James Fenimore Cooper (1789 –1851) was a historian of America. His novels span American history, dramatizing central events from Columbus’s discovery (Mercedes of Castile) through the French and Indian Wars and the early settlement (the Leatherstocking Tales) to the Revolution (The Spy and The Pilot) and the contemporary events of the Littlepage and the Miles Wallingford novels. In some of his European novels, he examined major intellectual developments, such as the Reformation, which he thought important to American history, and in many of his novels, he reviewed the whole of American history, attempting to complete his particular vision of America by inventing a tradition for the new nation. Modern criticism is divided concerning the meaning and nature of Cooper’s tradition. Following the lead of D. H. Lawrence, a group of myth critics have concentrated on unconscious elements in Cooper’s works, while Robert Spiller and a group of social and historical critics have concentrated more on his conscious opinions.
In his Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), Lawrence argued that Cooper’s myth of America is centered in the friendship between Natty Bumppo and his American Indian friend, Chingachgook, and in the order of composition of the Leatherstocking Tales. Of the friendship, Lawrence says, Cooper “dreamed a new human relationship deeper than the deeps of sex. Deeper than property, deeper than fatherhood, deeper than marriage, deeper than love. . . . This is the nucleus of a new society, the clue to a new epoch.” Of the order of writing, he says that the novels “go backwards, from old age to golden youth. That is the true myth of America. She starts old, old and wrinkled in an old skin. And there is a gradual sloughing of the old skin, towards a new youth.” These insightful statements have been elaborated by critics who have looked deeply into Cooper’s works but who have concentrated most of their attention on the Leatherstocking Tales in order to find in Cooper affinities with Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and others who seem to find it necessary, like Natty Bumppo, to remain apart from social institutions to preserve their integrity. Because these critics tend to focus on Leatherstocking and mythic elements in the tales, they may be better guides to American myth than to Cooper. Although Cooper contributes images and forms to what became myths in the hands of others, his own mind seems to have been occupied more with making American society than with escaping it.
Another more traditional mythic pattern pervades all of his works, including the Leatherstocking Tales. Several critics have called attention to a key passage in The Last of the Mohicans when Natty describes the waterfall where the scout and his party take refuge from hostile Native Americans. The pattern of a unified flow falling into disorder and rebellion only to be gathered back again by the hand of Providence into a new order not only is descriptive of the plot of this novel but also suggests other 280 Notable American Novelists levels of meaning that are reflected throughout Cooper’s work, for it defines Cooper’s essentially Christian and Enlightenment worldview, a view that he found expressed, though with too monarchical a flavor, in Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man (1733-1734).
In Home as Found, Cooper sees the same pattern in the development of frontier settlements. They begin with a pastoral stage in which people of all kinds cooperate freely and easily to make a new land support them. The second stage is anarchic, for when freed of the demanding laws of necessity, society begins to divide as interests consolidate into factions and as families struggle for power and position. Though it appears painful and disorderly, this phase is the natural, providential reordering process toward a mature society. In the final phase, established, mutually respecting, and interdependent classes make possible a high civilization. In The American Democrat, Cooper often echoes Pope’s Essay on Man as he explains that human life in this world is a fall into disorder where the trials exceed the pleasures; this apparent disorder, however, is a merciful preparation for a higher life to come. Many of Cooper’s novels reflect this pattern; characters leave or are snatched out of their reasonably ordered world to be educated in a dangerous and seemingly disordered one, only to be returned after an educational probation into a more familiarly ordered world, there to contribute to its improvement. This pattern of order, separation, and reintegration pervades Cooper’s thought and gives form to his conscious dream of America. He came to see America as moving through the anarchic and purifying phase of the Revolution toward a new society that would allow the best that is in fallen humankind to be realized. This dream is expressed, in part, in The Pioneers.
