goal of early Americans was to expand out West. Early settlers believed the West housed new opportunities, gold, land, and most of all freedom. However with the expansion came controversy. Native Americans, the people that lived in America before European settlement, were pushed and forced out of their homelands. Little by little Native Americans endured not only racism and ridicule, but also involuntary migrations to new and less fertile areas. Because of the difference in political and social arrangement of Native Americans to American ones, the white settlers went under the assumption that Native Americans were not capable of possessing land. However they were seen as spiritual and in harmony with nature. That is why in literature, Native Americans often became romantic heroes in one light and negative stereotypes in the other. In the 19th century, the literature of the time represented Native Americans based off of perceived racial stereotypes, including exaggerations which presented Native Americans as savage and wild. Although most writers focused on Native American characters wrote them in a negative way, some writers attempted to represent them as lifelike saints. These divergences are dissimilar forms of idealizing. The progressive aspect of Native American themed literature is idealization whereas the negative is demonization. In the United States, writers like James Fenimore Cooper spread and created these depictions, he scrutinized sentimentality and demonization of Native Americans starting from early 19th century. Cooper has been lionized for what some would say generating one of the most unchanging phantasmagorias of Indians within American literature. Of Cooper's eleven books, (Leather stocking Tales, The Redskins, The Oak Openings and Wyandotte) his most popular was The Last of the Mohicans, written in 1826. The story, set during the Seven Years' war encompasses real historical events with fictitious ones.
The characters in The Last of the Mohicans do not take after real Native Americans of that era, however these characters possess a level of complexity a reader of the time would not expect. The Native American characters are divided into two groups based on their morality. The good ones are I portrayed in an idealized manner whereas the bad ones are demonized. There is also a dissimilar gradation of good and bad in distinct characters. Cooper possess the ability to award the Indian's sense of mistreated goodness and highlight revenge as conceding their claims to impartiality perhaps even to endurance. (Daniel 126-129). James Fenimore Cooper wrote the novel not for the purpose of vilifying Native Americans but to examine the nature of humans regardless of race.
In the novel, the whole thing is doubled with the annihilation of Fort William Henry in the middle of the story. The first part of the novel depicts a setting within white civilization, the second part in Native American civilization. "Good" and "bad" Native Americans are not the only characters reflected. Some noteworthy examples are fair lady Alice and dark Cora, highborn white soldier and honorable red warrior. Magua and the entirety of the Huron tribe are considered demonized or bad characters. Magua, the Huron chief and "Le Ranard Subtil" or "The Wily Fox" is the main antagonist. The Hurons and Magua eat raw meat, are prone to violence and do not see the act of killing an innocent baby as horrendous or deplorable.
Magua as Cooper shows, is a dangerous individualist. The psychology behind Magua centers on his childhood and youth. He was kidnapped by Mohawks and adopted and raised the tribe. During service to Englishmen Magua was whipped as punishment for drinking alcohol. The fledgling chief becomes subjective to those who desire to use him, especially the French army. His plot for revenge on Colonel Munro for his exile is an attack on the Colonel's psyche more so than desiring to cause him physical harm. (Daniel 126-129)
Magua is highly astute in the understanding of preconceptions European society has for Native Americans. To terrify the Colonel, he threatened to marry Cora. Interracial marriage was frowned upon during this time. Magua is further demonized when he receives an opportunity to kill Munro in the battle at the Fort William Henry. During the battle, he take the Colonel off his horse and stabs him in the heart with a dagger. The defeat of the Colonel, signified by Magua ripping out his still beating heart shows an act of far-reaching violence and uncontrollable rage. This scene is a good depiction of how society saw bad Native Americans. Adding complexity to the character of Magua, Cooper toward the end lends the character a sympathizing perspective overriding his evil and anger. His character ultimately rises above stereotypes of the bad Native Americans and also embraces them. He enjoys drinking, is prone to violence, behaves in a vengeful manner, but also has inner individualistic spirit; he endeavors for respect and rights. And even though he endures a tragic fall, he becomes more than preconceived notions.
Idealized characters in Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans are represented, much like the bad characters, by a group of good Native Americans. The depictions of the main characters illustrate the notion of autonomy and equality and express Cooper's outlook on an impeccable new world. The romanticized protagonists are Uncas and Chingachgook. They speak in a figurative and metaphorical manner. Their corporeal appearance displays notions of dignity and their behavior encompasses selflessness and honor. There exists a possibility that Uncas' character is based from a historical figure of the same name.
In the 17th century, Uncas was a leader of the Mohicans. He became one of the first who began cooperating with Puritan settlers. (Oberg 32) Uncas, for instance, is a character likened by Cooper to the untouched land described in the novel. Uncas, like the landscape, is pure and noble possessing the best proportions. As white colonizers take and use the land, the young Native American gains certain guidance of European civilization. Uncas exemplifies many qualities, he accepts and believes in freedom and fairness among races and shadows the same rights as white people.
The Europeans influence affects Uncas throughout the novel. Uncas develops an acquaintance with a white Hawkeye, and falls for a white woman Cora who witnesses him die. Uncas anthropomorphizes skills of true Native American warriors while also embodying the spirituality of a respected leader. He is liberal and chivalric and of change or white civilization. His appearance differs from traditional Native Americans depicted in the story. Uncas wears no war paint on his body. He is not nude like his father Chingachgook, instead wearing a green hunting shirt.
Additionally, Uncas behaves like a true gentleman in front of women and shows respect for them. (Ratliff, Cooper, and Sidong Li 99) Unlike his father, who upholds a tradition of scalping when near women, Uncas rejects such traditions. Like other main characters, Uncas chooses to be a realist and an individual. His character goes through the most change in The Last of the Mohicans. Nevertheless, in the end, he is castigated for his forbidden desires. As some believe Uncas plays a "Savior" hero for Mohicans. His act of dying accomplishes a pattern designated by the novel itself. (Merchant 85-100)
Influence from the civilization of whites also separates the good Native Americans from the bad ones. Uncas' father is more savage than his son. He does not recognize laws and ethical lines of white society. Uncas wears "white man" clothing. Chingachgook wears little to no clothes, instead using war paint. He even kills a French soldier without reason other than because he wished to. Chingachgook also does not consider the feelings of women, scalping enemies in their presence. He is called "Le Grand Serpent," meaning "The Great Snake," and this is due to his talent for understanding men and his ability to strike an unexpected blow.
The tribes are also depicted in the good and bad polarity. The Mohicans feel the Hurons and the Iroquois are savages, unable to have or display good emotions and actions. The most significant moment of depiction of barbarian behavior, the massacre of the Fort William Henry, shows Native Americans attacking English troops as they vacate the fort. The Native Americans not only behave violently, killing, scalping, and yelling, they also show rage. The battles illustrate the lack of control the bad Native Americans have vs. The good.
The lack of control stems from lack of spirituality. The border between the human and animal action is engrained in a spiritual and metaphysical tradition. (McWilliams 109). The animalism is accentuated in the book through the near association with nature. Cooper's handling of romanticized good Native Americans points out the perspective of the Native Americans as the honorable philistines who reach dignity through a close connection with nature. Magua acts as the opposite, possessing little to no spirituality and behaves as a simple barbarian.
Many cultures have used religion and spirituality to "civilize" their people. In fact religion is often used to develop the moral compass of an individual. (Kuiper 45) Without religion, many people often feel lost without direction as…