James Fenimore Cooper-Deer Slayer Essay, Research Paper
The Deerslayer and Morality byRandy Hartenstine English 1123-63Mrs. MossJuly 14, 1998 Hartenstine iThe Deerslayer and MoralityThesis Statement: The morality of the main character is one that represents a spiritual communion with nature, a firm opposition to discrimination, and an exaggerated state of divine morality. I. Natty’s morality is guided by nature. A. His morality is all-inclusive when it comes to respect, dignity, and humanity. B. Nature is religion because it represents the divine. II. Natty’s morality derives from the pure morality of nature. A. His morality is free of discrimination. B. His pro-nature morality is accepting the good and rejecting the bad.III. Natty’s morality is exaggerated. A. His divine morality conflicts with the events of the novel. B. His morality is one that can resist temptation. Hartenstine 1The Deerslayer and Morality As much as any American writer, James Fenimore Cooper’s work, is representative of the American frontier and the struggles of Native Americans and pioneers who took the advice of Horace Greeley and “went West.” While many criticize the writing style and syntax of Cooper, almost no one denied the value of his work as being representative of “the self-actualized individual. . . . This image, woven into the intricate form of his tales, provided a calling for many new Americans who chose the west [sic] as a new frontier, a place to prove their individuality and self-worth” (Eberle 2). The Deerslayer is the fifth and final novel in the Leatherstocking Tales, a series of works devoted to the story of Natty Bumppo, who, in this novel, is labeled the Deerslayer or Hawkeye. “The Deerslayer deals with racism, hatred, Manifest Destiny, technology/progress, and was the first environmentalist (”true” 4). Raised by the Delaware and knowledgeable in their ways and peace, the hero of the story is representative of American independence and self-reliance. “The Deerslayer . . . is the story of eight days in the life of Nathaniel Bumppo, a youth of twenty, in . . . 1740. The setting is Cooper’s home lake, the Otsego, called the Glimmerglass in this story” (Shulenbeger 83). Natty and his friend Hurry live among the Delaware Indians, and with the assistance of theHartenstine 2British they fight against the French and the French-backed Huron Indians. The story revolves around battles between tribes and countries and the vain efforts of Judith Hutter to have Natty become romantically involved with her. Chingachook is a Delaware chief who enters Natty s life in this novel, and eventually becomes his best friend and companion. The morality of the main character is one that represents a spiritual communion with nature, a firm opposition to discrimination, and an exaggerated state of divine morality.The morality exhibited by the main character is one that is unaffected in its religiosity, like that of his Native American friends. It is a morality and religion that uses nature as its guide, so it is one that is all-inclusive when it comes to respect, dignity, and humanity for all individuals, regardless of the color of their skin or the tongue in which they speak. Natty comes to understand from the ways and peace of the Delaware that Nature is religion because it represents the Divine. A source of morality and religion with which the individual can commune and find their own peace and happiness, as Cooper states:He loved the woods for their freshness, their sublime solitudes, their vastness, and the impress that they everywhere bore of the divine hand of their Creator. . . . and never did a day pass without his communing Hartenstine 3in spirit, and this, too, without the aid of forms or language, with the infinite Source of all he saw, felt, and beheld. Thus constituted in a moral sense, and of a steadiness that no danger could appall or any crisis disturb. . . . (283) The morality of Natty is similar to this unaffected morality of nature. Nature makes no distinction between white, red or black skin. Nature makes no distinction between British, French or American politics. Nature makes no distinction between Anglo-Saxon, Christian or Protestant. Man does. The author John McWilliams puts it into perspective when he says: Although he would desire Christian action, he was only too aware of its powerlessness to confront the conditions of the frontier. The failure of men to live within the moral laws makes just civil laws all the more necessary, yet those laws impinge on the natural rights of the hunter in a State of Nature. When civil laws are enacted, Cooper lauds their possibilities for protection, but suspects the probability of their abuse. Natty Bumppo stands as Cooper’s symbol of the just man in a State of Nature, yet his compromise is an individual creed that demands extraordinary self-discipline–an example that few could follow. (291)Hartenstine 4In this manner man perverts the all-inclusive morality andspirituality of nature, a nature that is not rejected by the Native American. The Native American appreciates nature as the ultimate spiritual guide and the ultimate method and manner through which men can commune with the Divine. The Native Americans have taught Natty a respect for nature as the ultimate source of the Divine. Cooper s version of the moral white man and the moral “red” man both involve a communion with nature first and man second. The romanticized image of the strong, fearless, and ever resourceful frontiersman . . . as well as the stoic, wise, and noble ‘red man’ . . . was borne more from Cooper s characterizations than any other source” (Federici 1).