The Pioneers is Cooper’s first great novel, the first he composed primarily to satisfy himself. The popular success of The Spy increased both his freedom and his confidence, encouraging him to turn to what proved to be his richest source of material, the frontier life of New York State. This first novel in the Leatherstocking series has a complex double organization which is an experimental response to what Robert Spiller sees as Cooper’s main artistic problem, the adaptation of forms developed in aristocratic civilized Europe to his democratic frontier material. On one hand, The Pioneers describes daily life in the new village of Templeton on Otsego Lake and is ordered within a frame of seasonal change from Christmas, 1793, until the following autumn. Behind this organization, on the other hand, stands a hidden order that gradually reveals itself as the story unfolds; central to this plot is the transfer of title of the largest portion of land in the district from Judge Marmaduke Temple to Edward Oliver Effingham. These two structures interact to underline the providential inevitability and significance of this transfer.
The seasonal ordering of events brings out the nature of the community at Templeton at this particular point in its development. Templeton is shown to be suspended between two forms of order. Representing the old order are the seventy-yearold Natty Bumppo, the Leatherstocking, and his aged Indian friend, John Mohegan, whose actual name is Chingachgook. The forest is their home and their mediator with divine law. Natty, through his contact with Chingachgook and his life in the forest, has become the best man that such a life can produce. He combines true Christian principles with the skills and knowledge of the best of American Indian civilization. Natty and the Indian live an ideal kind of life, given the material circumstances of their environment, but that environment is changing. Otsego Lake is becoming settled and civilized. Chingachgook remains because he wishes to live where his ancestors once dwelt. Natty stays with his friend. Their presence becomes a source of conflict.
The new order is represented at first by Judge Temple, but the form of that order remains somewhat obscure until the revealing of motives and identities at the end of the novel. Temple’s main function in the community is moral. He is important as the owner and developer of the land. He has brought settlers to the land, helped them through troubled times, and, largely at his own expense, built the public buildings and established the institutions of Templeton. During the transition to civilization, Temple is a center of order, organization, and—most important—restraint. In part through his efforts, the legislature is enacting laws to restrain the settlers in the state. Restraint on two kinds of behavior is necessary. On one hand, there are characters such as Billy Kirby, whose wasteful use of community resources stems primarily from the inability to understand the needs of a settled country. These individuals live in the old forest world but without the old forest values. On the other hand, there are the settlers themselves: Some, such as Richard Jones and Hiram Doolittle, tend toward cupidity, while others, such as the community’s poor, are so unaccustomed to having plenty that they waste it when they have it. These attitudes are shown in the famous scenes of pigeon shooting and lake fishing, and they are pointedly contrasted with the old values practiced by Natty and Chingachgook. The settlers need restraint; Judge Temple feels in himself the desire to overharvest the plentiful natural resources of Templeton and knows at first hand the importance of restraining laws that will force the settlers to live by an approximation of the divine law by which Natty lives.
The central conflict in the seasonal ordering of the novel is between Natty, who lives by the old law, the natural law of the forest that reflects the divine law, and the settlers, who are comparatively lawless. This conflict is complicated as the new restraining civil laws come into effect and the lawless members of the community exploit and abuse those laws in order to harass Natty. Hiram Doolittle, a justice of the peace, and Richard Jones, the sheriff, become convinced that Natty is secretly mining silver on Judge Temple’s land. In reality, Natty is concealing the aged and senile original white owner of this land, Major Effingham, helping to care for the old man until his grandson, Oliver Effingham, is able to move him to better circumstances. Doolittle succeeds at maneuvering the law and its institutions so that Judge Temple must fine and jail Natty for resisting an officer of the law. Thus, Natty becomes a victim of the very laws designed to enforce his own highest values, underlining the weakness of human nature and illustrating the cyclical pattern of anarchy, order, and repression and abuse of the law. When Doolittle’s machinations are revealed and Natty is freed, he announces his intent to move west into the wilderness that is his proper home.
The conflict between the old order and the new is resolved only in part by Natty’s apparent capitulation and retreat into the wilderness. Before Natty leaves, he performs a central function in the land transfer plot, a function which infuses the values of the old order into the new order. The land to which Judge Temple holds title was given to Major Effingham by a council of the Delaware chiefs at the time of the French and Indian Wars. In recognition of his qualities as a faithful and brave warrior, Effingham was adopted into the tribe as a son of Chingachgook. In this exchange, the best of Native American civilization recognized its own qualities in a superior formin Effingham, a representative of the best of European Christian civilization. This method of transfer is crucial because it amounts to a gentleman’s agreement ratified by family ties; the transfer is a voluntary expression of values and seems providentially ordained. The history of the land, as it passes from the Major to his son, illustrates these same values. The Major confidently gives his son control over his estates, knowing that his son will care for them as a gentleman should. Generosity and honor, rather than greed and violence, characterize these transfers.
