Savage and Scott-ish masculinity in The Last of the Mohicans and The Prairie: James Fenimore Cooper and the diasporic origins of American identity

Juliet Shields*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This essay reassesses James Fenimore Cooper's literary relationship to Walter Scott by examining the depiction of Scots in The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and The Prairie (1827). Read as companion texts, these novels represent the imperial migrations of Scots as a cause of Native Americans' unfortunate, but for Cooper seemingly inevitable, eradication. They also trace the development of an American identity that incorporates feudal chivalry and savage fortitude and that is formed through cultural appropriation rather than racial mixing. The Last of the Mohicans' Scottish protagonist, Duncan Heyward, learns to survive in the northeastern wilderness by adopting the Mohicans' savage self-control as a complement to his own feudal chivalry; in turn, The Prairie's Paul Hover equips himself for the challenges of westward expansion by opting both the remnants of this chivalry and the exilic adaptability and colonial striving that Cooper accords to Scots. I suggest that the cultural appropriation through which Heyward and Hover achieve an American identity that incorporates Scottish chivalry and savage self-command offers a model for the literary relationship between Cooper's and Scott's historical romances. The Leatherstocking Tales borrow selectively from the Waverely Novels, rejecting their valorization of feudal chivalry while incorporating their representation of cultural appropriation as a mechanism of teleological social development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-162
Number of pages26
JournalNineteenth-Century Literature
Volume64
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes

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