Analysis Of The Last Of The Mohicans As An Anti-epic Novel

Epics are famously known for having extraordinary individuals as the protagonists. An epic hero must have certain characteristics and attributes in order to be considered an epic hero. For instance, he must have superhuman abilities, be of noble birth, be humble, an exceptional warrior, a known legend in his own culture, fighting supernatural or mythical adversaries and a vast traveler who is on a quest to fulfill or achieve something. In this essay, I will discuss how the characters in Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans make the novel an anti-epic.

The Last of the Mohicans is a frontier adventure novel and contains multiple frontiers and tribal forces such as the warring English and French frontiers as well as the Indian tribes; for example, the Delawares and the Hurons. The French have the Hurons on their side as these Indian warriors were “recruited” to help them in finding their way through the vast forest and to search for or fight any enemies. On the other hand, the English had only two Mohicans, who are descendants of the Delawares; and Hawkeye, a culturally hybrid white man.

We will start with the character of Hawkeye and a list of his most prominent characteristics. Hawkeye is known among the Indians as “The Long Rifle” and his rifle is known as “Killdeer”, his reputation precedes him as he was raised with the Delaware Indians and they gave him the name Hawkeye although his real name is Nathaniel Bumppo and his parents were both white. He is considered a cultural hybrid that mediates between the whites and the Indians, not to mention he speaks both English and the Delaware tongue so he is represented as some sort of a link between both cultures to help them communicate with each other. Additionally, he is an unmatched marksman and sharpshooter as displayed in multiple occasions in the book especially in the shooting contest between him and Duncan. Also, Hawkeye is a scout and an explorer. According to the book, he’s been in the wilderness for years and knows the forest and its sounds very well. Furthermore, The Long Rifle is proud and boastful which shows when he was challenged in the shooting contest. Moreover, he is brave, helpful and always loyal to his friends. He has somewhat of a moral code and thinks and acts with his brain rather than his passion.

Is Hawkeye, then, fit to fill the position of an epic hero? No, at least not traditionally, and that is due numerous reasons. Hawkeye is an orphan and not of noble birth, not that it is a strict requirement but he doesn’t fit the criteria of a skilled warrior either because without his gun, he cannot do much in comparison to his Mohican companions. He is known among the Indians and has his reputation yet he still did not amount to that of a legend, and that is mainly because even though he is courageous in some parts, he is not so brave in others. For example, when he and his friends were captured, he begged the enemies to let Cora go and keep him instead; but in other parts he chose to hide instead of fighting or disguising himself as a bear. Perhaps reasonably it was the right thing to do because they were outnumbered, but epic heroes are fearless and would fight no matter what as they are rather passionate. Another reason is that his rifle “Killdeer”, although dangerous, didn’t have magical or super powerful attributes like ones of an epic hero’s. As well as that, he is allegedly a renowned sharpshooter yet he still misses a few shots when shooting his enemies like when he missed the shot on Magua before he disappeared into the thickness of the forest; which disqualifies Hawkeye from having superhuman skills and capabilities. One of epic heroes’ virtues is humility, which Hawkeye seems to be devoid of due to his continuous boasting and arrogant nature. Also, his opponents do not have any supernatural features; and he is not exactly on a journey to fulfill a quest. He is saving the Munro sisters, yes, but he coincidentally ran into the group of Duncan and the ladies and happened to be tagging along with them in order to help them find their way in the wilderness, he didn’t get an invocation telling him to do so. The only thing common between him and epic heroes is that he is a vast traveler and knows a lot of different places, but other than that he seems like just an above normal person and definitely doesn’t have the glory and grandeur of an epic hero.

Moving on to the antagonist of the novel, Magua, the cruel savage Huron. He was rejected and even hunted down by his own tribe for being under the influence of alcohol which was brought to the lands by the whites; thus, Magua blames the white colonizers for that. On account of being a lone castaway and wanderer, he joins the Hurons. Magua is a cunning trickster who isn’t really loyal to any party because he doesn’t belong to any of them; not to the Hurons, not to the French and not to the English. He tricks Duncan and the sisters into thinking he is a guide and gaining their trust, and he wants to take revenge by marrying Cora, the daughter of Munro, the man who tortured and humiliated Magua in the past in front of the white soldiers. He is described in multiple parts in the story by having eyes and a countenance that inflicts terror in the hearts of the other characters. However, with such dark descriptions one would think he would be a very hard opponent to defeat, but he doesn’t seem to have superb fighting abilities nor powerful mythical weapons. He was defeated by the Mohicans once and when he saw that he was outnumbered, he chickened out. The final fight wasn’t something extraordinary, he ended up dying by a bullet fired by Hawkeye, reminding us that he is a mere mortal who is easy to kill. The adversaries of epic heroes must possess some sort of superhuman power and not so easy to defeat.

On the other hand, Uncas, the young Mohican, was more of a dignified character with haughty features. He is an excellent brave warrior, graceful, strong yet calm and caring. Uncas’ actions are noble rather than his birth’ for instance, he tries his best to keep the sisters safe and saves them more than once even when he is busy fighting enemies. Moreover, he is in harmony with nature and is very knowledgeable of the wilderness. Uncas breaks the stereotype of the “savage and barbarous” natives, he has some kind of code to only kill as need killing, unlike the blood-thirsty Hurons who slaughter everyone solely to have their victims’ scalps as trophies. Unca might be passionate about protecting his friends, but he never panics and remains calm; which makes him an all-around level-headed character. The Delawares believed he was a reincarnation of Tamenund’s grandfather who was a legenday fearless Indian who was also named Uncas. This interesting prospect gives a hint of supernatural, even godly aura to Uncas. With such noble features, Uncas remains disqualified from being an epic hero. Mainly because he takes orders from everyone for more than halfway of the novel, he was simply a puppet obeying whatever orders or tasks given to him. Not until the end did he start taking matters into his own hands, ruling the Indians like a king. Just like Hawkeye, he also did not have super powerful rivals not to mention Uncas wasn’t in the limelight as much as Hawkeye was. So, Uncas, too is excluded from being an epic hero.

Last but not least, Chingatchgook is definitely not considered an epic hero, although very wise, calm and strong like his son, one would think he is devoid of human emotion hadn’t he mourned the death of his son. Like his son, he is one with the nature and only kills when necessary. His alias is The Big Sarpent, and according to the book, that is because he “understands the windings and turnings of human nature”; and strikes his enemies silently when they least expect him. Chingatchgook was absent most of the story so there isn’t much information about him to see whether he amounts to an epic hero or not.

All in all, I believe The Last of the Mohicans is an anti-epic or at least a non-traditional one because it challenges the classic epic conventions and also due to the lack of supernatural elements which is the essence of classical epics. It has a more realistic touch to it, especially the heroes and setting. In my opinion, heroes are an important factor in identifying epics, and the ones in this novel just didn’t achieve the level of greatness required for the novel to be considered as such. 

16 December 2021
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