The Last of the Mohicans By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapters 18-19

Summary

On the third day after the capture of the fort, the area is one of stillness and death, the fortress a smoldering ruin. The August mists have unseasonably become an interminable dusky sheet driven by the tempestuous northern air when an hour before sunset five men — Hawkeye, the Mohicans, Munro, and Heyward — emerge from the forest and cautiously approach the ramparts, reacting with horror, shock, and stoicism to the confused mass of dead. Finding no signs of the daughters, they move around looking for a trail and Uncas discovers a fragment of Cora's green riding-veil. Other signs lead them to where the horses had been, and the party sees evidence that the girls, along with Magua and Gamut, have made off into the wilderness. Heyward wants to go in pursuit immediately, but Hawkeye says that they must deliberate and will spend the night in the ruined fort.

Munro has sunk into apathy as they arrange temporary accommodations for him and eat a frugal meal of bear's meat. The clouds break up and the foresters sit around a glimmering fire. On a rampart, Heyward, looking out at the lake, hears low noises, calls the scout to him, and learns that wolves are on the prowl. Hawkeye presses a discussion of what paradise is like but is interrupted by another low sound and calls Uncas, who slips away. Chingachgook is warned and sits outwardly calm by the fire. A rifle shot disturbs the fire and Chingachgook disappears in an instant. A moment later, they hear a plunge in the water and the report of another rifle. Uncas returns quietly to the fire until, upon Heyward's questioning, he exhibits the scalp of an Oneida, whereupon Hawkeye explains the division of mixed loyalties of the numerous Indian tribes.

Passing around a lighted pipe, the foresters quietly debate the next day's procedure, but finally and with Indianlike eloquence Hawkeye carries his point that they should head north by way of the lake. When he shortly goes to sleep, Heyward watches the Mohicans relax into pleasant familial informality. Then all fall asleep amid the ruins and the dead.

Analysis

At the beginning of this section, Cooper steps in as author to comment critically on the massacre and on Montcalm. His description of the natural scene is masterful, his presentation of the strewn battlefield quietly horrifying, the reactions of the five men individually typical of each. Hawkeye cannot feel that any human beings are justified in such wholesale slaughter, but according to his belief in "gifts," he does accept the open fighting of a few warriors and even extends his acceptance of natural gifts to the ravens marauding the area of the massacre. Like Hawkeye, Cooper obviously feels that there are degrees beyond which human actions should not rightly go. Though Munro and Heyward and once Uncas wish instant endeavor, in reacting to the hasty and fatal events of the evacuation, the woodsmen now properly deliberate with calm their next move before effecting it. Once again Cooper has effectively made use of contrast, this time with incident against incident, haste against deliberation.

There are also two kinds of contrast in regard to the Indians. On the individual level, the quietly laughing ease of the two Mohicans before they retire for sleep gives a new dimension to the father and son whom we have seen only as two upright and somewhat austere men during time of stress, and the scene invites a comparison with the one four days earlier between Munro and his daughters. On the more general level, both Hawkeye's discussion and Cooper's explanation about Indian tribes contrast the present and past conditions of tribal warfare. Formerly an Indian could immediately recognize an enemy because of the rather simple opposition of certain tribes to others. Now because of Indian alliances with the French or the English, previous enemies find themselves side by side against a common foe one day and then perhaps opposed to each other later. Some like the Delawares are even divided among themselves, and the disorder of alliances is compounded because, as Hawkeye says, "it is natur' to give a preference to one's own quarrels before those of strangers." The result has been an utter "confusion of nations," a major stage in the dissolution of the original natives of the frontier area.

Hawkeye's discussion of paradise, a natural interest after viewing so many dead, stresses again his belief in individualism. While others may want a final place of rest, he wants a heaven of action and finds comfort in the fact that "we serve a merciful Master, though we do it each after his fashion."

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