Study Guide

Last of the Mohicans Warfare

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It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. (1.1)

We think it's a big deal that this is the first sentence of the novel. Seriously, talk about setting the stage: the dangers of the wilderness are established as an incredibly important component of warfare… and possibly more dangerous.

Not so, however, with the besieged. Animated by the words, and stimulated by the examples of their leaders, they had found their courage, and maintained their ancient reputation, with a zeal that did justice to the stern character of their commander. (15.2)

Here's everything you need to be a good leader: you need to make skillful, stirring speeches, be brave, be zealous, and be stern. Bingo! Do all that, and you'll be as good as Munro.

As if satisfied with the toil of marching through the wilderness to encounter his enemy, the French general, though of approved skill, had neglected to seize the adjacent mountains; whence the besieged might have been exterminated with impunity, and which, in the more modern warfare of the country, would not have been neglected for a single hour. (15.2)

…And here's what not to do. General Montcalm is not very good at this war business: he doesn't double-check surrounding areas for enemies (c'mon, Monty: that's War 101) or secure them as his own.

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 last phrase of the passage reminds us that the Europeans are following orders from the "distant monarchs of Europe." This passage illustrates that the stresses of the forest bring out the fact that the war being fought is kind of ridiculous and abstract—the soldiers' puppet strings are being held by a couple of old farts wearing crowns a whole ocean away.

"Not a warrior has a scalp, and the pale faces make friends!" (17.17)

Here we see that the motivations for the massacre are, essentially, Native American discontent with the terms of the truce. Yup: this novel shows us one of many (many, many) examples of white settlers screwing over Native Americans.

As he mused he became keenly sensible of the deep responsibility they assume who disregard the means to attain the end, and of all the danger of setting in motion an engine which it exceeds human power to control. (17.35)

Montcalm could not have prevented the massacre at Fort William Henry once he chose to ally himself with Native American tribes. It's also a bigger lesson of not starting something you don't know how to end.

Then that success, which was already so well known, was officially announced; the favored band who were selected to guard the gates of the fort were detailed, and defiled before their chief; the signal of their approach was given, and all the usual preparations for a change of masters were ordered and executed directly under the guns of the contested works. (17.36)

This description of the fort's changeover from the English to the French depicts a well-ordered and civilized process. This sets the reader up for the contrast of the wild and savage bloodbath of the massacre, and supports the notion that the essential divisions in the novel are racial (white v. Indian) rather than national (French v. English).

"To-day I am only a soldier, Major Heyward," said the veteran. "All that you see here, claim alike to be my children." (17.43)

Why is Munro suddenly so apathetic about the fate of his children on the eve of their departure from Fort William Henry? What does it mean that he says that all the inhabitants of the fort are his children, or that "today he is only a soldier"?

The flow of blood might be likened to the outbreaking of a torrent; and as the natives became heated and maddened by the sight, many among them even kneeled to the earth, and drank freely, exultingly, hellishly, of the crimson tide. (17.70)

Bloodlust, eww. Here the Native Americans are portrayed as bloodthirsty savages, which appears to be a recurring trend throughout the novel (and, frankly, throughout all of Westward expansion).

"That would have been an abuse of our treaties." (19.47)

Despite being deep in the wilderness and surrounded by enemies, Heyward still wishes to adhere to strict military protocol regarding treaties. Heyworth is basically a goober.

"You may here see the philosophy of an Indian fight. It consists mainly, in a ready hand, a quick eye and a good cover. Now, if you had a company of the Royal Americans here, in what manner would you set them to work in this business?"

"The bayonet would make a road."

"Ay, there is white reason in what you say; but a man must ask himself, in this wilderness, how many lives he can spare. No—horse," continued the scout, shaking his head, like one who mused; "horse, I am ashamed to say, must sooner or later decide these scrimmages." (32.30-32.32)

Hawkeye pauses in the middle of the fight to offer a military analysis, arguing that the use of horses will turn the tide of battle in European favor. Hawkeye is one clever dude; he knows military tactics better than ol' bland-as-bread Heyworth.

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