The Last of the Mohicans and Hope Leslie Comparison
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Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018
Racial issues occupy the principal place in American Literature due to the prolonged racial relations between Native Americans and European colonizers. The aim of this dissertation is to compare and contrast the issue of miscegenation through the principal characters of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie. The word ‘miscegenation’, which consists of two parts ‘miscere’ and ‘genus’ and means a sexual racial mixture, appeared only at the end of the nineteenth century; however, this word is usually utilised in the analysis of earlier literary works.
Applying to a profound and realistic portrayal of gender and racial relations between Native Americans and white people in the period of Indian and French Wars, Cooper and Sedgwick introduce their own vision of Indians, implicitly maintaining the idea that miscegenation should be prohibited. In this regard, these writers reflect the existing political and social issues that shaped the attitude of white people towards Native Americans. In particular, at the end of the seventeenth century some American states passed specific laws that were aimed at forbidding miscegenation and depriving people of different races, except white population, of their political rights, violating the principles of equality.
On the one hand, miscegenation might decrease the differences between two races, but, on the other hand, it was thought to aggravate these dissimilarities by removing people from their usual background and by preventing them to integrate into the new environment. According to Robert Clark (1984), America’s “vision of itself was in large measure the projection of an ideal and about-to-be-realized condition, rather than an appropriation of the past in the name of reason” (p.46). As a result, America became involved in complex racial tensions and conflicts that were especially negative for Native Americans.
This was the main reason for Cooper’s and Sedgwick’s rejection of miscegenation. But in the process of colonization Europeans continued to interact with Native Americans, and these interactions usually resulted in race mixtures that were further reflected in American literature. Some people made attempts to support miscegenation by pointing at the fact that such interracial relations could provide both races with necessary freedom and would allow white females to reveal their sexual desires towards males of different races.
However, the existing racial prejudices and social stereotypes against miscegenation not only prevented the spread of such vision among the majority of American population, but also greatly influenced the representation of Native Americans in the nineteenth-century fiction. Being closely connected with political and social ideologies, this fiction was divided into two parts: some novels tried to maintain the status quo, as is just the case with the narrations of Sedgwick and Cooper, while other literary works pointed at the necessity of social changes.
Gender relations and miscegenation in the novels
America is the country that has united people of different races since the period of colonization. However, in the process of interaction colonizers made constant attempts to destroy cultural and religious beliefs of Native Americans. According to Arthur M. Schlesinger (1992), “when people of different ethnic origins, speaking different languages and professing different religions, settle in the same geographic locality… tribal hostilities will drive them apart” (p.10). The indigenous population of the country wanted to preserve their cultural identity and opposed to the ideals of white people.
Such refusal resulted in many racial conflicts and had a great impact on the attitude of White Americans towards the issue of miscegenation. In patriarchal America any relations between a white woman and a Native American were strongly prohibited, and, as Martin Barker (1993) states, “it is this running concern about ‘miscegenation’ with its connected fears about interracial sexual attraction that leads to death” (p.27).
In those times it was thought that if a person was engaged in sexual relations with a person of a different race, then both people should be killed in order to prevent the spread of miscegenation. Such complex racial relations and rejection of miscegenation are especially reflected in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper The Last of the Mohicans and Catharine Maria Sedgwick Hope Leslie. As Stephanie Wardrop (1997) puts it, Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans “presents a world in which the mixing of races is morally repugnant and anathema to the American project of nation building” (p.61).
Throughout the narration Fenimore Cooper contrasts people with mixed and unmixed blood, as if wishing to reveal the differences between the characters of various races. Despite the fact that Hawkeye is culturally connected with both white people and Indians, he is presented as a person “without a cross” (Cooper, 1984 p.4).
The same regards Alice Munro who is “surprisingly fair” (Cooper, 1984 p.378) and Chingachgook who is an unmixed Mohican. Contrary to these characters, Cora, the elder sister of Alice, is of mixed race, and it is she who protects her sister at the cost of her life. Belonging to the race of West Indians, Cora comes from “that unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people” (Cooper, 1984 p.310), and thus, she is prohibited to marry a person from the South.
In this regard, miscegenation was treated as blameworthy in those times, and when Magua proposes Cora to marry him, she claims that “the thought itself is worse than a thousand deaths” (Cooper, 1984 p.124). These words prove that only Uncas and Chingachgook are presented as noble people, while all other Native Americans are regarded as cruel savages. That’s why miscegenation between a white person and an Indian was widely restricted.
Although Catharine Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie also reveals this restriction, she points at the possibility of miscegenation between some secondary characters. Contrary to Cooper, the writer provides a rather humane vision of Native Americans. Faith, the sister of Leslie Hope, manages to marry Oneco, the brother of a Pequoud princess Magawisca. According to Leland Person (1985), Sedgwick belongs to those American female authors who in their novels reflect how an “Indian male, reverential and loving rather than possessive and authoritarian, offers a romantic contrast to the arbitrary authority of Puritan society” (p.683).
