The Last of the Mohicans By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapter 12

Summary

Since the Indians' rifles have been placed to the side, Hawkeye has found his, loaded it, and fired it. He and the Mohicans advance to hand-to-hand combat, Uncas jumping protectively in front of Cora and saving her a moment later by killing an Indian whose tomahawk has cut her bonds. Soon all the Hurons are dead except Magua, who is fighting with Chingachgook. The villain feigns death and escapes before Hawkeye can brain him with the butt of his rifle.

Chingachgook scalps the dead while Uncas and Heyward assist the females and Hawkeye releases Gamut. The scout advises the singing master to give up his "little tooting instrument" for a useful weapon, and Gamut counters by arguing the fatality of Calvinistic doctrine found in books. Completely the practical man, Hawkeye disdainfully says that the only book worth reading is nature. Gamut's response is to sing a song, but Hawkeye common-sensically reloads his rifle and sees that everyone is armed. Then they start their journey with the girls riding the Narragansets.

They very shortly stop and clear the leaves and clay from a hidden mineral spring, and Hawkeye tells how the three of them, sagaciously aided by Uncas, had tracked the Hurons for twenty miles. After a simple cooked meal, they proceed towards the north where Fort William Henry lies.

Analysis

This is another bloody chapter, but its thematic significance is in the views of Gamut and Hawkeye. At first the psalmodist seems to have learned nothing from his recent experiences, yet it is notable that, whereas before he has done little more than sing and mouth religious platitudes, he now turns to doctrine and argument as if he must go deeper into his beliefs to convince Hawkeye and perhaps himself. Although in this instance the Yankee's singing is a retreat as the scout gets the better of the discussion, Cooper gives Gamut his due as a folklore figure, "a minstrel of the western continent . . . after the spirit of his own age and country."

Hawkeye says that the recent action "was all foreordered, and for the best." But he will admit such only after events have actually occurred, not beforehand as Gamut's Calvinistic predestination insists upon. As something of a deist, he reads God in nature: "I know not but man may so deform his works in the settlement, as to leave that which is so clear in the wilderness a matter of doubt among traders and priests." A few minutes later talking about the unusual way the Narragansets have been trained to walk, he comments that "natur' is sadly abused by man, when he once gets the mastery." His point is that people should not seek absolute mastery and try to rival God. Highly pragmatic, he finds that the greatest lesson taught by nature is humility. He is the noble, self-outcast frontiersman who has turned his back on the settlement to seek, as a thinking man, the freedom and simplicity of natural morality; and he prefers this even though (perhaps even because) it entails danger and killing.

Since Cooper is developing some interest between Uncas and Cora, just before mid-chapter he carefully presents Uncas as showing "a sympathy that elevated him far above the intelligence, and advanced him probably centuries before the practices of his nation." Though he will not fully allow it later, Cooper is presently trying to make their mutual interest acceptable and believable.

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