For the transfer to be complete, the owners must be Americanized by means of the American Revolution. This process is a purification which brings to culmination in Oliver the traditions of American democracy and European and American Indian aristocracy. The Effinghams are a Tory family. Oliver’s father and Judge Temple are brothers in honor, a civilized reflection of Natty and Chingachgook. Temple is an example of Americanized aristocracy. His aristocratic family had declined in the New World, but beginning with his father, they reemerged as democratic “aristocrats,” what Cooper referred to as gentlemen. A gentleman is one whose superior talents are favored by education and comparative leisure to fit him as a moral leader of the community. The gentleman differs from the Old World aristocrat in that he has no hereditary title to political power. In the ideal republic, the gentleman is recognized for his attainments by the common people, who may be expected to choose freely their political leaders from among the gentry. The Effinghams have not undergone this Americanizing process. The process is portrayed in the novel in Oliver Effingham’s resentful efforts to restore his grandfather to his accustomed way of life.
Oliver labors under the mistaken idea that Temple has usurped his family’s land, but as the final revelations show, the Americanized gentleman has remained faithful, holding the land in trust for the Effinghams to take once they have become American. Oliver’s deprivation, the military defeat of his family, and his working in disguise for Judge Temple are lessons in humility that reveal to him the moral equality between himself and the Temples.Without such an experience, he might well consider himself above the Judge’s daughter, Elizabeth, unable to marry her and unable to bring together the two parts of the estate. The other main component of Oliver’s transformation comes under the tutelage of Natty and Chingachgook, who attempt to impress upon Oliver, as well as upon Elizabeth, their obligations to the land and to its previous owners. Through this two-pronged education, the aristocrat becomes a gentleman, and the breach caused by the American Revolution is healed. This healing is manifested most clearly in the marriage of Oliver and Elizabeth. The best of the OldWorld is recognized by the best of NewWorld Indians and, by means of the Revolution, is purified of its antidemocratic prejudices; the aristocrat becomes a gentleman worthy to rule in America.
The transfer of title takes place within the context of inevitable seasonal change; its rhythm of tension and crisis reflects similar events within the seasons. The transition from the old order of Native American occupation to the new order of white democratic civilization is shown, despite local tensions and conflicts, to be providentially ordered when viewed from a sufficient distance.Within the seasons as well as in the human actions, the central theme of displacement underlines and elaborates the meaning of the overall movement.
The novel is filled with displaced persons. Remarkable Pettibone is displaced as mistress of the Temple mansion by Elizabeth. Natty and Chingachgook are displaced by white civilization. Oliver is displaced by the American Revolution, Le Quoi by the French Revolution. Finally, Judge Temple is displaced as the first power in the community.Within this thematic pattern, two general kinds of resolution occur. Oliver, Chingachgook, and Le Quoi are variously restored to their proper places, though Chingachgook must die in order to rejoin his tribe. Pettibone and Temple come to accept their displacement by their superiors. Natty is unique. His displacement seems destined for repetition until Providence finally civilizes the continent and no place is left that is really his home. For him, as for Chingachgook, only death seems to offer an end to displacement. Natty’s legacy must live on, however, in those gentlemen who combine “nature and refinement,” and there is some hope that in a mature American society, Natty as well as good American Indians might find a home.
Critics tend to see Natty as an idealized epic hero who is too good for any society he encounters, but this is not quite true. In each of the books in which he appears, he acts as a conserver of essential values. This role is clearest when he teaches Elizabeth the ethics of fishing for one’s food and when he saves her and Oliver from a fire on the mountain. His complaints about the “wasty ways” of civilization and about the laws that ought to be unnecessary are a part of this function. Though he fails to understand the weaknesses of civilized people and their need for the civil law, he still functions to further the best interests of civilization, not only by taming the wild but also by performing a role like that of the Old Testament prophets. He constantly calls people’s attention back to the first principles of civilized life. In this respect, Natty is much like Cooper.
