Summary and Analysis
Hetty's appearance in the Mingo camp surprises the Indians, but they refrain from showing their feelings too openly. Tom Hutter and Hurry Harry, still prisoners, have also adopted this Indian custom of concealing emotions; and the two white men do not betray their deep concern for Hetty's apparent plight. Hetty begins to address the Indians, and Hist serves as the interpreter. Admitting the crime of the two men in attacking the Indians for scalps, Hetty thereby makes a favorable impression upon her listeners. Rivenoak, the Mingo chief, treats her respectfully and gently. However, he questions her sharply about the white man's hypocritical practice of the so-called Christian virtues which Hetty has started to explain. Hetty is so perplexed about Christian theory and reality that she bursts into tears. Hist at last is sympathetic to Hetty's efforts; earlier she could not refrain from making some comments herself about the white man's hypocritical behavior toward the Indians.
The Indians now bring Tom Hutter and Hurry Harry to the meeting. Knowing that the Indians respect a courageous and bold self defense, they readily admit their guilt. The Indians withdraw to argue the matter among themselves, and the two captives try to persuade Hist to help them escape. When Hetty speaks to her father about Judith's wish to open the chest as a source of valuables for ransom of the pair, Tom Hutter frowns in dissatisfaction.
On the ark the mood is one of gloom and reflection about the group's dangerous situation and the unknown fate of the three white captives besides Hist as Chingachgook's special worry. Deerslayer makes his Indian companion disguise himself in the clothes of a white man so that the Mingos, probably watching along the shores of the lake, might be deceived about the chief's identity. This disguise disgusts Chingachgook, but Deerslayer is careful not to joke about the costume because of the chief's dignity and because of the serious problems at hand. Having agreed on an effort to ransom the prisoners, the three also agree to Judith's suggestion to open her father's sea-chest. But Judith, painfully aware that her father has trusted Hetty more than he has her, is unable to determine any location for the key. A search throughout the ark leads them to the girls' quarters where the differences in their tastes and personalities is very noticeable.
Judith's clothes and personal articles are much more beautiful than those of her sister. Chingachgook concludes from all this that Tom Hutter might have hidden the key where Judith would never have concerned herself — among Hetty's everyday, humble clothes. The hunch is correct, and Chingachgook finds the key in a homespun cloth bag belonging to Hetty.
Although Deerslayer suggests that he and Chingachgook should leave the room while Judith opens the family chest, the girl insists that all remain. Some elegant clothes for a man and a woman are in the top part, and Judith eagerly goes out to put on a dress of brocade. She is even momentarily saddened to think that this beautiful gown would be wasted on the Indians in any proposed exchange for the captives. Deerslayer's gentle and shrewd admonitions about her natural beauty outshining any artificial adornments restore Judith to her sense of duty, and her love for Deerslayer grows as a result of his flattering words. The three continue their search of the contents of the chest and find two expensive pistols.
The scene in Chapter 11 shifts from Deerslayer and the besieged occupants of the ark as the central figures to the land surrounding Glimmerglass. Cooper introduces the Mingos who, until now, have existed only in the shadows and have not emerged as individuals, except for the Indian slain by Deerslayer. While his descriptions of the physical surroundings and the Indians are marked by the usual realistic and accurate details, Cooper romanticizes the portrait of the natives. These "noble savages," as noted previously, live and judge others by a chivalric code worthy of medieval knights; and they can philosophize very effectively despite their elementary knowledge of English. The problem unfolded by Cooper, although it detracts from the progress of the action, is one of his preoccupations throughout his works. Also, these digressions add a wealth of meaning and historical importance to The Deerslayer.
Cooper questions the moral and ethical aspects of the conquest of the American land and particularly the treatment of the natives by the white men. Cooper's Indians, criticized as too noble by many critics, offer compelling arguments and complaints about their condition. Hetty defends the Christian message and the special place of white civilization because it has received the news of Christianity.
Although these words of Hetty can be excused because of her limited mental capacities, the answers she supplies represent the thinking — and rationalization — of many pioneers and settlers. Hist, however, though at first friendly to the white girl, finally turns against Hetty. She poignantly expresses the Indian credo that the white men argue rationally only in their own aggressions; they never apply the New Testament teachings to the Indian side of any quarrel; thus they are hypocritical, lying, and greedy.
Finally, Hetty, unprepared for such objections to her simple faith, breaks down under the strain and weeps piteously. The entire episode is a rational defense and attack upon the abuses of the white men and the cruel exploitation of America. It is possible that Cooper meant Hetty to symbolize the preachers and missionaries who, although they strove to convert the Indians to the Christian faith, failed in their efforts because of the conduct of their fellow colonizers.
The chest, mentioned by Hetty to her father at the end of Chapter 11, is the focal point of interest in the following chapter. Upon returning the action to the ark, Cooper picks up the symbol, represented by this mysterious object, and devotes Chapter 12 to the contribution the chest can make to the plot. The value is both structural and psychological: The chest serves for basic curiosity, the means whereby the prisoners may be recovered, and an additional way in which Judith and Deerslayer can react to each other's presence. The brocade dress, so admired by Judith, is of importance in Chapter 30, and the clue to this coming development is hinted at by Deerslayer when he comments upon the impression Judith, dressed so elegantly, would make on the Mingos.
Cooper also makes use of disguise among his techniques as in the scene with the brocade dress and in Chingachgook's refashioned appearance in the outfit of a white man. The search for the key is a variation on the familiar "pursuit and pursuer" theme. This incident is also reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe's procedure in his short stories and is like the puzzling problems in spy and detective fiction. By allowing Chingachgook to unravel the mystery of the key's location, Cooper calls attention to the Indian's intuitive sense, classified by Deerslayer as a "gift" of the natives. Deerslayer refers similarly to his friend's apt name of "Sarpent" because of the shrewd intelligence proved now. Cooper emphasizes the virtues of plain dealing and frankness as qualities to be cultivated. These attributes, in fact, will frequently redeem an apparently hopeless situation and should be carefully noted as preached and practiced by the characters. For example, the Mingos accepted Hetty more willingly because she admitted the attempted crime by her father and Hurry Harry.