Untitled Essay, Research Paper
James Fenimore Cooper was born on September 15, 1789 in Burlington, New Jersey.
He was the son of William and Elizabeth (Fenimore) Cooper, the twelfth of
thirteen children (Long, p. 9). Cooper is known as one of the first great
American novelists, in many ways because he was the first American writer
to gain international followers of his writing. In addition, he was perhaps
the first novelist to “demonstrate…that native materials could inspire
significant imaginative writing” (p. 13). In addition his writing, specifically
The Deerslayer, present a unique view of the Native American’s experiences
and situation. Many critics, for example, argue that The Deerslayer presents
a moral opinion about what occurred in the lives of the American Indians.
Marius Bewley has said that the book shows moral values
throughout the context of it. He says that from the very beginning, this
is symbolically made clear. The plot is a platform for the development of
moral themes. The first contact the reader has with people in the book is
in the passage in which the two hunters find each other. “The calls were
in different tones, evidently proceeding from two men who had lost their
way, and were searching in different directions for their path” (Cooper,
p. 5). Bewley states that this meeting is symbolic of losing one’s way morally,
and then attempting to find it again through different paths. Says Bewley,
“when the two men emerge from the forest into the little clearing we are
face to face with… two opposing moral visions of life which are embodied
in these two woodsmen” (cited in Long, p. 121).
Critic Donald Davie, however, disagrees. His contention
is that the plot is poorly developed. “It does not hang together; has no
internal logic; one incident does not rise out of another” (cited in Long,
p. 121). But according to Robert Long, Bewley has a better grasp of the meaning
and presentation of ideas throughout the book. According to Long, although
the plot development may not be “strictly linear,” it is still certainly
coherent and makes sense. In addition, Long feels that, as Bewley states,
the novel is a way in and through which Cooper presents moral ideas about
the plight of the Native Americans (p. 121).
The story of The Deerslayer is simple. It is novel which
tells the events which occur in the travels of a frontiersman. His name is
Natty, and he is a young man at only twenty years old. Coming from New York
of the eighteenth century, he is unprepared in many ways for what he encounters
in the frontier. But he survives, escapes, and learns many things over the
course of his adventures.
The two characters of Natty and Hurry are contrasted in
such as way that Cooper presents his view of the Native Americans through
them. As earlier indicated, they symbolize two men with differing moral
aptitudes. Throughout the novel, the differences between the two show Cooper’s
feelings about morality as it relates to the American Indians. As Long states,
“The voices of the two men calling to one another at the beginning introduces
the idea of a world that has lost its coherence, is already reduced to
disjunction and fragmentation. Natty and Hurry search for a point of contact
yet move in different directions” (p. 122).
Cooper’s descriptions of Natty and Hurry early in the
novel make it obvious that they stand for opposite moral values. Hurry, for
example, is described by Cooper as having “a dashing, reckless, off-hand
manner, and physical restlessness” (Cooper, p. 6). In fact, it is these
characteristics of him that gave him his nickname by which he is called -
Hurry Scurry, although his real name is Henry March. He is described as tall
and muscular, the “grandeur that pervaded such a noble physique” being the
only thing that kept him from looking “altogether vulgar” (p. 6). The
Deerslayer’s appearance, on the other hand, contrasts with Hurry’s significantly.
Cooper indicates that not only were the two men different in appearance,
but also “in character” (p. 6). A little shorter than Hurry, he was also
leaner. In addition, he was not handsome like Hurry and, says Cooper, he
would not have anything exceptional about his looks had it not been for “an
expression that seldom failed to win upon those who had leisure to examine
it, and to yield to the feelings of confidence it created. This expression
was simply that of guileless truth, sustained by an earnestness of purpose,
and a sincerity of feeling” (p. 6).
Cooper contrasts these two characters early in the story
so that it is evident that they will provide examples of contrasting behavior
as well. It is made clear early on that the later actions of both Hurry and
the Deerslayer will contrast in such a way that the moral issues with which
Cooper was concerned would come to light.
Glimmerglass as the setting of the novel allows the contrast
between the two men to be seen even more strongly. As William P. Kelly (1983)
states, the setting created by Cooper allows the story to have a certain
myth-like quality, a quality which makes the teaching of a lesson by Cooper
all that much more acceptable. “Cooper does not locate his narrative within
the flux of history, but evokes a sense of timelessness consistent with the
world of myth. For example, the setting is of “the earliest days of colonial
history,” a “remote and obscure” period, lost in the “mists of time.” In
setting the backdrop of the story in this way, the events become less important
in regards to historical value and accuracy – their importance is derived
from their ability to teach one lessons about morality.
Within this setting, then, the contrasts between Natty and Hurry are brought
across even clearer. But it is another character, Tom Hutter, who also plays
an important role in Cooper’s presentation of the Indians. Hutter’s significance
first involves where he lives. His house is located directly in the center
of Glimmerglass. This suggests, symbolically at least, that he is involved
in the center of activities, whether moral or immoral, within Glimmerglass.
In addition, more than living in the center of the land, Hutter has also
laid claim, however unofficial, to the land. Early on in the novel the reader
learns that this is the case. Shortly after Natty and Hurry meet up, they
are canoeing down the water. Natty comments that the land is so beautiful,
and asks Hurry, “Do you say, Hurry, that there is no man who calls himself
lawful owner of all these glories?’ (p. 22). To this Hurry responds, “None
but the King….but he has gone so far away that his claim will never trouble
old Tom Hutter, who has got possession, and is like to keep it as long as
his life lasts” (p. 22).
