James Fenimore Cooper

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  • Topic: James Fenimore Cooper, Romanticism, The Last of the Mohicans
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  • Published : January 24, 2012
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Connor Roche
Research Paper

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER

James Fenimore Cooper was an important literary figure of the 1800s, best known for his novels. He is perhaps most noted for his greatest work of literature: The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757, a tale that chronicles the journey of several English people and a few Native Americans during the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Days War. Cooper’s work on this novel and others such as The Prairie reflects his different approach regarding certain commonly held ideas of the time. This was especially true concerning the present-day views most people had about Native Americans. However, Cooper’s work also reflected his compliance with the most popular fine arts movement of his time: Romanticism.

To completely grasp the scope of Cooper’s writing, some background on Cooper’s life, and the social customs and ideas of his time are necessary. Cooper was born on September 15, 1789 to Elizabeth Fenimore and William Cooper, the founder of the city of Cooperstown, NY. After expulsion from Yale College, Cooper pursued a career as a sailor on a merchant ship, traveling as far as the Strait of Gibraltar. Following this was a brief stint in the United States Navy, followed by farming. During his expeditions at sea, James Cooper seriously considered becoming a writer. In fact, most of his stories tell tales of sailors and sea trips, inspired by his own days on the water (Literature Network).

At the time of Cooper’s writing, Native Americans were often held in contempt, mistreated, and oppressed. This had been a common aspect of society since the days of Columbus’ first expeditions to the Americas (Cassutto). The Native Americans were regarded with prejudice, hatred, and most of all fear, as is present when experiencing any unknown thing. Often times, brutal massacres were carried out, killing hundreds of innocent Native Americans.

Cooper attempted to change such ideas through the relationships established between characters in his books, as is best shown by The Last of the Mohicans. This book was actually the second (and best known) in a series of five “Leatherstocking Tales” In this story, the two of the main characters are a white man named Natty Bumppo and a Native American named Uncas, who is the titular “Last of the Mohicans”. These two men, though they were from completely different backgrounds, form a very close bond, and show that interracial cooperation is extremely plausible, and actually useful. Furthermore, Natty Bumppo goes as far as adopting a Native American name, Hawkeye, to show that he truly could blend in with the Native Americans and act peacefully with them.

The actual story takes place during the French and Indian War, about 30 years before Cooper was born. Though the war is named after two groups, the actual struggle was part of a huge conflict between several nations, including Austria, England, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Sweden. In the American colonies, the war resulted from excessive pressure from the British for additional resource collection and production. This resulted in higher taxes, more strenuous work, etc. During the war in the colonies, the Native Americans (Indians) faced the French, who, allied with the British, extended the war for seven years.

Considering the effects that the events of the time period would have had on the people, the works of James Fenimore Cooper could even be considered revolutionary. Despite the heavy racism of the time, Cooper stressed the importance and possibility of interracial cooperation, and even seemed to promote it. In other words, he was not afraid to change the stereotype and provide an alternate view of Native Americans.

However, as with all situations, James Fenimore Cooper also provides a negative, more foreboding side to the relationship between different cultures. Specifically, he seems to promote friendship and brotherhood, but strongly warns against...
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