The Last of the Mohicans - Maxicours

The Last of the Mohicans

Objectif

Découvrir un aspect de la notion « Territoire et mémoire ».

Points clés
  • The Last of the Mohicans est un roman historique écrit par James Fenimore Cooper en 1826.
  • Fenimore Cooper romance la Guerre de la Conquête (1754–1763) qui oppose les colons britanniques et les colons français.
  • Ce roman permet de comprendre les modes de vies et coutumes des tribus amérindiennes au XVIIIe siècle. The Last of the Mohicans romance l’histoire de ces différents peuples et leur rend hommage.
Pour bien comprendre

L'histoire des États-Unis

1. Introduction

Before being a film in 1992, The Last of the Mohicans was a book by Fenimore Cooper published in 1826. Though it is a story set in 1757 in the Adirondack mountains (Northeastern United States) during the French and Indian war, it is also a love story between two English girls and two American Indians and the difficulties of overcoming racial differences. Indeed, throughout his novel, Cooper explains that such love is both dangerous and tempting.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) was an American writer of the first half of the 19th century.
He wrote numerous stories, and his best-known works are five historical novels dealing with the frontier period. But his most famous work is of course The Last of the Mohicans.
2. War and love
a. The French and Indian war

The French and Indian war lasted from 1754 to 1763. It opposed the colonies of British America, located in the northeastern part of America, to those of New France, situated in Canada. Both sides, helped by some Native Americans tribes, fought to conquer more land and the disputed areas were Acadia and the Great Lakes Region (Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario and Lake Superior).

In the book, Cooper organised Indians into two well-defined camps:

  • pro-Anglo-American Algonquin speakers (Delawares, Mohicans, etc.)
  • and pro-French Iroquoian speakers (Huron, Iroquois, etc.).
b. Love and treason

When the story begins, Major Duncan Heyward is asked to escort Colonel Munro’s two daughters, Cora and Alice, from Albany to Fort William Henry in the Adirondack Mountains, where their father is waiting for them. Heyward is in love with Cora, whose mother was part black.

Their guide is a Huron Indian (pro-French), Magua, who soon leads the party into an ambush. But the trap fails as a group of Mohicans led by chief Chingachgook, Uncas (Chingachgook’s son) and Hawkeye (Chingachgook’s adopted son) rescues them and finally escorts them to Fort William Henry, besieged by the French and their Huron allies. During the attack, all the traitors are killed, except Magua who manages to escape.

Soon after, Cora falls in love with Uncas and explains to major Heyward that she will not marry him. Though the situation is desperate, they manage to enter the fort. However they will have to leave it with honor a few days later after French general Joseph-Louis de Montcalm tells them that no soldiers will come and help them. Magua is furious at this decision and decides to kill the British soldiers with the help of his own tribe.

c. The battles

During the battle of Fort William Henry, Munro is killed by Magua but Heyward, Alice and Cora are saved by Chingachgook, Uncas and Hawkeye. But not for long. Indeed, Magua will capture the major and the women. Back to his settlement, it is decided that Heyward can leave but Cora must be burned alive. As far as she is concerned, Alice will have to marry Magua. Hawkeye arrives at the settlement and offers to take Cora’s place. Heyward says he will take Cora’s place and while he is at the stake, Hawkeye shoots him to end his suffering. Then, he and Cora leave the settlement to free Alice.

Another battle starts. Uncas, Chingachgook’s son is killed by Magua whereas Cora decides to commit suicide by stepping off a cliff rather than stay with Magua. Eventually Chingachgook kills Magua and avenges his son, the last of the Mohicans.

Of course, Uncas was not the last of the Mohicans since some Mohicans still exist today.

3. The book as a trace of the past

Though the story is based on real facts (the war between the English and the French, the Native Americans as allies of both camps), fiction occupies a large part of the novel. But this is most common when one decides to write about history.

What we must remember about this book is that the American Indians who lived on the American soil before the Whites arrived must not be forgotten. They had a culture, a way of living and customs which made them people who lived their own ways but who do not anymore nowadays.

Fortunately, books are there to remind us of the past. In that sense, James Fenimore Cooper paid a large tribute to the Mohicans by telling us who they were and what they did when he wrote this magnificent story.

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