Critical Essays Plot and Setting


The Deerslayer, first of the "Leatherstocking Tales" chronologically but last in the order of publication, is succinctly analyzed by one critic, James Grossman, as "the simplest in plot and most equivocal in meaning." In The Deerslayer, Cooper showed himself at the height of his creative powers during this period of 1840-1841 when he could continue to combine a moving story and an impressive character with a deepened social and moral awareness after a prolonged European sojourn.

The structural unity in The Deerslayer, already mentioned briefly in the critical introduction, gives to the romance the verisimilitude that is sometimes lacking in works of his earlier period. It is easy to accept the premise that these few adventurous days on the lake could have happened. The characters are few and resemble possible frontier types. The problem of a small group being surrounded by hostile Indians was a common occurrence at this time; the various episodes are reflections of other events occurring throughout the territories, such as scalping, ambushes, pursuit, escape, capture, and trial at the stake; and the descriptions of the natural surroundings refer so specifically to the one locale of Otsego Lake that the other traits of the romance are rendered even more credible.

The plot is of course compounded of thrilling and narrow brushes with death because The Deerslayer is a romance, a tale of high adventure and excitement. Cooper, in the "Preface" to The Deerslayer, admits readily that imagination and invention characterize the plot but that the descriptions of scenery are accurate. His intention, as he finally concludes, is "to secure the semblance of reality." Cooper, writing intimately of Otsego Lake about which he knew all the details from early childhood, refers early and often to Glimmerglass in The Deerslayer. There are no more beautiful, impressive passages about the lake than Natty Bumppo's thoughts in the early Chapters. But the close relationship between Cooper's hero and the lake is a constant factor of enjoyment, thought, and verisimilitude in the romance. Cooper, in short, has not only immortalized Glimmerglass but he has likewise given the air of truthful association to his aim of creating an authentic American folk hero. Indeed, the union of plot and setting, for the purpose of artistic strength, came closest to perfection in this last of the "Leatherstocking Tales."