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The Last of the Mohicans
The Last of the Mohicans
THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, by James Fennimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper is considered the "Father of the American novel" because he created the first American adventure story -- THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1826) -- as well as the first American novel of manners (PRECAUTION) and the first American novel of the sea (THE PILOT). He raised the American frontier experience to epic proportions and helped define the American character. As a result, Cooper became the first successful American novelist.

In addition to being a swashbuckling adventure tale, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, set in 1757 near Lake George, foreshadows America's ongoing racial challenges with remarkable prescience. On one hand, Cooper built the foundation for the archetypal friendship between men of different races -- here, the white Natty Bumppo ("Hawkeye") and the Mohican Chingachgook. The men's common spiritual union with nature transcends their racial differences, allowing them to work together against their common enemies. But on the other hand, Cooper suggests that romance between the races is doomed, as seen in the tragic love between the Native American Uncas and interracial (part white, part black) Cora.

Further, Cooper established nature and the frontier as metaphors for the American experience. Literally, the frontier is the physical division between civilization and the wilderness. Symbolically, nature is the tabula rasa upon which the characters write their lives. Hawkeye becomes heroic by treating nature with reverence, while the English soldier Major Heyward demonstrates his ineptitude by misreading nature. Hawkeye shows that people have the ability to create their own destiny, the basis of the American dream. Ultimately, Hawkeye, symbol as well as character, embodies the qualities that define America: bravery, self-reliance, democracy.

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The American Novel