Cooper\'s "Deerslayer": View of the Native Americans

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
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