The Last of the Mohicans By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapters 10-11

Summary

Though at first menaced by the Hurons, Heyward is held for questioning, but he has to turn for interpretation to Magua, whom he sees Hawkeye had wounded on the shoulder. When he finally convinces them that the three woodsmen have escaped, they are furious, and one savage grabs Alice by the hair in a mock scalping. Before real violence can occur, the chief calls a brief council and the entire party crosses to the south bank of the river where the horses are. Mounted on Heyward's charger, the chief leads most of his people away across river, leaving the prisoners in charge of six Indians headed by Magua.

The major tries to secure Magua's help by privately implying that he and the redskin have been in collusion to fool the Hurons all along and by offering rewards. Although Heyward adopts the sententious speech of the Indians, Magua is noncommittal as the group heads south, the sisters mounted and the others afoot. Flanked by the Indians, Cora finds it difficult to leave signs on the trail; once when she drops a glove, she is detected and severely warned by one of their conductors. Never speaking, Magua steadily leads the way through the forests and hills until they finally reach a steep, pyramidal hill with a level summit and few trees — a perfect place for defense and for avoiding surprise.

While the warriors eat the raw meat of a fawn, Heyward again engages Magua in talk. Heyward's expression of Munro's love for his daughters brings a gleam of malignant joy to the Indian's face, and the latter insists upon a private talk with Cora. He proudly tells her that he was born a chief but that, after the Canadians taught him to drink firewater, he was driven from his tribe. Once when working for Munro, he came into Munro's cabin drunk and the latter had him tied up and whipped like a dog before the soldiers. He demands, is it "justice to make evil, and then punish for it?" Wanting injury for injury, he says he will let Alice go if Cora will come with him as his wife: "The body of the gray-head would sleep among his cannon, but his heart would lie within reach of the knife of Le Subtil."

Cora is indignant and returns to her fellow captives. Magua goes to the lolling savages and begins a skillful harangue, building their emotions to the point of rage and vengeance. As they rush upon their prisoners with drawn knives and uplifted tomahawks, Magua villainously invites them to prolong the victims' misery. Heyward and Gamut struggle to no avail, and all four are tied to saplings while splinters and fire are prepared for the torture. Magua again makes his proposal, and Cora leaves the decision to Alice, who hesitates in her weakness but finally says no. Gnashing his teeth, the Huron hurls his tomahawk just above Alice's head, cutting some of her ringlets. Maddened, Heyward snaps his bonds and rushes upon another Indian who is about to throw his weapon. In the struggle, Heyward goes down and the Indian raises his knife fatally. But the crack of a rifle is heard, and the Indian's look changes to vacant wildness as he falls dead on the faded leaves beside Heyward.

Analysis

These chapters are important for certain revelations and one presentation of status quo ante (prior state of affairs). The latter comes in Magua's explaining his past; his noble birth and his deserved but ignoble treatment by Munro do not justify his present actions, but they do make him and his conduct believable. They also raise the questions of justice and the big context of shared responsibility.

The revelations begin with Heyward's learning of the fame of his two former Indian companions, Chingachgook as "Le Gros Serpent" (The Great Snake) and Uncas as "Le Cerf Agile" (The Nimble Deer). Magua makes clear not only his motives but also the alternative routes that he will let his vengeance take. Perhaps the most important is Gamut's self-revelation when he struggles hand-to-hand with his captors: "David had contended, and the novelty of the circumstance held him silent." The realities of frontier strife are beginning to impinge upon him.

Two influences on Cooper's fiction are also apparent. Indian lore comes forth in the figurative language of the natives, in the masterful and persuasive oratory of Magua, in the Hurons' contrasting silent patience and loud bloodthirstiness, and in methods of torture such as tying a man's arms to the tops of two bent saplings that will recoil in different directions. Sentimental qualities appear in the reactions of the fragile Alice, in the extreme testing of Cora's virtue and familial emotions, and in Heyward's over-vocalized sense of duty and honor.

Holding together all of these fictional elements is the plot device of the chase, through which a reversal of fortunes has occurred. Some of the pursued and some of the pursuers have exchanged their roles, while some have had relative security usurped by imminent danger and vice versa.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

According to Cooper, Hawkeye's purpose as a character is to . . .




Quiz