This can be also true in regard to Cooper’s narration, where the writer introduces such Indian character as Uncas with noble features and attractiveness. However, similar to Magawisca who is not able to become a wife of Everell and instead she has to regard him “as her brother” (Sedgwick, 1987 p.30), Uncas is also prohibited to marry Cora. Due to serious racial prejudices, Magawisca is an inappropriate match to Everell, while Hope Leslie suits for the position of Everell’s wife. By the end of the narration the writer shows that any marriage should be based on love, as Magawisca claims, “Ye need not the lesson, ye will each be to the other a full stream of happiness. May it be fed from the fountain of love, and grow broader and deeper through all the passage of life” (Sedgwick, 1987 p.333).
Thus, the writer proves that some Native Americans possess wisdom and nobility; however, they are not able to unite with European Americans. Magawisca is rejected by both societies, as Wardrop (1997) claims, “from the white for her association by blood with ‘savages’ and from the Pequod for her association with the whites that leads her to rescue Everell” (p.64). Magawisca saves the person she loves at the cost of her own rejection and isolation, but she is not able to marry him. Similar to Sedgwick’s women, female characters of Cooper are divided into “those who can be married and those who cannot” (Baym, 1992 p.20).
In this regard, racial and cultural differences are aggravated by gender stereotypes that put women in subordinate positions and make them act in accordance with the existing social and moral norms. On the example of their female characters Sedgwick and Cooper reveal that women are prohibited any freedom and equality, especially concerning their choice of marital partners. Those women, who prefer to ignore racial prejudices and assigned roles, are either rejected by society or die.
This is especially true in regard to Magawisca and Cora who try to act, according to their moral values, but their attempts result in negative consequences for both women. But, above all, these women are appreciated for their racial characteristics. Alice’s racial purity is explained by her pure unmixed blood, while Cora, being a daughter of a Creole woman and a British soldier, is regarded as sinful. Implicitly opposing to miscegenation, Cooper prefers to kill Uncas, Cora and Magua in order to prevent an unsuitable marriage.
As Terence Martin (1992) states, Fenimore Cooper “cannot conceive of a marriage between the daughter of Major Munro, no matter her background, and an Indian, no matter how noble” (p.63). The writer eliminates these relations, thus revealing his support for pure, unmixed marriages. As a child of miscegenation, Cora is unsuitable for both white and Indian worlds. According to Wardrop (1997), “Earlier Indian romances seem to present the hero more often as half-blood, perhaps mitigating the taboo of miscegenation somewhat by presenting a hero who is at least half white” (p.73).
But it is the character with unmixed blood that becomes popular in further romantic literature. Although Maria Sedgwick points at the possibility of miscegenation, she still considers it inappropriate in the majority of cases. Similar to Cora, Sedgwick’s character Magawisca appears to be banished from both societies, but the writer presents “a more sympathetic view of both Native Americans and women… concentrate[ing] more on the domestic and interpersonal than the martial [issues]” (Wardrop, 1997 p.63).
Cora and Magawisca are powerful and unusual women with many virtues; however, they suffer as a result of their parents’ miscegenation. According to John McWilliams (1995), “Cora is one of those characters who show us both the limitations of society’s racial and gender boundaries and the dangers of stepping over them” (p.74). Cooper considers that Cora’s marriage to Uncas would be a threat to the existence of both societies, therefore the writer “appears to have believed in the purity of the races” (Barker & Sabin, 1995, p.21).
Their deaths are presented by Cooper as the only possible outcome, because it is better for them to die than to be rejected by their own societies. As Barker (1993) reveals, in this novel “the twin deaths of Uncas and Cora prevent the reality of interracial sex with the ‘disappearance’ of the Mohicans” (p.27).
Applying to these characters, Cooper points at the fact that miscegenation between White Americans and Native Americans is impossible, until the indigenous population adheres to the cultural and social norms of the colonizers and destroys their culture.
On the other hand, the writer suggests that Cora and Uncas will be connected with each other after death, while Hawkeye opposes to this view by claiming that “the spirit of the paleface has no need of food or raiment – their gifts being according to the heaven of their colour” (Cooper, 1984 p.346). Contrary to some other characters, Hawkeye rises against miscegenation and considers that there is “no ideal bond of union” (Cooper, 1984 p.348) that would result in mutual cooperation between different races.
The marriage of Alice and Duncan, persons with pure blood, symbolises the subsequent spread of unmixed marriages, while the death of Uncas, the last of the Mohicans, reveals the gradual disappearance of Native Americans and the power of ‘civilised’ society. As sagamore Tamenund claims at the end of the narration, “The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the red-men has not yet come again” (Cooper, 1984 p.350).
The inability of Cora and Uncas to marry because of racial prejudices points at moral disintegration of American population. Their deaths reveal that miscegenation is considered wrong by both white people and Indians, resulting in the impossibility to achieve peace and mutual support. However, love between Uncas and Cora shows that racial prejudices are able to separate people, but they are unable to eliminate powerful feelings. The same regards Everell and Magawisca who experience certain attraction to each other, but who realise that their desires should be eliminated because of cultural and racial differences.
