The Deerslayer By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapters 29-30

Summary

Tied securely to a tree, Deerslayer is put to the tests of the tomahawk and the rifle. The Mingos aim at him with these respective weapons only to frighten Deerslayer or to graze him slightly. Their real purpose is a test of their own individual skills as warriors, and they also hope to break the prisoner's will by making him flinch. However, Deerslayer's courage and taunting remarks unnerve the Indians.

Hetty interrupts the trial with two pleas: Deerslayer is really the Indians' friend because he refused to accompany Tom Hutter and Hurry Harry on their scalping expeditions and should be therefore released from captivity; or he should be given the chance to engage in a shooting match with the Mingos in a fair contest of skills. Rivenoak gently replies to Hetty that two of his braves are dead because of Deerslayer's "friendship" for the Mingos and that Deerslayer can show how clever he is with bullets by his stance at the stake. In order to hasten the tortures, Rivenoak orders Deerslayer's bonds cut free so that he can betray any movements from fear as weapons are thrown or fired at him. The squaws are allowed to taunt Deerslayer for the purpose of antagonizing him and thus making him nervous. This plan is likewise a failure in reducing Deerslayer to a cowardly state. A lookout alerts the tribe to an unexpected arrival before any further torments can be practiced.

Judith, dressed elegantly in the beautiful clothes and ornaments from Tom Hutter's chest, enters the Indian camp. She pretends to be a very important woman who has troops at her command, and the Mingos are impressed at first by her masquerade. She offers to ransom Deerslayer for the trinkets which previously won the freedom of Tom Hutter and Hurry Harry. Although the Indians are tempted to accept her offer, Rivenoak is not so easily deceived. He calls for Hetty who, in her innocence and simple-mindedness, tells the chief the truth: Judith is her sister and the daughter of Tom Hutter.

Deerslayer thanks Judith for her courageous effort but he concludes that "sarcumventions" do not dupe such astute savages. In fact, Judith is now in mortal danger of being scalped or abducted to live with the Mingos. Rivenoak, impatient to leave the vicinity of Glimmerglass, again orders the torture of Deerslayer to be hastened. A fire is prepared to make Deerslayer show cowardice. Hetty's pleas are to no avail. Hist suddenly appears and accuses one man, Briarthorn, of being a coward and a traitor for having kidnapped her and for leaving the Delawares and joining the Mingos. Hist tries to free Deerslayer by slipping a knife to Hetty, but the latter openly shows the blade as she starts to cut the thongs that bind the prisoner. Chingachgook leaps into the midst of the Mingo camp, and his impressive appearance as a chief startles the Mingos. He dashes to Deerslayer and cuts him free. Briarthorn lunges at the newcomer with a knife, but Hist deflects the blow, and Chingachgook mortally stabs the treacherous Delaware.

Confusion reigns among the Mingos because of these various unexpected events, and the sudden tramping of boots is heard. The soldiers from the garrison, led to the lake by Hurry Harry, take the Mingos by surprise and slaughter the Indians in the ensuing battle.

Analysis

Suspense and melodrama characterize these Chapters in which Deerslayer, after the delay of a furlough and an escape attempt, is confronted with torture and death. Cooper has taken advantage of every character, in addition to the two episodes, to create a more suspenseful and thrilling mood. There is also the reliance upon the psychology of the opponents: how will Deerslayer react as the Mingos devise ways, not to kill him immediately, but to wear down his resistance and to show himself unworthy of their present high respect? Although Cooper has alerted his readers by prior clues that Deerslayer will escape from this ordeal, the question becomes increasingly interesting: how will the author rescue his hero?

Cooper, in "the denouement of our story," as he writes at the end of Chapter 29, uses melodramatic devices, typical of the romantic theater. The exiles on the ark (Judith, Hist, and Chingachgook) make sudden, impressive appearances: Each makes a valiant endeavor to save Deerslayer, is frustrated by the Mingos, and is then superseded by another companion. Ironically, Hurry Harry provides the help by which all the main characters are finally saved. The arrival of the soldiers, though timed at the right psychological moment, is not fortuitous: Hints have been supplied in the familiar Cooper manner at various points in the story about their presence near Glimmerglass, and Hurry Harry was implored to go to the nearby garrison if he eluded the Mingos. In fact, if the soldiers had not arrived on the scene, all the principal actors in the drama — not just Deerslayer — would have been victims of the Indians.

Hetty is the most ineffective of the group in this crisis, and she unwittingly betrays her sister. Hetty's reliance upon her Bible has proved useless in calming the Indians' desire for vengeance, Only their continued belief in the divine protection granted those weak in mind saves Hetty. The only victory achieved by Deerslayer's comrades occurs in the denunciation and death of Briarthorn, the renegade who started the action by bringing Hist against her will to the Mingos.

The defeat of the Indians, though required for the happy solution of the plot, is not looked upon by Cooper as an event to be praised. The Mingos, despite their use of torture and circumventions, have demonstrated that they are also the representatives of a code of honor and loyalty. They lived, fought, and died true to their "gifts," even if many of these traits were repugnant to the white men and to Christianity. However, many of the Indian ideals were equal to the noblest aspects of knightly aspirations. Cooper, therefore, sees in the massacre of the Indians the tragedy, repeated on a large scale, of the conquest and colonization of the New World. He does not exult in the rescue of his protagonists without regretting that he has had to make use of a technical device which is perhaps the most unfavorable side to the history of America concerning the relations between the two races. In this episode, Cooper shows himself more than a storyteller; he reveals himself to have a profound sense of history as he ponders about the impact and consequences of national events.

Deerslayer and Rivenoak are contrasted very sharply in the confrontation as each man — "an oncommon man" — strives to achieve moral superiority over the other. Deerslayer (and Cooper) show great respect for Rivenoak, and the Mingo chief emerges with dignity and honor. Rivenoak represents the most honorable symbol of the Indians just as Deerslayer symbolizes the highest or epical qualities of his race.

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