The Pioneers is a hopeful novel, for in it Cooper reveals a confidence in a providential ordering of history that will lead to the fulfillment of his ideas of a rational republic. This novel resolves the central anarchic displacements of the native inhabitants and of the traditional European ruling class by asserting that the American republic is the fruition of these two traditions. Though far from perfect, the American experiment seems, in this novel, to be destined for a unique success.
The Last of the Mohicans
The Last of the Mohicans is the best known of the Leatherstocking Tales, probably because it combines Cooper’s most interesting characters and the relatively fast-paced adventure of The Spy and The Pilot. Set in the French and Indian Wars, this novel presents Natty and Chingachgook in their prime. Chingachgook’s son, Uncas, is the last of the Mohican chiefs, the last of the line from which the Delaware nation is said to trace its origins. Although the novel moves straightforwardly through two adventures, it brings into these adventures a number of suggestive thematic elements.
The two main adventures are quests, with filial piety as their motive. Major Duncan Heyward attempts to escort Cora and Alice Munro to their father, commander of Fort William Henry on Horican Lake (Lake George). Led astray by Magua, an American Indian who seeks revenge against Munro, the party, which comes to include a comic psalmodist, David Gamut, encounters and enlists the help of Natty and his Indian companions. This quest is fully successful. Magua joins the Hurons who are leagued with the besieging French forces at William Henry and captures the original party, which is then rescued by Natty and his friends to be delivered safely to the doomed fort. This adventure is followed by an interlude at the fort in which Heyward obtains Munro’s permission to court Alice and learns, to his own secret pain, that Cora has black blood. Also in this interlude, Munro learns he will get no support from nearby British troops and realizes that he must surrender his position. Montcalm allows him to remove his men and equipment from the fort before it is destroyed, but the discontented Native Americans, provoked by Magua, break the truce and massacre the retreating and exposed people for booty and scalps. Magua precipitates the next quest by capturing Alice and Cora and taking them, along with David Gamut, north toward Canada. The second quest is the rescue mission of Natty, Chingachgook, Uncas, Heyward, and Munro. This attempt is only partly successful, for both Cora and Uncas are killed.
Cooper heightens the interest of these quests in part through a double love plot. During the first movement, Duncan and Alice come to love each other, and Uncas is attracted to Cora. Though thematically important, the first couple is not very interesting. Except for the slight misunderstanding with Munro that reveals the secret of Cora’s ancestry, the barriers between Heyward and Alice are physical and temporal. More complicated and puzzling is the relationship between Cora and Uncas. Although Alice seems to spend most of the two quests calling on her father, weeping, and fainting, Cora shows a spirit and courage that make her an interesting character and that attract the admiration of Uncas. Magua is also interested in Cora, proposing in the first capture that if she will become his wife, he will cease his persecution of the rest of the family. Magua is primarily intent on revenge against Munro, but it seems clear that his interest in Cora as a woman grows until it may even supplant his revenge motive. Near the end of the novel, Natty offers himself in exchange for Cora, but even though Natty is a much more valuable prisoner, Magua prefers to keep Cora. When the hunted Magua’s last remaining comrade kills Cora, Magua turns on him. Though there is no indication that Magua’s is more than a physical passion, he seems strongly attracted to Cora, perhaps in part because of her courageous refusal to fear or to submit to him.
Critics have made much of the relationship between Cora, Uncas, and Magua, suggesting that Cooper gives Cora black blood to “sanitize” her potential relationship with Uncas and the heavenly marriage between them suggested in the final funeral service of the Indians. Cora becomes an early example of “the tragic mulatto” who has no place in the world where racial purity is highly valued. Natty insistently declares that even though he has adopted American Indian ways, he is “a man without a cross”; his blood is pure white. On the other hand, the three-part pattern that seems to dominate Cooper’s historical vision might imply a real fulfillment in the Indian funeral that is intended to bring Cora and Uncas together in the next life. This incident may be as close as Cooper came to a vision of a new America such as Lawrence hints at, in which even the races are drawn together into a new unity. The division between races is a symptom of a fallen and perverse world. Natty more than once asserts that there is one God over all and, perhaps, one afterlife for all.
