The Last Of The Mohicans


The Last of the Mohicans. Produced by Michael Mann. 1 hour 54 minutes. 1992.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. Albany: State University of New
York Press, 1983.

The French and Indian War of the eighteenth century had uniquely complex qualities, matched by the gravity of its outcome. The myriad of cultures involved the French, Canadian, American, English, Algonquians, and Iroquois whom make this era fascinating. The multi-ethnic element made it a war built upon fragile alliances, often undermined by factional disputes and shifting fortunes. Violent as it was, its battlefields encompassed some of the most beautiful country to be found anywhere. Its richness in diverse cultures, the severity of its bloody violence, and the beauty of its landscape, all combine to make this an era with great depth of interest. It is entertaining and educational to witness a re-enactment event of a historical film and novel called The Last of the Mohicans.
In the wake of the 1992 debates about Columbus, the discovery of the Americas, and whether terms such as \'holocaust\', \'genocide\', and \'racism\' should be applied to what happened to Native Americans, Michael Mann\'s film remake of James Fenimore Cooper\'s The Last of the Mohicans continues a process of historical erasure or forgetting that Cooper and his contemporaries began. The sentimental racism expressed in Cooper\'s novel involves the ideas of the auto-genocide of \'savagery\' and the inevitable extinction of all Native Americans. Though Mann purported to take great pains in his film to be historically accurate, the film is only accurate in relation to trivial details. It thoroughly scrambles major aspects of Cooper\'s text, including converting the ageing Natty Bumppo into a young sex symbol (Daniel Day-Lewis). More importantly, the film completely erases Cooper\'s sentimental racism by, for instance, turning Chingachgook rather than his son, Uncas, into the \'last\' of his tribe, and thereby overlooking the motif of the futureless child central to that racism. But in eliminating Cooper\'s racism, the film in a sense perfects the novel, because the sentimentalism that softened the racism was already a form of erasure or forgetting.
Reading the novel, The Last of the Mohicans, I was actually able to appreciate Cooper’s work, as it was interesting and very different from the movie. While it is true that he is long-winded and very shallowly treats character development, I think that the original work does merit its study. I found that Cooper clearly portrayed the different values of two cultures. The readers can witness two cultures in conflict of political, moral, and religious issues. I think that Cooper did not develop his characters, not because of his inability, but rather because of his unwillingness. If David had been revealed to us thoroughly, would we have been able to objectively witness his role as a white settler? Certainly, if Magua’s motivations had been opened up to the audience, Cooper would no longer present him as the “savage Indian.” I enjoyed Cooper because of his shallow characters. His portrayal of their behaviors was unclouded by personal influence; they merely represented the culture from which they came. Many stunning examples of this representation were evident throughout the tale. While early in their adventures the settlers found themselves stranded on an island while being pursued by Magua and his companions, David, feeling secure in this position and unaware of the severity of their situations, begins to sing. This singing immediately alerts the Indians to their position. While this action seemed foolish to the reader, it clearly represented the European settler in “the wilderness”, as Cooper would have wanted to portray it. Learning about cultures is very important in understanding the main picture of world history.
Other values of the two cultures abound. The issue of honor is raised soon after Uncas claims his position as chief. He allows Magua to leave with Cora, knowing that while it is morally wrong, she is (by Indian customs of law) his property—won fairly. This decision would have been drastically different if laid in the hands of a European settler. The different values and the conflicts raised by them are extraordinary. By avoiding personal development of the characters, and by accentuating the differences between the two worlds, Cooper is able to objectively describe both. While this may seem to be an unusual