his perishing nation, presenting him at the last minutes of his life in his national costume and believing in the Indian morals and gods. Moreover, by misspelling his name on the gravestone, Cooper redoubles the tragic implication that after the death of Chingachgook his culture is forgotten and lost, and a meaningful Indian name loses its importance for the white people who come to live in the formally Indian forests. Towards the end of The Pioneers the tragic story about the Indians who were expelled from their lands by the white Europeans, reaches its apogee. The scene of the Chingachgook^s dying is full of sadness, pain, and hopelessness. In a very meaningful way Cooper presents his Indian hero on the threshold of death, sitting "on a trunk of a fallen oak" (p.381). Thus he hints at the identity between the old chief and the tree, implying that once young and strong they both are now old and lifeless. Moreover, as the fallen tree is now disconnected from the company of the strong young forest mates, thus also Chingachgook with his "tawny visage" (p.381) is lonely among the liveliness of the newly established colonies. So Cooper writes that in place of the once virgin forests where the Indian people used to have their dwellings, now "the settlers had scattered their humble habitations, with a profusion that bespoke the quality of the soil and the comparative facilities of intercourse" (p .38). Chingachgook says how he looks around "but he sees no Delawares. Everyone has a white skin" (p.396). Though Chingachgook has been baptized and even acquired a Christian name John, he still is a stranger among the white people and does not want to continue living without his nation. These are his own words in which he expresses this feeling: "John has lived till all his people have left his for the land of spirits; his time has come, and he is ready" (p.384). Moreover, Cooper underlines Chingachgook^s visual relation to his people in order to present his tragedy as a model of that of his whole nation. The author pays close attention not only to his "tawny visage" (p.381) but also notices his "long black hair," "high forehead & piercing eyes," and earrings in the "enormous incisions of his ears" (p.381). Even "a large drop" appears in the nose of the old Indian, which makes his appearance even more dramatic and meaningful. At the end of this long description Cooper says that "the whole" exhibited "an Indian warrior, prepared for some event of more than usual moment" (p.381). This is not by chance that Chingachgook is called a warrior here ^ thus the novelist introduces the idea that this man, even baptized, holds on to his national way of life, to his national habits and beliefs. With nostalgia recollecting his youth, Chingachgook tells lady Elizabeth that then he "struck his tomahawk into the trees" and made no baskets" (p.382). H! e means that he did not undertake peaceful occupations, but was a real warrior, defending his people and providing them with food. All these descriptions show the old Indian as a model for the Indian people who once upon a time were proud inhabitants of the lands of America. The Christian girl tries to remind the old warrior that "those days have gone by" and "[his] people have disappeared," that now he "learned to fear God and to live at peace" (p.382), meaning that he has to remember that he is a Christian and to live in accordance with the laws of the whites. Starting from this point, Cooper brings up a related idea about the ambiguity of the Christian religion in the new American colonies. Recollection of laws of the whites makes Chingachgook think about the times of war between the whites for the American territories: "the white man from Frontiac come down on his white brothers at Albany and fight" (p.382). He also recalls English people "burying their tomahawks in each other^s brains for this very land," (p.382), and the passing of the land from one^s hands into other^s. So he questions for three times, using the words of Elizabeth: "Did they fear God?" (p.382) and, undoubtedly, finds no positive answer to this question. Moreover, the nov! elist opposes the civil customs of the Indians, who exchanged their land "for powder, blankets and merchandise" (p.382) to the ways of the Christians who "tored" the land from each other "as a scalp is torn from an enemy" (p.382). Once again the aged Indian questions: "Do such man live in peace and fear the Great Spirit?" (p.383), and thus Cooper implies the doubt in the righteousness of the Christian religion. The Indians gave everything up to the white ruler ^ gave up their country, "from where the blue mountain stands above the water to where the Susquehanna is hid by the trees" (p.382). But what have they got instead? The full extinction of their nation and the desperate melancholy that sounds in the words of Chingachgook when he says that "there will soon be no redskin in this country. When John has gone, the last will leave the hills, and his family will be dead" (p.384). However, one hope is left in the bosom of the Indian -- a hope "to go to the country where his fathers have met" (p.384), a hope to reunite with his lost nation. The tragedy of these people reaches its apogee when Chingachgook desperately declares: "Fathers! Sons!.. all gone ^ all gone" (p.384) and the only thing left for the old Mohegan is to his own, not Christian heaven, where "all just red men shall live together as brothers" (p.384). Thus Chingachgook dies, in his Indian way, listening to his fathers ca! lling "from the far-off land, come" (p.396). Dies with no Christian prayer on his lips, for he is an Indian who by his last Indian prayer concludes the tragic history of his moribund nation and the lost Indian land. Finally, in the last chapter of the book, Cooper intentionally places the last scene of the novel in the graveyard. Here young Oliver and Elizabeth and the readers find Natty Bambo, "stretched on the earth before the headstone of white marble" (p.429) ^ the grave of his Indian friend Chingachgook. Natty, being illiterate, asks the young man to read the script written on the gravestone that the stone "is raised in memory of an Indian Chief... Mohican; and Chingagook" (p.431). Since in the Indian culture a name of a man always bears some important implications about his personality, misspelling of Chingachgook^s name goes against all the rules of the nation. Natty tells his young friend that "the name should be set down right, for an Indian name has always some meaning in it" (p.431), as Chingachgook, for example, means a Big Serpent. However, though Oliver promises to correct it, Cooper in the very misspelling of the name inserts a very great meaning. By setting this moment ! in the very last chapter of the book, he thus states that the Indian culture dies together with Chingachgook, and the ensuing generations of the white people are neither interested neither in the culture nor in the history of the native Americans, who gave up their land to the whites in exchange for powder and wine. Thus on this note of desperation Cooper finalizes the tragic history of Chingachgook, whose death symbolizes the death of the Indian nation on the American continent. Thus into the momentum of the death of Chingachgook Cooper inserts so many important ideas that it would be worthwhile to write the whole book just for this moment. The catastrophe of the Indians in America sounds in the tone of one voluminous crescendo throughout the last chapters of The Pioneers. As the last note in a symphony gives the musician information in what key the whole piece is written, thus the last scene of the novel taking place near the gravestone of Chingachgook, implies the tragic tone of the whole narration. The novelist bewails the mournful extinction of the Indian nation, and irretrievable disappearance of their culture. As a kind of a "poet" Cooper sings a gloomy song to this nation, through his writing presenting it with immortality and perpetuity. Work cited Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers, or The Sources of Susquehanna. New York: A Signet Classic, 1997

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