James Fenimore Cooper: An Introduction to Environmental Thought

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During the 19th century, one central idea of concern for many American writers was the identity of the American hero. Of the many writers, James Fenimore Cooper believed that stereotypical American hero should be “nature man,” a man of wilderness. By creating Natty Bumppo, a character who was at one with nature, Cooper tried to shape the readers conceptions of what nature and wilderness meant to them. During this time, Nathaniel Hawthorne created another type of American hero in his short story “, The Birthmark”; Aylmer who was at one with science shaped different conceptions of nature to the readers. By looking at how each man was shaped in his mind by nature, his reaction to the nature, and the consequence of the choice he makes, readers can see why the two American heroes greatly contrasted in shaping readers’ mind about nature.

Since Cooper was a serious nature writer, he was also very interested in writing about frontiers. By setting the characters in the New York wilderness and using the frontier idea as the core of the story, Cooper creates a great American hero type: the wilderness and frontier man. Cooper’s story, The Pioneers takes place at the settlement of Templeton in central New York, some fifty miles west of Albany. Cooper creates his characters and places them at Templeton located in New York’s vast plain to start their own settlement. However, even before all these characters settles in this vast land, there was “a hunter who was among the earliest white settlers on the frontier and was already a kind of relic at the start of the novel” (987); his name is Natty Bumppo who represented a perfect man associated with nature. When Natty was a wilderness scout in the British colony of New York at the time of French and Indian War, he met Chingachgook, a Native American, and this influenced Natty Bumppo a lot as it showed often in his life: his cabin of logs was “built against the foot of a rock, and bearing the marks of a tenant” (991) and when Marmaduke Temple first saw it, he thought it was “supposed to be a habitation of Indians” (992). Also, when Natty first meets Marmaduke, “he made his appearance, staggering under the load of the carcass of a buck that he had slain” (992); this gives an impression of a man, who had lived around in wilderness of woods for a very long time hunting animals. The influence of Indians and the surrounding wilderness of Natty Bumppo shaped him into a man of nature.

Unlike Cooper, Hawthorne was more interested in gender problems, the love between man and woman. He often incorporated science in his stories to conflict a relationship between man and woman; by using this idea in his stories, Hawthorne created a different type of American hero: the man of science. In the story “The Birthmark,” Hawthorne creates Aylmer who is deeply devoted to science. Hawthorne sets story in time during when there was a “discovery of electricity and other kindred mysteries of nature” (1320) that “it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman, in its depth and absorbing energy” (1320); Aylmer is also a victim of this rivalry. He is a scientist who always works with his assistant, Aminidab, in his laboratory. His great studies and works in science even made him make “experience of a spiritual affinity, more attractive than any chemical one” (1320). And even in his youth, “he had made discoveries in the elemental powers of nature, that had roused the admiration of all the learned societies in Europe” (1324). Aylmer is greatly successful in the field of science and the entire world bears witness of it; Aylmer knows his power of science as well. Although Hawthorne says in the story that no one knows “whether Aylmer possessed this degree of faith in man’s ultimate control over nature, he had devoted himself too unreservedly to scientific studies, ever to be weaned from them by any second passion” (1320). As Aylmer gets more deeply devoted into science, whether it is intentional or...
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