The Last of the Mohicans By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapter 16

Summary

Back inside the fort, Heyward finds Munro with Alice running her fingers through his hair while Cora looks on with amusement. The girls exit and Munro, refusing to talk of Montcalm, reverts to something Heyward had said when he first arrived five days earlier. He is very upset when he learns that the major had thought of proposing to Alice instead of Cora. He tells how, years before, he had gone to the West Indies and married a woman who was part black and who became the mother of Cora. Hence, because Heyward was born in the South, he thinks he is prejudiced though the young man denies it, having in truth known nothing of the situation. The commander continues telling how, after the woman's death, he returned to Scotland and married his first love, who died in giving birth to Alice. Munro is so distressed that Heyward says nothing until Montcalm's message is demanded of him.

They leave together for a parley with the French general, Heyward serving as interpreter. Montcalm reveals the letter in which Webb advises a speedy surrender of the fort. When the Frenchman explains his generous terms — the English are to keep their colors, their arms, their baggage, their honor — Munro accepts, though a permanent, progressive change in him begins immediately as he leaves Heyward behind to settle things with the French.

Analysis

While the surrender of the fort is important in terms of plot, Munro's revelation about Cora is more important for thematic purposes. It is to Cooper's credit as a writer that he has presented Cora well enough that the revelation comes to the reader in terms of recognition rather than surprise. Cora's black hair and slightly dark complexion, obvious all along, are the result of a racial intermixture on another frontier. Perhaps the anguish she showed earlier in the afternoon derived from the fact that Munro had misinformed her about Heyward's intentions, that she knew or was then told of her birth, and that she felt certain Heyward's interest was in Alice. Probably the fact of her condition or the knowledge of it has made her the calm, strong, enduring girl that she is. In any event, Munro was and is above prejudice and inveighs against the practice of slavery. On the other hand, Heyward, though he retains the highest regard for Cora, is rather glad that his attentions are toward Alice. Here at mid-novel, miscegenation rises to plain view and, though at times dormant, will give an underlying sense of pathos to the remainder of the story.

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