Engl 730: The New Rise of the American Novel: Readings
Discussion Questions and Talking Points for THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
1. I put The Last of the Mohicans on the reading list for several reasons: to have us compare this text to others to ascertain why it retained its popularity when other texts equally popular when published "lost" their audiences (given the many editions some of the other texts we have read, is that "loss" real or apparent?), to compare Cooper's treatment of historical incidents to other treatments either claimed to be or obviously are based on historical events, to see how the women in Cooper's text are portrayed in comparison to the female writers' presentations of women, and so on. So sometime during the discussion I'd like us to address these more global questions of comparison.
2. Hawkeye espouses his "philosophy" a great deal in this text. He opines on justice, heaven, integrity, the proper measures of human behavior, and many more topics which, taken together, can be said to be his life values. What is the totality of those opinions? Hawkeye is certainly one of the most popular figures in American literature and may even more popular outside of the university where the sophisticated opinions of professors of English have little sway. What about Hawkeye makes him so popular? Is it what he believes?
3. One of the standard appreciations for Cooper's literary treatments of native Americans is that he "doubles" them meaning that he simply divides them into good Indians and bad Indians. What are the criteria for dividing Indians into good/bad? Is it just their political leanings vis-a-vis English interests in the new country? Chingachgook and Uncas take scalps just as the other Indians do. What's the operative morality of the text which allows Cooper to so divide Indians?
4. Hawkeye at several points pokes fun at the shortcomings of book learning and maximizes many opportunities to point out that book-learned behavior would be inadequate to the task at hand. We've seen already in other texts the dangers associated with reading--is this some algorithm of that attitude? If so, what do you make of this permutation?
5. Having taught a course in the non-fiction novel a couple of times, I'm interested in discussions about the borders or non-borders which separate fiction/history. This text, more (?) than others we've read (even Cf. Fall River?), takes care to locate action in specific recognizable situations and takes care to footnote historical personages. What is Cooper's take on the relationships between history and his own work. See especially page 180 whereat the stops the action to comment on historical reverberations in the scene and then returns to what he calls the "humbler vocation."
6. What are we to make of Uncas's attraction to Cora (p 56--his impartial ministrations to the sister and other places)? Given her background, what sort of racial issues is Cooper raising (hinting at may be saying it better?). Clearly crossing or the threat of crossing (man without a cross) is a refrain here--I guess the question is simply, what are Cooper's attitude toward race?
7. Just how good a writer is Cooper? I'd like to focus a bit on the style of this writing; Cooper is generally now poked fun at for his lengthy, ornate, yet inexact descriptions (even the introduction to this edition does some of that). What's wrong with his style? How does it compare to the styles of some of the other writers we have read? Are the accusations bogus?