The first meeting of Heyward’s party with Natty’s party in the forest has an allegorical quality that looks forward to the best of Nathaniel Hawthorne and begins the development of the theme of evil, which—in Cooper’s vision—can enjoy only a temporary triumph. Lost in the forest, misled by the false guide, Magua, this party from civilization has entered a seemingly anarchic world in which they are babes “without the knowledge of men.” This meeting introduces two major themes: the conception of the wilderness as a book one must know how to read if one is to survive, and the conception of Magua and his Hurons as devils who have tempted Heyward’s party into this world in order to work their destruction. Though Magua is represented in Miltonic terms as Satan, he is not so much a rebel angel as a product of “the colonial wars of North America.” Magua’s home is the “neutral territory” that the rival forces must cross in order to fight each other; he desires revenge on Munro for an imprudent act, an act that symbolizes the whites’ disturbance of Magua’s way of life. As Magua asserts, Munro provided the alcohol that unbalanced him, then whipped him for succumbing to that alcohol. Magua has most of the qualities of the good men: courage, cunning, the ability to organize harmoniously talent and authority, and highly developed skills at reading the book of nature. He differs from Natty and his Native American companions, however, in that he allows himself to be governed by the evil passion of revenge rather than by unselfish rationality. Of his kind, the unselfishly rational men must be constantly suspicious. Montcalm’s failure to control his Indian forces demonstrates that only the most concerted efforts can prevent great evil. The novel’s end shows that ultimately only divine Providence can fully right the inevitable wrongs of this world.
Within this thematic context, a crucial event is David’s response to Natty’s promise to avenge his death if the Hurons dare to kill him. David will have no vengeance, only Christian forgiveness. Natty acknowledges the truth and beauty of the idea, but it is clear that his struggle is on another level. Those he fights are devils, the dark side of himself, of Chingachgook and Cora and Uncas—in fact, of all the main characters— for Magua is doubled with each of the main characters at some point in the novel. Magua comes to represent the evil in each character. In this forest world, the dark self takes shape in passionate savages who must be exterminated absolutely, like those who first capture Heyward’s party. To show them pity is to endanger oneself; to neglect killing them is to open one to further jeopardy, such as the “descent into hell” to rescue the captured maidens, which is one element of the second quest. Only under the rule of civil law in civilization does human evil become a forgivable weakness rather than a metaphysical absolute.
Critics have noted the improbable plot of The Prairie while acknowledging its powerful and moving episodes. Ishmael Bush, an opponent of land ownership and of the civil law, has led onto the vast western prairie his considerable family, including a wife, seven sons, and an unspecified number of daughters; his brother-inlaw, Abiram White; a well-educated and distantly related orphan, Ellen Wade; Obed Battius, a comic naturalist and doctor; and Inez Middleton, whom Abiram has kidnapped for ransom. Bush’s ostensible motive is to escape the various restraining regulations of civilization and, particularly, to set up his farm far from the irksome property law. It is never made clear why he has consented to join the kidnapping or how anyone expects to collect a ransom. This expedition draws in its wake Paul Hover, a secret suitor of Ellen, and a party of soldiers led by Duncan Uncas Middleton, who seeks to recover his bride, who was snatched between the ceremony and the consummation. On the prairie, they all meet the eighty-seven-year-old Natty, who has forsaken human-made clearings in order to avoid the sound of the axe and to die in a clearing made by God. The situation is complicated by the presence of feuding American Indian bands: the bad Indians, the Hurons of the plains, are the Sioux, led by the treacherous Mahtoree; the good Indians are the Pawnee, led by the faithful Hard Heart. With these melodramatic materials, Cooper forges a moving tale that he makes significant in part by bringing into play issues of law and morality.
