Study Guide

Last of the Mohicans Wisdom and Knowledge

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Wisdom and Knowledge

"I am no scholar, and I care not who knows it; but, judging from what I have seen, at deer chases and squirrel hunts, of the sparks below, I should think a rifle in the hands of their grandfathers was not so dangerous as a hickory bow and a good flint-head might be, if drawn with Indian judgment, and sent by an Indian eye." (3.7)

Hawkeye does not hide his lack of book learning; he takes pride in being intelligent in other ways. He exemplifies the difference between "book smarts" and other kinds of intelligence.

"I am willing to own that my people have many ways, of which, as an honest man, I can't approve. It is one of their customs to write in books what they have done and seen, instead of telling them in their villages, where the lie can be given to the face of a cowardly boaster, and the brave soldier can call on his comrades to witness for the truth of his words. In consequence of this bad fashion, a man, who is too conscientious to misspend his days among the women, in learning the names of black marks, may never hear of the deeds of his fathers, nor feel a pride in striving to outdo them." (3.9)

Hawkeye finds formal education foolish. One of the reasons he thinks activities like reading and writing are invaluable is that the written word has no accountability and that reading is a way of distancing yourself from your community.

"Even so; sucking babes are not more dependent on those who guide them than we who are of larger growth, and who may now be said to possess the stature without the knowledge of men." (4.5)

Heyward argues that knowledge of the forest is incredibly important—without it even grown men are reduced to the helplessness of babies. Being lost is a great equalizer: you can be a Nobel Prize-winning genius, but you're still out of luck if you're lost in the wilderness.

"Wisdom is sometimes given to the young, as well as to the old," he said; "and what you have spoken is wise, not to call it by a better word." (8.46)

Here Hawkeye acknowledges Cora's wisdom. He also states that wisdom is inherent, rather than learned. In Hawkeye's view, you can be young and wise… or you can be an old, well-read professor and still be totally foolish.

"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 totally impractical.

"There goes Uncas!" said the scout; "the boy bears a smart piece! I know its crack, as well as a father knows the language of his child, for I carried the gun myself until a better offered." 19.30)

Here is yet another exhibition of Hawkeye's frontier skillz. His senses are super-powered: he can tell what gun has been fired by the sound it makes as it's fired.

"It would have been more wonderful had he spoken without a bidding. No, no; your young white, who gathers his learning from books and can measure what he knows by the page, may conceit that his knowledge, like his legs, outruns that of his fathers', but, where experience is the master, the scholar is made to know the value of years, and respects them accordingly." (21.10)

Here Hawkeye is expressing Native belief that experience and age are to be more respected than greater learning. Wait, but how does this jibe with what he said about Cora being wise even though she's young?

"You will have occasion for your best manhood, and for a sharper wit than what is to be gathered in books, afore you outdo the cunning or get the better of the courage of a Mingo. God bless you! if the Hurons master your scalp, rely on the promise of one who has two stout warriors to back him. They shall pay for their victory, with a life for every hair it holds. I say, young gentleman, may Providence bless your undertaking, which is altogether for good; and, remember, that to outwit the knaves it is lawful to practise things that may not be naturally the gift of a white-skin." (22.62)

Here Hawkeye calls for Duncan to use all the cunning he can bring to the situation. Cunning and cleverness is portrayed as way more useful than studied military tactics or having read the complete works of Shakespeare.

"I should be but a poor scholar for one who has studied so long in the wilderness, did I not know how to set forth the movements or natur' of such a beast." (25.18)

Here Hawkeye is again referring to the wilderness as his teacher. Hawkeye is a total Wilderness Teacher's pet.

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