The Deerslayer By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapters 5-6

Summary

Tom Hutter correctly analyzes the favorable situation of the ark: The Mingos cannot attack without boats, and he knows the location of the three canoes, hidden along the shore. Also, the Indians, even if they obtain boats, would be observed as they approached the ark. However, Hurry Harry and Floating Tom make plans to raid the Indian encampment. Their motive is greed because they cunningly believe that women and children will provide easy scalps which they can sell to the authorities for the bounties. Deerslayer and Hutter's two daughters argue on moral grounds against any such raiding party, but their pleas are to no avail. Although Natty refuses to take part in the expedition, he offers to remain on the ark to defend the girls. Hetty learns to her dismay that her father has promised Judith as Hurry's wife in return for the help he can give in this raid. Tom is momentarily disturbed by the sad realization that Hetty loves Hurry. Judith and Natty, after conversing together, respect each other's views more; and Judith is evidently falling in love with Deerslayer.

After arriving at the castle, the men discuss the proper line of defense against the Indians. Deerslayer's view is accepted that the Mingos should not be underestimated, and they decide to recover the canoes hidden along the shores. In the darkness of night, the three men set out in one canoe and find the other canoes without any trouble. The sight of a campfire inspires Hurry Harry and Tom Hutter to attack the Indians because they realize that warriors would not be so careless. Only women and children, then, are in the camp: easy scalps for the two marauders. Deerslayer, of course, refuses to accompany his two companions and warns them of the possible dangers they face. Greed overcomes their sense of caution, and they take one of the canoes back to the shore. Deerslayer waits in another canoe offshore until the call of a loon alerts him to trouble. Then he hears another cry — this time a shriek of agony. The Mingos have ambushed the two white men, who are desperately attempting to retreat to the safety of the lake.

Deerslayer struggles with this dilemma: Should he risk capture and leave the girls unguarded to save his comrades, or should he remain in his secure position? Events solve the problem for him because the two white men are soon overpowered by the Mingos. In fact, they shout at him to return immediately to the security of the castle. After paddling in the direction of Muskrat Castle, Deerslayer goes to sleep because the canoe is being carried by the current to the castle.

Analysis

Although there is no action in Chapter 5, the groundwork is prepared for a battle between the white men and the Mingos. Once more Deerslayer strongly opposes the cruelty and rapaciousness not only of Hurry Harry and Floating Tom but of the white men who, in general, have exploited the Indians. Against the opinions of the other two men, he stresses that scalping is no crime, no moral offense, among the Indians because it is part of their code, or "gifts." Christianity and humanitarianism, attributes of white civilization, forbid such conduct and therefore do not condone scalping. Hetty's pleas, simple and innocent, add to Deerslayer's arguments; and Judith's more biting remarks about the planned expedition result in an alliance of Natty and the two daughters. Although both girls argue against scalping, their speeches contrast sharply because of the intellectual levels they represent. The contrast is also between good and evil, with Deerslayer, Judith, and Hetty symbolizing the Christian morality, and Hurry Harry and Tom Hutter expressing the materialistic brutality of the frontier.

A new element around the theme of love has been introduced by the revelation that Hetty loves Hurry Harry. He, of course, has no knowledge of this devotion but continues to pursue Judith — his price for accompanying Floating Tom. Hurry is, however, aware that Judith is now interested in Deerslayer. Judith, although she wins Deerslayer's friendship and allegiance, is saddened by his knowledge of what Hurry has said about her.

Glimmerglass is never absent as an integral part of Cooper's romance, and these two Chapters offer an interesting and different use of the lake. In Chapter 5, Cooper contrasts the beautiful, placid features of Glimmerglass with the strife and lack of harmony in the affairs of men, exemplified in Floating Tom and Hurry Harry. In Chapter 6, the lake ceases to be a motive for the author's moralizing and philosophical reflections and becomes instead the center of the action. This chapter is, in fact, one of the exciting and dynamic chapters in The Deerslayer; and there are few introspective passages as in the previous chapter. The entire setting and atmosphere lend suspense, fear, and terror to the villainous and unsuccessful raid of the two white men. The effects of night on the silent lake are the principal ingredients of Cooper's descriptive technique. He utilizes the "pursuit and pursuer" theme again, but in this chapter the escape of the pair is a failure. Indeed, for Deerslayer events have taken a completely different and disastrous turn. He, alone, faces the Mingos; the two men are prisoners; and the girls are defenseless.

But Cooper is still the moralist. The capture of Hurry Harry and Floating Tom is the result of their lawlessness. Their violation of the moral and ethical code of the Christian religion, as well as the spirit of the white race, has not gone unpunished. Deerslayer and the two girls warned of such punishment if the attempted murder of women and children were undertaken. Cooper so skillfully develops this aspect of the plot that one cannot sympathize much with the two raiders. Their predicament is hard but just, and the reader's concern is directed toward the hero and Hutter's daughters.

Cooper does, however, indicate by some clues the trend of future developments: the mention of Killdeer, Hutter's gun; Hurry Harry's suspicions about Floating Tom's nautical knowledge; and the various references to the chest in Muskrat Castle. Irony is likewise noted in Deerslayer's decision to sleep as the canoe drifts peacefully toward the castle, a surprising action after the excitement of the night on Glimmerglass.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Although The Deerslayer was the last of the Natty Bumppo novels to be written, it appears __________ based on Natty's chronological age.




Quiz