Summary and Analysis
Cooper's Three Prefaces
Cooper's preface to the 1826 edition is a kind of defense, stressing that the novel is "a narrative" with historical allusions, of which the Indian history calls for some comment. He racially and geographically places the Mohicans as a disappearing tribe of the Wapanachki or Lenni Lenape stock (known today as the Algonquin), who were bounded by the Penobscot and the Potomac, the Atlantic and the Mississippi. To the north were the Mengwe (or Iroquois) stock and their confederacy of Six Nations (that is, six major tribes); they were contemptuously called "Mingoes" by the Lenape. Cooper concludes by whimsically warning young ladies, bachelors, and clergymen from reading his "shocking" book.
The 1831 introduction (reprinted in 1850 with two paragraphs deleted and a new one added) repeats some of the earlier preface but discusses the Asiatic origin of the Indian and his two opposing attitudes in war and peace. Cooper points to the importance of the scout Hawkeye as a "fanciful" character whose purpose "is poetically to furnish a witness to the truth of . . . the progress of the American nation."
The 1850 preface to the Leather-Stocking tales discusses the chronology of the five novels and their preeminence among Cooper's works. Leather-Stocking is the kind of "beau-ideal" character allowable in the fiction of romances. While his "great rules of conduct" come from the best in civilized and savage life and are natural to him and his situation, "in a moral sense this man of the forest is purely a creation."
These prefaces show the growth of Cooper's reflections about the novel from the specific to the general as he gets a more critical grasp on what he has in part intuitively created. His defensive explanations shift from historic details to comments on the ideal in fiction. In all instances, the intention is to clarify and justify what follows.