The Last of the Mohicans By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapters 23-24

Summary

Typically the village has no guards, but the whooping of the children brings warriors to the door of the nearest lodge as Gamut and Heyward approach the principal building, brush past savages to the center of the lodge, and seat themselves in silence. In the light of a torch, Heyward assumes the part of a French doctor and has to placate the Hurons, who feel deserted by the French. Shouts bring everyone outdoors where a war party has unexpectedly returned with several human scalps. In the lurid light from scattered piles of brush, two men stand forth, one erect and firm, the other with bowed head. The first is a prisoner who, surrounded at all perimeters, must run a hazardous race, either to escape or to reach a small painted post in front of the main lodge. The man shows remarkable speed and agility, but he is outnumbered and outflanked and finally reaches the post only when Heyward without detection trips the closest pursuer. The panting man is mocked and derided by the women but keeps his self-command, only once turning his head so that Heyward sees it is Uncas.

With all the principals inside the main lodge, a council begins. Through the capture of Uncas, the downcast young Huron has been caught in his third act of cowardice and continues to writhe in fright. Because of his acts, his aged father ritualistically plunges a knife into his heart, saying that his name is already forgotten. Immediately the torch is extinguished and everyone leaves except Heyward, Uncas, and the dead Huron.

Urged outside by Uncas, the supposed doctor wanders from hut to hut but cannot find any sign of Alice. Returning to the lodge where Uncas still stands and warriors are calmly smoking, he is about to be taken by a chief to cure a sick squaw when Magua appears. When Magua inadvertently refers to the cowardly Huron, there is silence until the father declares that he never had a son and leaves — in shame, for the Indians believe that virtues and defects in character come through heredity.

Magua surprises the others by identifying Uncas as Le Cerf Agile. He then orates for revenge on Uncas, and the Mohican is taken out to await torture and death the next morning. After Magua leaves, smoke fills the lodge again before the chief beckons to Heyward and leads him outside and toward the base of a mountain. They encounter a bear that seems relatively friendly but follows them closely as they enter a cavern. A glimmering light ahead directs them to a large cavity of many apartments where the Hurons keep their valuables and where a sick woman's bedside is surrounded by females and Gamut. Somewhat thankfully, Heyward sees that the paralyzed woman is beyond healing. Gamut pours forth a hymn and is so struck with wonder when the bear tries to imitate him that all he can say to Heyward is "She expects you, she is at hand" and exits precipitately.

Analysis

Cooper's fresh and original treatment in this section of the story leads to three variations — one in plot, one in motif, one in theme, and all involving Uncas directly or indirectly. In this second chase sequence, pursuit has again led to a capture, but the difference is that now one of the pursuers has been made captive. Through the prisoner certain Indian customs are shown in the glare of grotesquerie, part of the motif of unreality that involves disguise, which shows its involvement here in the dissembling Heyward's tripping the Huron. Other Indian customs are the mocking of the prisoner, the scalps, the "death-halloo," and particularly the dealing with the coward. The death of the young Huron is reserved for the hands of the father who brought him into being, but it is traditionally an inexorable result. Thematically it presents a third father-child relationship and the end of a progenitive line. As Uncas is the last offspring of the Mohicans, the young Huron is the last male offspring of his family, but the difference is great. Whereas the Huron family's end comes from personal failure, the Mohicans' will come because men at large are responsible for there being only one potential Mohican father and no possible Mohican mother. The third father-child relationship is that of Munro and his daughters, and though Cooper makes no real point of it, it is more than obvious that, no matter what happens to the girls, the name of Munro ends with them. The end of a line is a very important theme in the overall purpose of the book, and in these two chapters Cooper adroitly integrates it with a major motif and the structural technique of the chase.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

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




Quiz