Study Guide

Chingachgook in Last of the Mohicans

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The #1 reason we wish James Fenimore Cooper was alive today is so we could call him up and ask him how to pronounce Chingachgook's name properly.

Chingachgook is the father of Uncas and the titular last of the Mohicans. Good call on not calling this novel Chingachgook, Cooper. We know what happens when you give art projects hard-to-pronounce titles. Like Hawkeye, Chingachgook is proud of his "unmixed" heritage, but unlike his friend, Chingachgook is an emblem of a dying tribe:

"My tribe is the grandfather of nations, but I am an unmixed man. The blood of chiefs is in my veins, where it must stay forever. The Dutch landed, and gave my people the fire-water; they drank until the heavens and the earth seemed to meet, and they foolishly thought they had found the Great Spirit. Then they parted with their land. Foot by foot, they were driven back from the shores, until I, that am a chief and a Sagamore, have never seen the sun shine but through the trees, and have never visited the graves of my fathers." (3.22)

Chingachgook isn't the most well-rounded character—he's mostly just a stoic dude—but what he does bring to the storyline is a dose of history. He tells other characters (and, by association, us readers) the story of white settlers' impact on Native Americans. In the paragraph above we're taught about two key elements of European colonialism: alcohol and land grabbing.

Native Americans were introduced to alcohol by European settlers, but many Native Americans lack the ability to metabolize alcohol effectively, leading to way higher instances of alcoholism. This made it easier to push tribes off of their tribal lands and further inland—the Mohican lands originally included parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut before being moved into the corner of Northern New York State.

We learn all this valuable history via Chingachgook. We've ragged a bit on James Fenimore Cooper for being a little creepily into "pure blood" and making Uncas into a bit of a magical Native American stereotype, but the fact is that Cooper wrote this novel in a way that was really sympathetic to the Native American experience… by early 19th century standards. When people were still writing about "savages," Cooper was portraying European settlers in a shameful light.

Way to go, Coop.

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