The morality of Natty is not pro-Indian, pro-American, or pro-anything other than pro-nature of the all-inclusive acceptance of the good and a rejection of the bad. Whenever a white man is a good man, he is an ally on whom the Native American can depend; likewise, when the Native American is a good man, he is an ally on which the white man can depend. Anyone who is not a good man is someone on whom no one can depend, nor are his ways, manners, or methods to be adopted as they are in opposition of an all-inclusive and Divine nature. We see Natty appreciate the good Native Americans as a strong source of support throughout his often risk-filled adventures in the novel, and the trained sagacity and untiring caution of anHartenstine 5Indian were all he had to rely on, amid the critical risks he unavoidably ran (Cooper 145). There is some conflict between the higher ground morality Natty supposedly represents and the actual episodes and events that transpire within the novel. Some have called his characterization too unbelievable for a man in the real world, going so far as to label him the goody two-shoes of nature. The worst part is the verbose, simple-minded self-righteousness of our hero, himself, taken to the point of absolute unbelievability. He spurns the love of a beautiful young woman . . . for the forester s life (as though he couldn t really have both), yet we re expected to believe he s a full-blooded young American male (Mirsky 3). While there may be shimmers of truth in this criticism, the author may be unwise to believe that some individuals are able, at any age, to resist the temptations of the flesh for higher fulfillment from nature. Furthermore, there are episodes in the book that show that Natty is susceptible to the female form divine, but this does not mean he rejects the Divine of nature when he feels compelled to make a choice between the two. Nevertheless, being a young full-blooded male, he can forget at times his higher moral ground,and he appreciates more earthly delights. For instance, When Deerslayer drew nearer to the castle, however, objects of interest presented themselves that at once eclipsed any beautiesHartenstine 6that might have distinguished the scenery of the lake, and thesite of the singular edifice. Judith and Hetty stood on the platform before the door. . .” (Cooper 122). While Natty may have temptations of the flesh like any individual, he is able to resist them and pay more homage and devotion to a higher force–Divine nature. In conclusion, he expresses the unaffected religiosity of Cooper in his battles against racism, hatred and killing while at the same time gleaning all the lessons and communion from and with nature that he can. In this way he represents the embodiment of Cooper s morality, a morality that is of the highest order because it uses all-inclusive, all-powerful, and all-Divine nature as its model. Samuel Allibone compliments Cooper’s work when he says:No one can peruse the works of Cooper without being convinced of the innate beauty of his own mind. His ethical notions are of the highest order, his morality is as pure as that of the men whose unaffected religion he is so fond of pourtraying [sic]. The philosophy of his mind is of a high order, and few can be unsusceptible of this. The most ordinary reader must be conscious of a superiority and elevation of thought while he peruses theHartenstine 7writings of Fenimore Cooper. The gentleness of his own mind, its lofty appreciation of every thing that was good, its innate poetry breathed forth in his graphic descriptions of nature, in the love with which he regards the forests, the broad prairies, and the sunlighted valleys. (6-7)Certainly such characterizations as Natty must be understood to represent the ideal of morality, not necessarily a level to which any human can hope to achieve in every aspect every moment of their lives. However, it is an ideal worthy of aspiration, and the closer we come to achieving it, the closer we come to communing with nature and the Divine. Modern society still has a long way to go before being able to commune as one with nature; after all, we still trash the environment and abuse African Americans, Native Americans and other minorities as if it were a national pastime. The unfortunate thing is that many people believe Cooper s version of morality is some romanticized notion of decency and the Divine. Hartenstine 8Work CitedAllibone, Samuel Austin. “Cooper, James Fenimore, (1798-1851).” A Critical Dictionary of Literature and British American Authors. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1900: 1-7. Online. Internet. 19 June 1998. Available http://etext. lib.virginia.edu/eaf/authors/allibone/jfcAl.html.Cooper, James Fenimore. The Deerslayer. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc., 1979.Eberle, Nathaniel. “James Fenimore Cooper.” Rollins College, 1998: 1-3. Online. Internet. 19 June 1998. Available http://fox.rollins.edu/ jcjones/cooper.htm.Federici, Richard & Elaine. “James Fenimore Cooper.” Mohican Press, 1998: 1-5. Online. Internet. 19 June 1998. Available http://www.mohicanpress.com/mo08002.html.McWilliams, John P. Jr. Political Justice in a republic: James Fenimore Cooper’s America. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, Ltd., 1972.Mirsky, Stuart W. “Not The Last of the Mohicans, unfortunately. . .” 8 September 1997: 1-5. Online. Internet. 19 June 1998. Available http://www.amazon.com/ exec/obidos/ISBN%3D068492241/002-40822-3423255. Shulenberger, Arvid. Coopers Theory of Fiction. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1955.”A true American wilderness experience.” 2 May 1997: 1-5.Hartenstine 9Online. Internet. 19 June 1998. Available http://www. amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0684192241/002-40822-3423255.