The Deerslayer By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapters 7-8

Summary

Deerslayer awakens to discover that his calculations about the current of Glimmerglass and the effect of the wind have been very inaccurate: One canoe has drifted toward the shore and is soon grounded on a small sunken rock a few yards from land. Although he feels that the Mingos cannot be far away, Deerslayer must take a chance and get the canoe. He is almost ashore when an Indian shoots, and Deerslayer narrowly escapes being hit. The advantage is now his, but Natty cannot shoot an enemy unless both have a fair and equal chance to defend or to attack. Reaching the beached canoe, Deerslayer challenges his opponent to an honorable confrontation. Startled and bewildered by this unusual action, the Mingo argues with the white man about the possession of the canoe. Natty states directly that the canoe belongs to Hutter, and the Indian apparently accepts this explanation. Deerslayer, happening to glance backward as he prepares to depart, sees the Indian preparing to shoot him. Natty fires quickly, and two shots are heard simultaneously. Rushing at Deerslayer, the Mingo hurls his tomahawk which the former adroitly catches; and the savage, wounded fatally by the bullet, falls at Natty's feet. Deerslayer brings the dying Indian to the lake for water which the Indian has requested. He also arranges the savage in a comfortable position and does not scalp his fallen foe. Sighting another Indian and hearing shouts of others compel Deerslayer to flee from the scene of his "first warpath."

In the canoe, he notices that one of the other boats is behaving very strangely by not following the direction of the current and the wind and is heading toward land. Suddenly realizing that another Mingo must be hidden in the wayward canoe and rowing silently, Deerslayer directs his own canoe toward the errant boat and gives the Indian a chance to leap into the lake. Natty cannot honorably shoot the savage because he has deduced that the Indian must be unarmed. As the sunrise begins to flood the whole expanse of Glimmerglass, Deerslayer returns to the castle where Judith and Hetty are waiting anxiously for him after the terrible disaster of the night. For the first time, Deerslayer is moved by the radiant beauty of Judith.

Deerslayer tells the two girl s what has happened to their father and Hurry Harry. He cautions them to be patient until Chingachgook arrives this evening because there will then be one more defender of the ark and castle. Although reluctant to discuss his mission with Chingachgook, Natty later explains to the girls his reason for being at the lake. Chingachgook (Big Sarpent) is in love with Wah-ta!-Wah (Hist-oh!-Hist), who has been kidnapped by the Mingos, aided by the traitorous Delaware, Briarthorn (Yocommon).

The time for the rendezvous nears and Deerslayer, Judith, and Hetty take the ark on a zigzag course along the lake in order to confuse and tire the Indians who are undoubtedly trying to follow their movements. Luck is with them, and they arrive at the rock close to the agreed time.

Analysis

The seventh chapter provides Deerslayer with the critical test of his courage, and he comes rightly into his own as the hero of Cooper's romance. Natty Bumppo, for the first time, kills an Indian — a fellow human being. "Such was the commencement of a career in forest exploits," writes Cooper, "that afterward rendered this man, in his way, and under the limits of his habits and opportunities, as renowned as many a hero whose name has adorned the pages of works more celebrated than legends simple as ours can ever become." Natty has, until now, proved his worth in the councils of war and discussions with the Hutters and Hurry Harry, but he must reply to the latter's doubts about his ability to resort to violence when necessary.

Two characteristics emerge in Natty's trial: the chivalric or medieval ideal, set in the American forest, and the Christian training he has received during his youth. Natty truly stands out as an epic hero of the American tradition, comparable to such legendary figures as Roland during the Middle Ages. Natty is like a knight who, since he has taken the oath of service and devotion, conducts himself generously. The Mingo, for example, cannot fathom such behavior, especially in a white man. Hurry and Tom would certainly not have been so chivalrous; Deerslayer is a sharp contrast to his comrades on this "first warpath." This knightly code is, however, implied rather than directly stated in the chapter; it is the critical interpretation of Cooper's romanticism.

Natty's Christianity, however, is clearly indicated by the whole attitude of the hero before and after the death of the Mingo. These beliefs, centering principally in the defense of "gifts," have of course entered into previous discussions. just as Hawkeye (the dying savage prefers this title to "Deerslayer") has theoretically defended his behavior in battle and now meets the test directly, the Christian ideals must be put into practice. Ironically, the Mingo is unable to understand these values of his conqueror. Cooper, thus, introduces a theme he will develop in later chapters: how can the lessons of Christianity be of any use in the primitive land of America and among the Mingos or other savages?

The mortally wounded Indian is nevertheless a knight of the woods, and in the same fashion as Deerslayer adheres to his code of chivalry. When Natty hails him, the Indian makes "a gesture of lofty courtesy," and, when he is dying he assumes "the high innate courtesy that so often distinguishes the Indian warrior." Cooper's popularity abroad was due in great part to this flattering, idealized portrait of the Indians as noble savages and knights of the forest. Cooper likewise mentions another preoccupation about this confrontation between two civilizations: Each is chivalric according to its "gifts," but corruption comes from contact with circumstances and financial opportunities. Another explanation of Natty's "gifts" is the fact that he represents the white race not as superior to the Indians but as adhering to different standards. "White I was born," says Deerslayer to himself, "and white will I die, clinging to color to the last."

The plot slows noticeably in Chapter 8 as Deerslayer prepares for the meeting with Chingachgook. However, the explanation and discussions highlight various aspects of the plot: Deerslayer's mission, the arrival of an additional fighter against the besieging Mingos, the mystery of the chest, and the determination of the refugees on the lake to resist the Indians. Also, clues are provided about coming events. For example, an indication about Deerslayer's future fate in the romance is seen in Judith's remark that "men taken in open strife are seldom injured — not, at least, until the time of torture comes." Judith likewise begins to express more openly her feelings of love for Deerslayer. When she asks the young man where his sweetheart is, Natty answers that "she's in the forest, Judith . . . and in all the other glorious gifts that come from God's Providence." This immediate response of Deerslayer is another clue to an important decision he will make in the last chapter.

Deerslayer introduces another important concept when he starts to warn of "sarcumventions" as characteristic of a dishonorable opponent. These circumventions will be a partial explanation of the Indians' behavior — and likewise of some of the white men — against which Deerslayer will oppose his own chivalric and Christian code. "When you have to deal with an Injin, you must calculate and manage," Deerslayer concludes, "for a red natur' dearly likes sarcumvention." Deerslayer's language reflects increasingly the pioneer speech of his environment and his lack of a formal education.

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




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