In having the characters of Natty and Hurry speak of Hutter like this, referring
to him in an almost mythological sense as though he is a legend, Cooper is
setting the stage for the development of Hutter’s character, also in contrast
to Natty’s. It is in Tom Hutter’s home, when Natty and Hurry first arrive
in the beginning of the book, that they begin to talk about hunting and the
killing of both animals and men. Natty comments that he has the reputation
as being the only man “who had shed so much blood of animals that had not
shed the blood of man” (p. 28). He says this with pride, obviously not looking
with high regard upon the savage slaughter of other men. But Hurry’s response
shows that he looks at this in a totally different perspective. He says that
he is afraid that people will think that Natty is “chicken-hearted.” Then
he goes on to comment that “For my part I account game, a redskin, and a
Frenchman as pretty much the same thing…one has no need to be over-scrupulous
when it’s the right time to show the flint” (p. 28).
Cooper presents this dialogue between Natty and Hurry in order to obviously
contrast their moral characters. First, he has Natty speak, with apparent
pride, about the fact that in all the land, he has the reputation for killing
more deer than anyone else, while never having taken one single human life.
But Hurry’s response to this is that Natty is a “chicken-hearted” individual.
In Natty’s point of view, animals, Indians, and Frenchman are all the same,
and killing one is the same as killing another.
In this, Cooper is clearly presenting a view about the worth of Indians within
the society of this time. Natty’s view that killing other men should be avoided
is the correct and “right” view. He sets Natty up as a moral character,
specifically in comparison to Hurry to which he compares Natty often. Hurry,
then, blatantly states that he thinks that there is nothing which separates
the killing of a deer from the killing of a man. Cooper presents this view
in order to show what he feels is the correct way. It is obvious that Cooper
wants Natty to present Cooper’s view of the Native Americans. Natty’s inability
to look at them as mere animals shows that he believes that they are good
people, just the same as anyone else. In fact, Hurry is depicted more as
the villain, while Natty is presented as the hero.
As their conversation continues, Natty asks Hurry if the lake has a name.
When Hurry tells him that it, in fact, does not, Natty thinks of this as
positive. “I’m glad it has no name, or, at least, no paleface name; for their
christenings always foretell waste and destruction” (p. 30). Here, we can
see Natty’s thoughts on the significance of whether an Indian or a white
man has named the water. He comments that he would mind if a white man had
named it. He believes that white men traditionally bring with them environmental
damage – they would have ruined the natural beauty of it. The Indians, on
the other hand, treated land with much more respect. Cooper makes it apparent
that this is the way he feels in having Natty comment on the land as such.
Hurry, however, responds in a different way. He tells Natty that the Indian
name for it is “Glimmerglass.” Then he goes on to state that the white men
decided to keep this name, at least unofficially. “I am glad they’ve been
compelled to keep the redmen’s name, for it would be too hard to rob them
of both land and name!” (p. 30).
In other words, Hurry is stating the obvious fact that everything will eventually
be taken away from the Native Americans. Any land that they might value and
care for today will be confiscated and fought for by the white men tomorrow.
But the exclamation point at the end of the sentence suggests that, rather
than a sad comment accepting the inevitable, Hurry says this with glee and
excitement. To him it is like a joke, that the Indians will be allowed to
keep the name for the land but lose the land itself.
Cooper, in the above dialogue between Natty and Hurry, is presenting a view
of the immorality involved in the interactions between the Native Americans
and the white men. In Cooper’s mind, the Native Americans respected and cared
for the land much more than the white men did. This is apparent in his quote
from Hurry, that white men always brought “waste and destruction” to land.
Secondly, Cooper also thought that the constant fighting, oppression, and
killing of the American Indians was wrong. To Cooper, Natty represented the
good and moral point of view on this issue, while Hurry represented the immoral
and cruel side, laughing about the horrible truths of the land.
All throughout the book The Deerslayer, Cooper contrasts the characters of
Hurry and Natty in order to present his views of Native Americans. With Hurry
as the one who has a racist attitude, believing that the deaths of Indians
are deaths which do not matter, Natty is the moral one. The contrast between
these two characters allows Cooper to show the contrast between morality
and immorality. Hurry goes around killing Indians, believing that their deaths
are insignificant. Natty, killing his first Indian in a matter of self-defense,
holds the man in his arms as he dies feeling a sense of bonding and brotherhood
with the dying Indian. Throughout the book, Natty is shown learning many
different things, such as woodcraft, and increasing in moral stature. Hurry,
on the other hand, is presented as becoming more and more selfish, until
his comments by themselves reveal his ignorance and he loses credibility
as a character.
The book The Deerslayer is a story in which James Fenimore Cooper presents
a view of the Native Americans. His idea is that they were natural owners
to the land, being there first. In addition, they loved, valued and respected
the land in a way that was not common to most white men. Finally, he believed
that they were human beings, entitled to live their lives freely just as
anyone else. In showing the two sides of opinion on this issue – Hurry and
Natty – Cooper sets the book up as a story of good and evil, right and wrong.
His ideas, through the thoughts and actions of Hurry and Natty, are clearly
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Deerslayer. New York: The Heritage Press, 1961.Kelly, William P. Plotting America’s Past. Illinois: Southern Illinois University
1983.Long, Robert Emmet. James Fenimore Cooper. New York: Continuum Publishing