Summary and Analysis
The forest scene is appealingly peaceful and quiet as Hawkeye leads his men towards the rear, where they halt at a brook and learn that they have been followed by the singing master. Having been reminded of a Biblical battle, Gamut is determined to join forces with the warriors in behalf of Cora. Hawkeye is doubtful even when the singer draws out a sling and picks up rocks for it, but the follower is allowed to continue with them as they proceed down the brook to where it runs into a larger stream near the beaver pond. They are advancing up the new stream when a dozen rifles go off to their rear and one Delaware falls dead.
In the furious battle that ensues, the Hurons fall back until Hawkeye's group is in an unfavorable situation. Fortunately, however, Uncas' forces open fire on the other flank. In the charge and hand-to-hand fighting that follow, the Huron contingent against Hawkeye's men is defeated and put to flight at the same time that Chingachgook and Munro come into the scene. As the rest of the fight comes up the hill toward them, the other Hurons are also put to flight with Magua conspicuously and rapidly retreating to the village. Managing to escape further, he and two fellow warriors dart off and enter the mouth of the cave, followed by Uncas, Hawkeye, Heyward, and Gamut.
The pursuers almost lose sight of the threesome but see the white robe of Cora at the far end of a passage that leads up the mountain. Rashly abandoning their rifles to go faster, Heyward and Uncas take the lead in following the Hurons and their hostage through an opening on the side of the mountain. On a precipice, Cora refuses to go farther. Magua threatens her with a knife but is struggling within himself when one of his fellows stabs her in the bosom. Maddened, Magua springs for the Huron just as Uncas, leaping from a ledge, falls between them and Magua stabs him in the back while he is still prostrate. Arising anyway, the Mohican gathers enough waning strength to kill the murderer of Cora but is himself finished off by three more strokes of Magua's knife.
Heyward is too far away to do more than cry out, but Gamut from above flings a rock against the head of the other Huron and stands a threat to Magua, who leaps a wide fissure. Taunting his pursuers, he takes another leap that will make him safe, but he falls short and grabs a shrub on the verge. He has just gotten his knees on the edge of the mountain when a bullet from Hawkeye's rifle wounds him. There is a moment of suspense while Magua looks defiance at his enemies; then his hold loosens and he falls to his death.
The present action is the climax of the novel. The opposing forces are brought into tragic confrontation, and the final pursuit is ended. Once again, at the beginning of the chapter, Cooper sets up the quiet calm of nature to contrast with the bloody events that follow. By and large, though, Cooper devotes his skill to the exciting action that resolves the plot conflicts.
Among the surviving participants, Gamut's character shows the most development. Hawkeye is still the knowing woodsman, the frontiersman adept at pursuit and battle, but Gamut is finally taking on some of the characteristics of the frontiersman himself. Granted that he is yet the religious singer, but at least for the time being he has traded his "tooting instrument" for a weapon, his singing for fighting. When he is allowed to continue with Hawkeye's forces, his reply is that "though not given to the desire to kill, had you sent me away my spirit would have been troubled." Henceforth he is no longer bringing up the rear, and he actually fights. When he flings the rock against the head of the Huron on the mountain, the description that he thus "exposed the indignant and glowing countenance of the honest Gamut" is significant. For good or for bad, the singing master has at last come to active terms with the frontier condition.
Magua, too, is presented in fuller dimension than that of a simple villain. He is that, of course — evil, threatening, dangerous, and treacherous — but just as he formerly showed deep concern about acceptance by his people, he now demonstrates that his feeling for Cora goes beyond his original desire for revenge. When on the precipice she gives him no alternative (in light of his threat) but to kill her, he trembles "in every fibre" and is bewildered that he can only drop his arm without using the knife. What he finally would have done is not known, for the action of others interrupts his inner struggle. What is seen is that he is a man of complex and real emotions toward another human being. In his own right, he is a renowned chief early led astray by the firewater of white men. Part of the tragedy lies in the fact that the reader can see what Magua might have been under different circumstances.
The resolution of much of Cooper's thematic material remains for the final chapter of denouement, but he does give pertinent treatment of two major characters. And the fatal finality of the rapid action itself is thematic, the bodying forth of the tragic, conflicting differences bred of the frontier condition.