December 1, 2014
Stereotypes and Stereotyping of Native Americans in The Last of the Mohicans Native Americans were part of this country long before our founding forefathers. They were the people that Christopher Columbus found inhabiting this land. There is even evidence to show that they have been on the American continents for thousands and even tens of thousands of years. Yet, somehow the European powers dominated these people, forcing them from their land to make it “ours.” In the early part of the twentieth century, a new industry began to develop; we call it the film industry. Along with the industry came movies that were made and are still made for the amusement of a mass audience. Some flaws did come with this industry, and among them was the depiction of Native Americans. “Anonymity is a feature of the Indian portrayed in film…many do not have names or speaking parts” (Bataille and Hicks 10). Native Americans often speak with a broken dialect or “baby” English. They are not able to fully understand or express complete thoughts in the English language. This makes them appear to the audience as a lesser character. The second role of Native Americans in film is that of a sidekick or crony of some white hero, like Tonto in The Lone Ranger (1938). In these films “The Native American The Native American was placed into one of the following four roles: the first isthe comedic Indian, the jester of the frontier court. This Indian spoke in simple is clearly secondary in importance” and was never the hero (Crowdus 297). The two most significant roles of the Native American are the bloodthirsty savages and their counterparts the “noble” savages. These two opposite characteristics were adopted from the “images and stereotypes which had already been popularized in fiction and in art was only a continuation of a practice which had already been institutionalized in the root of culture” (Bataille and Hicks 9). Filmmakers showed what they felt had already been conventional to their beliefs about Native Americans. In the film The Last of the Mohicans (1920) these two contrasting roles of Native Americans dominate most of the plot. The fiend is Magua, and the “noble” savage is Uncas. These two roles that are shown of Native Americans have some historical ground, but what makes one side good and the other bad? Is it because that is how society wants to see them? And does the director’s representation of the two sides gain them acceptance in American culture? In the history of America, Native American tribes often became associated with similar tribes with similar beliefs. This is true of the two tribes in The Last of the Mohicans. The Huron, who according to the historical events of Fort William Henry are the Iroquois and the Mohicans are historically associated with the Delaware. The Huron in the various versions of The Last of the Mohicans, come to represent the Iroquois who were allied with the French, and were seen as evil in the eyes of the British. The Mohicans, historically come to represent the noble Delaware, who were allied to the British. These tribes get grouped together, the “Huron [became] condensed into the same entity as Maquas, Mingoes and Mohawks and contrasted with the superior virtue of the Delawares and Mohicans” (Clark 122). These tribes were constantly intermixed throughout History, the Huron and the Mohawks and the Delaware and the Mohicans. They each tended generally to ally with the same European power as the tribe they were confused with. It is these two groups that we see both in history at the fall of Fort William Henry and in the film The Last of the Mohicans (1920). [These vicious savages, as we like to call to call them, are the cannibal, the drunk, and the scalping Indian. They are the ones who paraded around the covered wagons killing, stealing, and burning everything to the ground. The “bad” Indians are creatures that “are...
Cited: Barker, Martin. “First and Last Mohicans.” Sight and Sound 3.8 (1993): 26-29.
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Cameron, Kenneth M. America on Film: Hollywood and American History. New York: Continuum, 1997.
Clark, Robert. “The Last of the Iroquois: History and Myth in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.” Poetics Today 3:4 (1982): 115-34.
Edgerton, Gary. “‘A Breed Apart’: Hollywood, Racial Stereotyping, and the Promise of Revisionism in The Last of the Mohicans.” Journal of American Culture 17.2 (1994): 1-20.
Hall, Stuart. “The Question of Cultural Identity.” Modernity and Its Future. Ed. Stuart Hall, David Held, and Tony McGrew. Cambridge: The Open University, 1992. 273-316.
McWilliams, John. The Last of the Mohicans: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility. New York: Twayne Press, 1995.
Pearce, Roy Harvey. Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind. Los Angeles: University of California UP, 1988.
Rosenstone, Robert A. Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995.
Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Disuniting of America. New York: Norton. 1992.
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