Idealism and Guilt in the Forest: Cooper, Emerson and the American Wilderness Myth
Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans has had a remarkable impact on American culture and modern critics have often viewed it as a myth of America itself. Cooper’s highly romanticized narrative has partly been seen as the less-than-historical “wish-fulfillment” (D.H. Lawrence) of an author who socialized in the salons of New York and Paris but dreamt of noble savages in the untamed American landscape but also as an expression of America’s difficulties in coming to terms with its conquest of the Indians. As a complement to these views, this essay attempts to show that the character Natty Bumppo, or Hawkeye, represents the new nation’s ambivalent relationship with the surrounding wilderness and therefore helplessly torn between vastly different ideals. On one hand, Hawkeye appears to show us a less confrontational way of relating to the wilderness: one that implies the possibility for man to transform himself and live in spiritual unity with nature—a notion that would make Hawkeye the forerunner of the ideals put forth in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay “Nature”. But Hawkeye’s relationship with the woods and the Indians is complex, self-contradictory and filled with deep inner struggles, and he is at other times a merciless figure who divides Indians into good and bad. As such, his very character seems to be the embodiment of an American identity that is highly conflicted.
In addition to examining the novel’s depiction of Hawkeye, the Indians and the forest, the essay offers a wide historical perspective of the ideas of nature that were present or just emerging in Cooper’s time, including those expressed by Emerson, as well as their Romantic and Christian influences. By understanding how Americans struggled to deal with feelings of guilt and sorrow in the face of the perceived decline of the wilderness in the 19th century, we might better understand the persisting importance of Cooper’s work.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. , 19 p.
The Last of the Mohicans, wilderness, America, Emerson, myth
General Literature Studies
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-94318OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-94318DiVA: diva2:653100