Study Guide

Last of the Mohicans Principles

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Against this stern and unyielding morality, supported as it was by such visible policy, there was no appeal. From that moment the yells in the forest once more ceased, the fire was suffered to decline, and all eyes, those of friends as well as enemies, became fixed on the hopeless condition of the wretch who was dangling between heaven and earth. (8.19-8.20)

Hawkeye is adamant on his policy of saving ammunition, but he eventually caves. What does this show about the principles he follows?

The veteran seized the offered paper, without waiting for Duncan to translate the speech, and with an eagerness that betrayed how important he deemed its contents. As his eye passed hastily over the words, his countenance changed from its look of military pride to one of deep chagrin; his lip began to quiver; and suffering the paper to fall from his hand, his head dropped upon his chest, like that of a man whose hopes were withered at a single blow. Duncan caught the letter from the ground, and without apology for the liberty he took, he read at a glance its cruel purport. Their common superior, so far from encouraging them to resist, advised a speedy surrender, urging in the plainest language, as a reason, the utter impossibility of his sending a single man to their rescue. (16.72)

Is Webb a principled man? What does this quote show you about what kind of principles are at play in this novel?

[The massacre] is now becoming obscured by time; and thousands, who know that Montcalm died like a hero on the plains of Abraham, have yet to learn how much he was deficient in that moral courage without which no man can be truly great. Pages might yet be written to prove, from this illustrious example, the defects of human excellence; to show how easy it is for generous sentiments, high courtesy, and chivalrous courage to lose their influence beneath the chilling blight of selfishness, and to exhibit to the world a man who was great in all the minor attributes of character, but who was found wanting when it became necessary to prove how much principle is superior to policy. But the task would exceed our prerogatives; and, as history, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness, it is probable that Louis de Saint Veran will be viewed by posterity only as the gallant defender of his country, while his cruel apathy on the shores of the Oswego and of the Horican will be forgotten. (18.1)

The narrator laments that history is not likely to realize that Montcalm lacked true principles. This speaks to an interesting point of view in this novel—check out our "Point of View" section for more analytic goodness.

"It would be but an ill example for the highest in rank to dodge, while the warriors were under fire."

"Lord! Lord! That is now a white man's courage!" exclaimed the scout; "and like to many of his notions, not to be maintained by reason." (20.48)

Hawkeye mocks Heyward's military sensibilities/principles because they are totally impractical in the current situation. Are principles and practicality shown as existing at odds in this novel?

Long and habitual deference to the mandates of his superiors had taught the scout the virtue of obedience. (20.59)

We would expect this type of behavior more from Heyward rather than from Hawkeye. But obedience is a principle that everyone should get behind (in the opinion of our narrator, at least) because it shows an amount of humility.

The scout laughed, and, tapping his own forehead significantly, he perhaps explained the singular indulgence more satisfactorily when he said:

"The Indians never harm a non-composser." (22.20-22.21)

Here we have evidence of Native American principles: they never harm a crazy person. That's a good call, right? And it's one that we use in our modern judicial system—think of all those temporary insanity pleas. Our heroes end up using this principle to their own advantage and playing at being insane-o in order to gain the upper hand.

"Ah! the wholesome restraint of discipline is but little known among this self-abandoned people. In a country of birches, a rod is never seen, and it ought not to appear a marvel in my eyes, that the choicest blessings of Providence are wasted in such cries as these." (22.72)

David expresses wonder that the Indian children are never beaten. Here he exemplifies the white religious principles of his day: the whole "spare the rod and the spoil the child" style of parenting.

Nothing but the color of his skin had saved the lives of Magua and the conjurer, who would have been the first victims sacrificed to his own security, had not the scout believed such an act, however congenial it might be to the nature of an Indian, utterly unworthy of one who boasted a descent from men that knew no cross of blood. (26.1)

Here Hawkeye is demonstrating "white" principles. Why does he mock white man's courage earlier but adhere to it here? To what extent does he follow "white" principles and to what extent "Native American"?

"I am an unworthy and humble follower of one who taught not the damnable principle of revenge. Should I fall, therefore, seek no victims to my manes, but rather forgive my destroyers; and if you remember them at all, let it be in prayers for the enlightening of their minds, and for their eternal welfare." (26.56)

David shows himself here to be a pacifist. Does this fit with what else we know of his character?

"And the woman that Huron left with my warriors?"

Uncas made no reply. (30.49-30.50)

Uncas follows Native American moral principles here as a white man would try to save Cora, no matter what the law decreed. Hawkeye, for instance, tries to bargain for her release.

His parting gibes were listened to in a dead, boding silence, and, with these biting words in his mouth, the triumphant Magua passed unmolested into the forest, followed by his passive captive, and protected by the inviolable laws of Indian hospitality. (30.97)

Another example of the principles governing Native American behavior: the principle of being The Host With The Most. Good hospitality doesn't just mean giving your guest the last cookie on the plate or the biggest helping at meals: it means giving safe passage to people that are your guests, even when they're also your enemy.

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