During the captivities and escapes that advance the novel’s action, the white characters divide into two alliances that are then associated with the two Native American tribes. Both alliances are patriarchal, but their characters are significantly different. Bush is the patriarch of physical power. He lives by the “natural law” that “might makes right,” establishing his dominance over his family through physicial strength and his conviction of his own power and rectitude. This alliance is beset by internal danger and contradiction. The second alliance is a patriarchy of wisdom and virtue. Bound together by the faith of its members, it grows under the leadership of Natty to include Paul, Duncan, Ellen, Inez, and Dr. Battius. The conflict between these two groups is prefigured in the first confrontation between Natty and Ishmael. Ishmael is represented in the opening of the novel as being out of place on the prairie, for he is a farmer who has left the best farmland to take the route of those who, “deluded by their wishes,” are “seeking for the Eldorado of the West.” In one of the many great tableaux of this novel, Ishmael’s group first sees Natty as a gigantic shadow cast toward them by the setting sun. He is a revelation who suggests to them the supernatural. Bush has come to the prairie in the pride of moral self-sufficiency, but Natty is an example of humble dependency on the wisdom of God. In part, through Natty’s example, Ishmael finally leads his “wild brood” back to civilization at the novel’s end.
Pride on the prairie, as in the wilderness of New York, leads to the subjection of reason to passion, to precipitate actions and death, whereas humility, though it may not save one from death, leads to the control of passion, to patience and probable survival. Natty teaches this lesson repeatedly to the group of which he becomes father and leader. Ishmael and the Sioux, “the Ishmaelites of the American deserts,” learn the lesson through more bitter experience. The narrator implies that both Ishmael and Mahtoree, in attempting to be laws unto themselves, are playing God. In the central dialogue of the novel, Natty tells Dr. Battius in terms that echo Essay on Man that humankind’s
gifts are not equal to his wishes . . . he would mount into the heavens with all his deformities about him if he only knew the road. . . . If his power is not equal to his will, it is because the wisdom of the Lord hath set bounds to his evil workings.
Mahtoree, unrestrained by the traditional laws of his tribe, seeks through demagoguery to manipulate his people to effect his selfish desire for Inez. He and his band are destroyed in consequence. Bush’s lesson comes when he discovers that Natty is not actually the murderer of Bush’s eldest son, Asa.
The lesson Bush learns is always present to him. When his sons learn the well-kept secret that Ishmael is assisting Abiram in a kidnapping, they become indignant and rebellious. Cooper uses this conflict to demonstrate the precariousness of arbitrary power. Bush knows that he deserted his parents when he felt strong enough, and he is aware that only his strength keeps his sons with him in the present danger from American Indians. This knowledge of instability becomes complete when he learns that Abiram has returned the blow he received from Asa by shooting the boy in the back. It is difficult to determine how fully Bush understands this revelation. He feels his dilemma, for he admits that while he suspected Natty, he had no doubt that the murderer deserved execution, but when he learned of his brother-in-law’s guilt, he became unsure. The wound to his family can hardly be cured by killing another of its members. For the first time in his life, Bush feels the waste and solitude of the wilderness. He turns to his wife and to her Bible for authority. He feels the extent to which Abiram has carried out Ishmael’s own desire to punish his rebellious son, and thus he himself suffers as he carries out the execution of Abiram. This bitter lesson humbles him and sends him back to settled country and the restraints of civil law.
For Natty’s informal family, there are gentler lessons. Paul and Duncan learn to be humble about their youthful strength, to realize their dependency on others, and to become better bridegrooms. Battius learns a little intellectual humility from Natty’s practical knowledge of the wilderness. The center of Natty’s teaching is that the legitimate use of power is for service rather than for self. This lesson arises out of the relationship between Natty and Hard Heart. Natty and the faithful Pawnee chief adopt each other when it appears the Sioux will kill Hard Heart. Natty later asserts that he became Hard Heart’s father only to serve him, just as he becomes the figurative father of the more civilized fugitives in order to serve them. After their relationship is established, it endures. Natty lives the last year of his life as a respected elder of the Pawnee and dies honored in their village. Having learned their lesson on the humble use of power in God’s wilderness, Paul and Duncan carry their wisdom back to the high councils of the republic, where they become respected family men, property owners, and legislators. Like the Effinghams at Otsego Lake, the Hovers and the Middletons—the latter descending from the Heywards of The Last of the Mohicans—infuse the wisdom of the wilderness into the social order of America.
