Caroline's Kirkland's A New Home -- Who'll Follow? And James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers are novels from the nineteenth century that examine the life of the American frontier. Each author seeks to maintain a realistic them with an underlying yearning to educate the reader. Both novels present us with glimpses into how life would have been for the American man and woman on the frontier through specific, conscious detail. This paper will show how the authors achieve their goals by examining the similarities and the differences between their novels.
The predominant theme each author uses is realism, focusing on elements that would create within us a sense of understanding about that era in time. Kirkland tells us that she wishes to create a realistic novel of the life of those who settles in Michigan when she says:
The reader who has patience to go with me to the close of my desultory sketches, must expect nothing beyond a meandering recital of common-place occurrences -- mere gossip about every-day people, little enhanced in value by any fancy or ingenuity of the writer; in short, a very ordinary pen-drawing; which, deriving no interest from colouring, can be valuable only for its truth. (Kirkland 3)
In contrast, Cooper also hopes to describe a realistic rendering of frontier life when he says he "confined" himself to represent an accurate account of the general picture of life in New York, specifically Ostego county. Although Cooper admits that his novel is "purely a work of fiction," he assures the reader that the literal facts are "connected with the natural and artificial objects and the customs of the inhabitants" (Cooper viii). Cooper continues to say that "all is literal, even to the severed arm of Wolfe and the urn which held the ashes of Queen Dido" (viii).
Each author successfully pulls from experience to make his or her stories more believable. For example, Kirkland is able to describe colorful characters she encounters with specifics that bring the characters to life. This can be seen in her description of Miss Eloise Fidler. We are told that Miss Fidler wore gold pencil-case of the most delicate proportions was suspended by a kindred chain round a neck which might be called whity-brown; and a note-book of corresponding lady-like-ness was peeping from the pocket of her highly-useful apron of blue silk -- ever ready to secure a passing thought or an elegant quotation" (Kirkland 169). We also get a glimpse into the life that the female might have lived when Kirkland describes the breakfasts and those with whom she came into contact with at them. For example, she says she would encounter all kinds, including, "the shoals of speculators, fat and lean, rich and poor, young and old, dashing and shabby. (44)
Evidence of the type of world Kirkland's main character lived in comes through her writing when she speaks about an event that has been growing with intensity between her village and the village next to it:
know this rambling gossiping style... is not the orthodox way of telling one's story... But I feel conscious that the truly feminine sin of talking 'about it and about it,' the unconquerable partiality for wandering wordiness would cleave to me still; so I proceed in despair of improvement to touch upon such points in the history of Tinkerville as have seemed of vital and absorbing interest to the citizens of Montacute. (140)
In addition, similar descriptions of circumstances reveal to us the type of life one might expect in Cooper's The Pioneers. Issues of concern and disputes relevant to that time are discussed in a way that help us understand how the settlers communicated with the natives. For instance, the deer that has been shot becomes a point of attention when an argument arises because no one can say to whom the deer belongs. Cooper demonstrates the ability of two different people being able to communicate with each other. Cooper also gives us a sense of Indian history, including the baptisms of Natty and John Mohegan, which become central to who they are. (Cooper 81) Cooper, as well as Kirkland, also gives a sense of how people might have been during that era. Through the character of Mohegan in The Pioneers, we see how an Indian might have incorporated beliefs from the white man into his own beliefs. In addition, we are able to see how the white man is willing to learn from the Indian. For example, Dr. Todd is willing to learn Indian ways when he takes an interest in using bark to treat different ailments. (Cooper 85)
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the two novels is the fact that Caroline Kirkland is writing from the perspective of a female, while Cooper's view is told from a male perspective. Kirkland is on this adventure on account of her husband's ambitions and the perspective of a "follower" can be seen in the stories she tells. Kirkland's novel focuses on the issues of the life that woman experienced, which sometimes revolved around the home. This results in the difficulties of housekeeping in the wilderness. However, with a truly unique perspective, Kirkland is able to paint a picture with elaborate detail that a man might overlook. On the other hand, Cooper's novel illustrates a male perspective, complete with expeditions, shootings, and dealings with the natives. These opposites compliment each other, by allowing us to get a better scope of "both sides of the story." Comparing the two novels illustrates the difference of opinion that can be found from different genders.
This gender difference is apparent when observing very different details of life being revealed. In addition to relating a female point-of-view, Kirkland is also able to write very humorously, which not only allows us to see each character and situation, but also Kirkland herself. This can be seen as Kirkland describes the growth of the village by the end of the novel when she says, "The growth of our little secluded village has been so gradual, its prosperity so moderate, and its attempts so unambitious (Kirkland 314) and "the mere enumeration of these magnificent expressions, makes our insignificance seem doubly insignificant!" (315) Kirkland admits the she has "never seen a cougar -- nor been bitten by a rattlesnake" but despite that, she believes she has a story that can indeed be told (3). One example of a woman's perspective can be seen when her group encounters a mud-hole. Kirkland's response it typically female, as she does not want to cross it, but realizes there is no other way. She states, "I insisted with all a woman's obstinacy that I could not and would not make the attempt, and alighted accordingly, and tried to find a path on one side or the other. But in vain, even putting out of the question my paper-soled shoes -- sensible things for the woods (13)." Another humorous example of the female perspective can be seen when Kirkland misunderstands the meaning of a "framed house" they would be living in. Her honesty is also apparent here when she says:
It took me some time to understand that framing was nothing more than cutting the tenons and mortices ready for putting the timbers together, and that these must be raised before there could be a frame. And that 'sash,' which I in my ignorance supposed could be but for one window, was a generic term" (70-71).
In addition, Kirkland's sense of detail reveals a bit of femininity that makes A New Home -- Who'll Follow? unique in its appeal is her description of the flowers of Michigan when she states that, "I picked upwards of twenty varieties of wild-flowers -- some of them of rare and delicate beauty" and "The wild flowers of Michigan deserve a poet of their own" (10).
In contrast, Cooper describes more "manly" activities such a turkey shooting, which occurred every year around Christmas. Cooper employs a fondness in his style, which is reflected when we read about the turkey-shooting event:
The throng consisted of some twenty or thirty young men, most of whom had rifles, and a collection of all the boys in the village. The little urchins, clad in coarse but warm garments, stood gathered around the more distinguished marksmen, with their hands stuck under their waistbands, listening eagerly to the boastful stories of skill that had been exhibited on former occasions, and were already emulating in their hearts these wonderful deeds in gunnery" (Cooper 181).
Both novels also portray intelligent women. Kirkland's female characters may be more "behind the scenes" more than Cooper's female characters, but they represent spirited, well-educated women. For example, Kirkland tells us about how things differ for the men and women when she says:
The division of labour is almost unknown. If in absolutely savage life, each man is of necessity his own tailor, tent-maker, carpenter, cook, huntsman, and fisherman -- so in the state of society which I am attempting to describe, each woman…