Study Guide

Last of the Mohicans Man and the Natural World

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Man and the Natural World

But, emulating the patience and self-denial of the practiced native warriors, they learned to overcome every difficulty; and it would seem that, in time, there was no recess of the woods so dark, nor any secret place so lovely, that it might claim exemption from the inroads of those who had pledged their blood to satiate their vengeance, or to uphold the cold and selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe. (1.1)

The Native Americans have, totally unsurprisingly, a way better sense of how to negotiate the forests than the white Europeans. So the Europeans learn how to navigate the land thanks to the Native Americans' skills. But they're only doing this to help colonize these areas, not because they're interested in learning about nature or anything.

The rays of the sun were beginning to grow less fierce, and the intense heat of the day was lessened, as the cooler vapors of the springs and fountains rose above their leafy beds, and rested in the atmosphere. Still that breathing silence, which marks the drowsy sultriness of an American landscape in July, pervaded the secluded spot, interrupted only by the low voices of the men, the occasional and lazy tap of a woodpecker, the discordant cry of some gaudy jay, or a swelling on the ear, from the dull roar of a distant waterfall. (3.2)

Cooper often describes the time of day and the season based on the scenery instead of telling us that it's four in the afternoon or what have you. This method mirrors Hawkeye's ability to always know where and when he is in the forest. That's a nifty literary trick, Coop.

"An Indian lost in the woods!" said the scout, shaking his head doubtingly; "When the sun is scorching the tree tops, and the water courses are full; when the moss on every beech he sees will tell him in what quarter the north star will shine at night." (4.11)

Hawkeye claims it is impossible for an Indian to be lost in the woods. Is this true in the rest of the novel? How do white men fare in the woods?

"He is a soldier, and knows how to estimate the chances of the woods." (6.53)

It's striking that Heyward references the dangers of the woods rather than the dangers of the enemy, implying that the woods are a greater danger. Although, TBH, the woods have bears and the enemies do not. We'd be way more terrified of the bears.

"Lady," returned the scout, solemnly, "I have listened to all the sounds of the woods for thirty years, as a man will listen whose life and death depend on the quickness of his ears. There is no whine of the panther, no whistle of the catbird, nor any invention of the devilish Mingoes, that can cheat me!" (7.5)

Don't mess with Hawkeye. He knows the sounds of everything. Hawkeye is the coolest, and that's basically because he pays such close attention to nature.

The Indian had selected for this desirable purpose one of those steep, pyramidal hills, which bear a strong resemblance to artificial mounds, and which so frequently occur in the valleys of America. (11.1)

Here Magua uses nature to perpetuate his own (devious) ends, proving that the forest is really a neutral force in the world of The Last of the Mohicans. Nature is neither evil nor angelic… it's just nature.

"What call you the volume?" said David, misconceiving the other's meaning.

"'Tis open before your eyes," returned the scout; "and he who owns it is not a niggard of its use. I have heard it said that there are men who read in books to convince themselves there is a God. I know not but man may so deform his works in the settlement, as to leave that which is so clear in the wilderness a matter of doubt among traders and priests. " (12.25-12.26)

In other words, nature and the forest have taught Hawkeye everything he cares to know. He scoffs at David's book learnin' because, from his point of view, it's completely impractical.

The hunter, like the savage whose place he filled, seemed to select among the blind signs of their wild route, with a species of instinct, seldom abating his speed, and never pausing to deliberate. A rapid and oblique glance at the moss on the trees, with an occasional upward gaze toward the setting sun, or a steady but passing look at the direction of the numerous water courses, through which he waded, were sufficient to determine his path, and remove his greatest difficulties. (13.2)

This passage evokes a direct comparison between Hawkeye and Magua. How else might the two of them be the same? This passage also demonstrates Hawkeye's mad skillz in the forest by detailing the clues he uses to navigate his route.

The whole landscape, which, seen by a favoring light, and in a genial temperature, had been found so lovely, appeared now like some pictured allegory of life, in which objects were arrayed in their harshest but truest colors, and without the relief of any shadowing. (18.4)

This passage comes from a description of the scene three days after the Fort William Henry massacre. This is an incredibly direct comparison between the landscape and human nature, supporting the idea that essential aspects of human nature might be found in the wilderness.

"Is there nothing that I can do?" demanded the anxious Heyward.

"You?" repeated the scout, who, with his red friends, was already advancing in the order he had prescribed; "yes, you can keep in our rear and be careful not to cross the trail." (18.58-18.59)

Heyward is close to useless in the forest. They are trying to track Magua and his captives, but Heyward has no viable skills to offer. He's an indoor kid, for sure.

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