James Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851) was born in New Jersey, but soon his family moved to the frontier town of Cooperstown on Ostego Lake in central New York, where he met settlers and Indians. After being expulsed from school he became a sailor (1806). At twenty Cooper inherited a fortune from his father, married Susan Augusta De Lancey (1811), the daughter of a wealthy family and for two years he led the life of a country gentleman. In 1820, Cooper’s wife bet he could write a book better than the one he was reading and he started his career as a novelist with Precaution (1820) under the influence of Jane Austen, followed by the historical story The Spy: A Tale of Neutral Ground (1821) about the American Revolution. He was successful and decided to move to New York City where he carried on writing. Here Cooper founded the Bread and Cheese Club, which soon became a cultural centre attended by the painters of the Hudson River School and by writers like William Cullen Bryant.
In 1823, Cooper wrote The Pioneers, the first novel which features Natty Bumppo, as a protagonist. It was the first of The Leatherstocking Tales. The main theme of these stories are the American contrapositions between natural and legal rights, order and change, wilderness and civilization.
In 1826, he sailed for Europe where he stayed for seven years. Here Cooper wrote The Prairie (1827) and Notions of the Americans (1828) a defence of the United States against the attacks of European travellers. He was considered the American Walter Scott, the author that was his source and inspirer. The German critic Georg Lukacs compared Bumppo with characters of Sir Walter Scott that act as tools (= strumenti) for social and cultural examination of historical events.
Back in the States in 1833, Cooper was attacked by newspapers as a false aristocrat poisoned by European influences and the author answered attacking press and reviewers also on legal terms. Meanwhile he continued his career as a novelists publishing three more Leatherstocking Tales: The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841) and some books about the Navy: The History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839), The Cruise of Sommers (1844), and The Distinguished American Naval Officers (1846).
In his time, Cooper’s work was more very influential to European writers like Honore de Balzac and Leo Tolstoy than on the American ones. He is seen now as reactionary and too romantic but his writing contributed to create the genre of American fiction.
Natty Bumppo is a white child grown (= cresciuto) with Native Americans. He becomes a brave warrior expert in using many weapons (= armi) , especially the long rifle (= fucile a canna lunga). He respects nature and hunts (= caccia) only if he needs. Natty Bampoon is also called Deerslayer (= cacciatore di daini), Hawkeye (= occhio di falco), Longue Carabine, Pathfinder (=cercatore di sentieri), Leatherstocking (=Calza di cuoio) and the trapper (= cacciatore con trappole) in the various books of the series. Natty and his Mohican “brother” Chingachgook always try to stop the never-ending conflict between the Mohicans and the Hurons. Chingachgook is a Mohican chief and companion of Bumppo. He married Wah-ta-Wah who died young. The couple had a son Uncas, the last of the Mohicans, killed in a battle with renegade Magua. Chingachgook dies quite old in the novel The Pioneers and so is the real Last of the Mohicans, having outlived (= sopravvissuto a )his son.
The model for Chingachgook was probably a real wander Mohican basket maker (= costruttore di cestini) and hunter (= cacciatore) named Captain John. The character is sometimes called John Mohegan by the English and Le Grand Serpent, the Great Snake by the French because he understands the language of nature and knows when to strike. In the novels he embodies the traditional noble savage. Chingachgook’s dream is to create a group of volunteers from all the nations of the Delaware river valley to support and protect their interest and his son Uncas was the first member of such a group called the Order of the Arrow. This order still survives in America as a program of the Boy Scouts.
Various adaptations were made of the leather-tockings tales: in 1920, 1932, 1936, 1943, 1957, 1971 (a BBC serial), in 1977.
In 1992 the most recent version of The Last of the Mohicans was directed by Michael Mann with Daniel Day-Lewis as Natty Bampoo and Russell Means as Chingachgook.
The Last of the Mohicans
Major Duncan Heyward, Psalmodist David Gamut, and Alice and Cora Munro are going to Fort William Henry, besieged by the French near Lake George. They are led by the banished Huron warrior Magua. In the forest they meet the white woodsman Hawkeye and his two Mohican companions, Chingachgook and Uncas. The Hurons escape. The group is attacked by the Indians : the three woodsmen escape downriver for help, the others are captured by some warriors led by Magua. Magua proposes to Cora, who refuses him . the group is saved by the three woodsmen who kill all the Indians except Magua, who escapes again.
Leading the party of protagonists through narrow escapes from Indians and then besieging Frenchmen, Hawkeye brings them to a mountainside vantage point overlooking the fort. During the trip, a quiet interest develops between the young Uncas and the brunette Cora, while Heyward shows a deference toward Alice. With difficulty finding their way through the heavy morning mists and the omnipresent French, the seven, hotly pursued, finally reach the fort, where Commander Munro recognizes the voice of his daughter Alice and opens a sally-port for them. Heyward leads a repulse of the pursuing Frenchmen.
With the passage of days, a parley is held, and, since General Webb is sending no help, Munro agrees to surrender. Meanwhile, Heyward learns that Cora’s darkened aspect lies not only in a brooding nature but also in the fact that she is part black. During the planned withdrawal of the English forces, the Indians begin a bloody massacre, and Magua once again escapes with the two girls and Gamut.
Three days later, the three woodsmen, Munro, and Heyward go north of the lake and across the country in pursuit. When Uncas is captured by the Hurons, Hawkeye effects his escape and Alice’s through disguise and all head for the Delaware village where Cora is held captive. Magua follows and demands his prisoners. Uncas reveals himself as a chief to the patriarch Tamenund, and Magua is allowed his only rightful prisoner, Cora, though the protagonists and the Delawares vow to follow and regain her freedom. Coming out of hiding in a beaver pond, Chingachgook and Munro join the ensuing battle, in which the Hurons are defeated. Nonetheless, Magua and two warriors escape with Cora through the nearby caves and up a mountainside. Finally cornered by Hawkeye, Heyward, Gamut, and Uncas, the Hurons give defiance and in the fighting Cora, Uncas, and Magua are killed.
The next day is one of mourning for the Delawares. Cora and Uncas are buried side by side, and all the white characters except Hawkeye leave. When Chingachgook states that he is now alone, Hawkeye grasps his hand and declares that such is not so. At the same time, Tamenund sadly comments upon the worsening historic plight of the American Indians and particularly upon the tragically accomplished demise of the wise and noble race of Mohicans.