The Deerslayer By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapters 27-28

Summary

The Mingos are both surprised and admiring that Deerslayer has returned at the exact time he promised. But there is also a division on strategy among the Indians. Some of the Mingos had insisted that he would never honor his pledge to come back, and this quarrel had divided the tribe into factions. When Deerslayer appears, the chiefs are so impressed by his courage and honor that they want him to become a member of the Mingo nation. Rivenoak offers Deerslayer the chance to right a past wrong: He can marry Le Sumac, widow of the warrior whom Deerslayer killed on his "first warpath." The Panther, Le Sumac's brother, is against any such compromise, and he demands torture and death for Deerslayer.

Deerslayer, however, solves the problem: He refuses to marry Le Sumac because such a union would violate his code as a white man and also betray his Christian beliefs. The Panther, infuriated at this additional insult, hurls his tomahawk at Deerslayer; but the latter stretches forth his arm and seizes the weapon. His eye kindles and he hurls the weapon back. The Panther is fatally struck between the eyes. Deerslayer then runs away and gains a fast start because the Mingos are stunned by the sudden actions of their prisoner and by the Panther's death. If he is to avoid encirclement by typical Mingo tactics, Deerslayer knows that he must follow a straight path to the lake.

Hiding under a fallen tree until the pursuing warriors have run past him, Deerslayer then heads directly for the lake and the canoe. Luck turns against him because some Mingos see him. Deerslayer reaches the canoe, but he discovers that the paddles have been removed by the savages. Nevertheless, he jumps into the canoe after giving it a vigorous push. He trusts to the wind and the current to take him out of range because the Mingos, firing at him, compel Deerslayer to remain under cover. Unable to see because of his concealment, Deerslayer thinks that the canoe is moving away from land.

Having remained in the canoe about 20 minutes, Deerslayer is alarmed to see leaves above his head. He jumps up and finds himself facing Rivenoak. The canoe, trapped by the mysterious currents of Glimmerglass, has drifted back to shore. Once more a prisoner, Deerslayer is now resigned to his fate. Rivenoak, however, again tries to persuade Deerslayer to join the Mingos as an honorable member of the tribe. After Deerslayer's refusal, the Indians tie him to a tree in preparation for the torture prior to death.

Hetty, appearing with her Bible, innocently speaks to Deerslayer about the evil of killing the Panther and advocates that he should perhaps marry Le Sumac. But Deerslayer refuses to abide by Hetty's solution. Le Sumac, persuaded by some of the Mingos to appeal to the captive's sense of justice, comes and begs Deerslayer to help assume the responsibilities of raising her children. Deerslayer's rejection of this proposal infuriates Le Sumac, and she angrily wrenches out two or three handfuls of his hair. Having no choice, Rivenoak orders that the torture of Deerslayer should begin immediately.

Analysis

Cooper's basic technique in these two chapters is again the escape-pursuit-capture formula. Deerslayer, although he is stoical after returning to captivity, is nevertheless committed psychologically not to death but to life. He has also heroically concealed his wish to live from his companions on the ark in order to lift their spirits and to prevent them from uselessly endeavoring to save him. But "the instinct of life triumphed," in Cooper's words, and Deerslayer is eager to avoid torture and death. Indeed, this effort, according to the Indian code, is considered as a sign of manliness, bravery, and the mark of a great warrior, after Deerslayer's redemption of his pledge to return. Here, then, are two simultaneous examples of the code for the Indians and the white men, and recognition on each side of the other's views is indicated by the author. Deerslayer and the Mingos, because of this mutual respect, could live in peace. Rivenoak, though frustrated in his desire for Deerslayer's admission to the tribe, is a symbol of this possibility for the peaceful coexistence of both races on the American continent.

Deerslayer's adventures are equally balanced by fortunate and unfortunate occurrences so that the quality of verisimilitude is basically preserved. It is true that he is extraordinarily skilled and lucky in seizing the Panther's tomahawk and hurling it back so accurately. But, of course, Deerslayer is an epic hero, capable of outstanding deeds. Balance is, however, maintained about Deerslayer's fortunes: he escapes but many Indians chase him; he avoids them initially but they eventually catch a glimpse of him; he arrives at the canoe but the paddles are missing; he shoves the canoe from the shore but the boat is forced back to land. All these balancing features add to the suspense, and they contribute importantly to the dynamic quality of these chapters.

Deerslayer has killed a second Indian; and the action, while in self-defense as in the previous episode, has caused no pensive, introspective reactions on the hero's part this time. Cooper could have mentioned Deerslayer's thoughts about the Panther's death by means of a soliloquy (a favorite method of the author in revealing the hero's moods) during the period he was hiding from the Mingos. Deerslayer has now passed his trial by fire; he has killed in battle and he has accepted violence (and death) as facts of frontier life. For example, he defends without hesitation his attack on the Panther when Hetty objects on the grounds that the Bible says, "Thou shalt not kill." Deerslayer, secure in his Christian faith, can nevertheless argue forcefully that a literal interpretation of this commandment would lead to "an onsartain life." This uncertain life would be the consequence of going against nature: the desire to live and to defend oneself as Deerslayer demonstrated in his recent escape attempt.

The mixture of idealism, nobility, and honor with a strong sense of realism and practicality is likewise noted in Deerslayer's opinions about the relations between the Indian and white races. If, as Deerslayer and Rivenoak especially symbolize, a modus vivendi might be established between the opposing factions by reason of each one's acceptance of different codes, the differences, irreconcilable and beyond compromise, must be accepted by both parties. There exists a natural barrier which prevents certain crossings of lines. For example, Deerslayer states his proposition to Hetty and Rivenoak as explanatory of his refusal to marry Le Sumac. Abandonment of one tradition for acceptance of another is impossible. Cooper chooses the specific issue of intermarriage to illustrate this thesis. It should be remembered that Cooper's ideas were tolerant and liberal for an age when the white men were poised for the conquest of the West and the almost total annihilation of the Indians. Cooper seeks fundamentally a compromise between hatred of the races leading to conflict and extermination, and the illusory quest for perfect harmony. He is, then, a realist and yet an idealist in his anguish about the development of the American frontier.

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