Cooper believed he had ended his Leatherstocking Tales when he completed The Prairie. Probably for this reason, he brought together his themes and characters and clarified the importance of Natty Bumppo to American civilization. Most critics have agreed that Cooper was drawn toward two ideals, the ability to exist in the wilderness and the ideal of a “natural aristocracy” of social and political order. It may be, however, that the first three of the Leatherstocking Tales are intended in part to create a history of America in which the wisdom of the wilderness is transferred to the social and political structure of the republic. Natty distrusts written tradition because “mankind twist and turn the rules of the Lord to suit their own wickedness when their devilish cunning has had too much time to trifle with his commands.” Natty’s experience provides a fresh revelation which renews the best of the Christian tradition and that calls people back to basic Christian principles. That revelation consists essentially of a humble recognition of human limitations, justifying Cooper’s vision of a republic where rulers are chosen for wisdom and faithfulness, where the tradition is not rigidly controlled by a hereditary elite but is constantly renewed by the unfettered ascendancy of the good and wise.
Throughout his career, Cooper worked within a general understanding of human history as a disordered phase of existence between two orders, and a particular vision of contemporary America as a disordered phase between the old aristocratic order and the new order to be dominated by the American gentleman. In the first three of the Leatherstocking Tales, Cooper reveals a desire to naturalize the aristocratic tradition through exposure to the wilderness and its prophet, the man who reads God’s word in the landscape. The result of this process would be a mature natural order that, though far from divine perfection, would promise as much happiness as is possible for fallen humankind. In his later novels, Cooper gave increasing attention to the ways in which American society failed to understand and to actualize this purified tradition. He looked back often, especially in The Deerslayer, to the purity and goodness of those basic values. Although they are rarely read today, novels such as Satanstoe and The Oak Openings among his later works are well worth reading, as is The Bravo from among his problem novels. In all these works, Cooper continues to express his faith in the possibility of a high American civilization.
Long fiction • Precaution: A Novel, 1820; The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground, 1821; The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea, 1823; The Pioneers: Or, The Sources of the Susquehanna, 1823; Lionel Lincoln: Or, The Leaguer of Boston, 1825; The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757, 1826; The Prairie: A Tale, 1827; The Red Rover: A Tale, 1827; The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish: A Tale, 1829; The Water-Witch: Or, The Skimmer of the Seas, 1830; The Bravo: A Tale, 1831; The Heidenmauer: Or, The Benedictines—A Tale of the Rhine, 1832; The Headsman: Or, The Abbaye des Vignerons, 1833; The Monikens, 1835; Home as Found, 1838; Homeward Bound: Or, The Chase, 1838; Mercedes of Castile: Or, The Voyage to Cathay, 1840; The Pathfinder: Or, The Inland Sea, 1840; The Deerslayer: Or, The First War-Path, 1841; The Two Admirals: A Tale, 1842; The Wing-and-Wing: Or, Le Feu-Follet, 1842; Le Mouchoir: An Autobiographical Romance, 1843 (also known as Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief); Wyandotté: Or, The Hutted Knoll, 1843; Afloat and Ashore: A Sea Tale, 1844; Miles Wallingford: Sequel to Afloat and Ashore, 1844; Satanstoe: Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts, a Tale of the Colony, 1845; The Chainbearer: Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts, 1845; The Redskins: Or, Indian and Injin, Being the Conclusion of the Littlepage Manuscripts, 1846; The Crater: Or, Vulcan’s Peak, a Tale of the Pacific, 1847; Jack Tier: Or, The Florida Reef, 1848; The Oak Openings: Or, The Bee Hunter, 1848; The Sea Lions: Or, The Lost Sealers, 1849; The Ways of the Hour, 1850.
Nonfiction: Notions of the Americans, 1828; A Letter to His Countrymen, 1834; Sketches of Switzerland, 1836; Gleanings in Europe: England, 1837; Gleanings in Europe: France, 1837; Chronicles of Cooperstown, 1838; Gleanings in Europe: Italy, 1838; The American Democrat, 1838; The History of the Navy of the United States of America, 1839 (2 volumes); Ned Meyers: Or, A Life Before the Mast, 1843; Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers, 1845; New York, 1851; The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, 1960 1968 (6 volumes; J. F. Beard, editor).
Source: Notable American Novelists Revised Edition Volume 1 James Agee — Ernest J. Gaines Edited by Carl Rollyson Salem Press, Inc 2008.