In the wilderness
of upper New York, two cultures clash—white Eurocentric
culture and native Indian culture. Ample evidence is given in
the novel of the destruction caused to the Indians by the coming
of the whites—Hawkeye himself acknowledges that this is
so. The reason that Magua was driven from the Hurons, for example,
was because the whites introduced the Indians to alcohol, and
he fell victim to it. The savagery of the conflict between whites
and Indians is apparent in numerous incidents. The two races
do not understand each other’s ways, even though they
make many alliances with each other according to what they believe
is in their best interest.
speaking, Hawkeye, Heyward, and David Gamut, each in his different
way, represent the values of white civilization. Heyward represents
the military ideal; David represents the sect of Protestantism
known as Calvinism. Hawkeye is a more complex case because he
in a sense lives in both worlds, Indian and white, and has great
respect for some of the Indian ways. Although he thinks Indians
other than Delawares and Mohicans are liars and “varlets,”
he acknowledges the validity of their religion and respects
many of their customs.
Hawkeye still sees a wide gulf between the ways of the “Mingo”
and those of the white man. He believes that whites have a more
enlightened set of values, inspired by Christianity, although
he is not an especially religious man. He claims that it is
because he is white that he does not kill Magua when in Chapter
XXV he has the Huron chief at his mercy. He gives the same reason
for not killing the Indian medicine man from whom he steals
the bearskin. Revenge, Hawkeye claims, is an Indian practice.
However, the reader is left in no doubt that Hawkeye has killed
on numerous occasions. He says that there is no quarrel between
him and the Mingoes that cannot be settled by a rifle shot.
perspective, which is heard in the voice of the narrator, is
also complex. Cooper abundantly expresses the attitudes commonly
held in his time toward Indians. He regularly refers to them
as “savages.” Magua is depicted as cunning and crafty,
and it is implied that these are common characteristics of Indians.
Just as Hawkeye believes that revenge is an Indian pursuit,
Cooper’s narrator comments that Magua was “goaded
incessantly by those revengeful impulses that in a savage seldom
slumber” (Chapter XXVII).
But in many
other places, the narrator, like Hawkeye, makes favorable comments
about Indian culture. He makes some effort to be objective,
to see beyond his own prejudices. Much of this is in connection
with the Mohicans, the “good” Indians, but he also
acknowledges that even the “savages” have some qualities
to be appreciated—in the way he admires the construction
of the Huron village in Chapter XXI, for example.
The theme of interracial relationships between Indians and whites
is an undercurrent throughout the novel. Such relationships
are frowned upon and regarded as unnatural. Magua’s desire
for Cora, for example, is considered by all as repugnant.
is complicated by the fact that Cora herself has dark blood
in her, since her mother was descended from slaves.
Although Cora vehemently rejects Magua’s approaches, the
first time she sees him, her reaction is mixed. She looks at
him with “pity, admiration and horror, as her dark eye
followed the easy motions of the savage.” The description
continues by emphasizing the darkness of Cora’s hair,
and her complexion, which was “not brown, but it rather
appeared charged with the color of the rich blood, that seemed
ready to burst its bounds” (Chapter I). The suggestion
is that it is the dark blood in Cora that attracts Magua, and
produces an unacknowledged response in her.
to have a more enlightened attitude to matters of race than
was common at the time. She remarks of Uncas, for example, that
no one looking at him would “remember the shade of his
skin” (Chapter VI). But the response of those around her
is even more significant: “an embarrassed silence succeeded
this remark.” It is clear that the color of a man’s
skin is of great significance indeed in the eyes of everyone
love for Cora falls into the same category of interracial relationships.
The author avoids having to deal with the consequences of it
by killing off both characters, although he permits the Delaware
women to believe that Cora and Uncas are together after death.
Hawkeye, not surprisingly, scoffs at this idea.
of the undesirability of interracial relationships does not,
however, extend to friendship between men. The friendship and
loyalty between Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas forms a consistent
theme throughout the novel. The touching scene at the end, in
which Hawkeye reaches out to comfort Chingachgook in his bereavement,
and swear his continued friendship, suggests the possibility
of intercultural understanding and cooperation. The tragic irony
is that Chingachgook and Uncas, the last of the Mohicans, symbolically
represent the last of a dying Indian culture, including not
only the Mohicans but all the Indian tribes—dispersed,
divided and ultimately destroyed by the coming of the Europeans.