Therefore, Sedgwick reveals that cultures control people’s lives, depriving them of the possibility to follow their own paths, because culture is connected with both private and public spheres. As a result, both Cooper and Sedgwick discuss miscegenation through political and social contexts, pointing at the fact that the relations between two races are considerably complicated by the occurred events and the established standards.
As a result, such character as Hawkeye opposes to both races, claiming that “to me every native, who speaks a foreign tongue, is accounted an enemy, though he may pretend to serve the king!” (Cooper, 1984 p.50). He doesn’t belong to either society and he doesn’t believe in the possibility of miscegenation.
To some extent, such viewpoint can be explained by the fact that when a person of one race integrates with a person of another race, he/she takes part in either assimilation or acculturation. However, in many cases miscegenation is mainly based on sexual mixture between people of different races, but not on cultural mixture. As a result, people are rejected by their own society and are not accepted by another society. This is just the case with Cora and Magawisca who are not allowed to be engaged in sexual relations with males of different races, because their cultures prevent them from the mixture with each other.
Both Sedgwick and Cooper demonstrate that the existing stereotypes reflect the ideas of cultural purity that are closely connected with racial purity. Such vision is rather paradoxical, because even the ‘purest’ race is certainly a mixture race, but White Americans prefer to ignore this particular fact, making constant attempts to achieve dominance over Native Americans. In this regard, it is easier to understand Sedgwick’s and Cooper’s attitude towards miscegenation.
Cora, as a child of two races, is considered less pure in comparison with Alice, because Cora is an embodiment of two bloods and two cultures, and it is this particular mixture that White Americans tried to prevent. They did not want to be assimilated with another culture, because in that case they would lose their dominant position over the indigenous population. In addition, such attitude was considerable shaped by political ideologies of those times; opposing to miscegenation, American rulers tried to prohibit any social changes within the country and simultaneously they utilized racial tensions and conflicts for their own benefits.
It is obvious that miscegenation was a threat to the existence of white supremacy, because it eliminated specifically inspired differences between two races. The attitude towards miscegenation was also aggravated by the fact that it provided people of mixing blood with those features that were prohibited by American society. Cora greatly differs from her half-sister Alice; Cora is more powerful and independent than Alice. The same concerns Magawisca, a rather strong and wise female who takes her own decisions, which are consistent with her moral values.
In this regard, women began to occupy an equal position with men or were even superior to them, and such changes couldn’t be easily accepted in the patriarchal world. Miscegenation allowed women to reveal their sexual desires towards males of another race and become more independent; however, natural instincts were a norm only for men, while women were not considered to experience powerful sexual desires. It was thought unnatural for a white woman to feel compassion or love towards an Indian or a black person, and vice versa.
Despite the fact that Cora is a half-Indian, she is brought up among people of white culture, thus she is prohibited to marry an Indian Uncas. Magawisca is also deprived of the opportunity to marry Everell, as Sedgwick points out that love relations between Magawisca and Everall are impossible and unnatural because of their cultural and racial differences, while the relations between Hope Leslie and Everall are natural. Miscegenation reflects the mixture of two races, of two cultures, one of which is the culture of the colonizer and another is the culture of the indigene.
Thus, miscegenation was especially connected with female sexuality that was widely controlled by the state to prevent undesirable inheritance. However, women who couldn’t achieve equal positions with men in political and social spheres began to readily support miscegenation. But in their novels Cooper and Sedgwick reveal that their attempts are vain; almost all female characters that interact with people of different races lose at the end. Many females understood people of other races, because their positions were similar; women, like Indians and black people, were regarded as inferior to men and they usually experienced suppression and humiliation.
For women, miscegenation was the way to destroy subjugation and overcome social stereotypes. Although Magawisca is prohibited to marry Everall, her attraction towards him helps Magawisca to understand many important things and save this character at the cost of her own reputation. Cora prefers to die rather than marry a person whom she abhors. But despite such courage and independence, these female characters continue to experience social and cultural pressure that deprives them of the opportunity to choose their own path. However, the situation is different in regard to Alice, who not only survives at the end of the narration, but she is also going to marry Duncan and create another family with pure blood. The same regards Everall and Hope Leslie who finally unite with each other.
Although initially Hope finds it difficult to accept a marriage of her sister Faith with a person of a different race, because she doesn’t believe that Faith loves Oneco, she soon realises her mistake and agrees with her sister’s choice of a marriage partner. In fact, Hope Leslie is a female character who rejects the existing social, cultural and religious norms and who is constantly blamed for her lack of “passiveness, that, next to godliness, is a woman’s best virtue” (Sedgwick, 1987 p.153). People with whom Hope Leslie interacts are not able to understand her independence, including Everell.
As one female character tells Hope, “you do allow yourself too much liberty of thought and word: you certainly know that we owe implicit deference to our elders and superiors; – we ought to be guided by their advice, and governed by their authority” (Sedgwick, 1987 p.180). However, Hope proves to be the best Christian who is able to follow her heart, even if she has to reject some religious principles to save her family and friends. Destroying certain social norms, Magawisca and Hope simultaneously ignore oversimplified assumptions in regard to people of different race.
As McWilliams (1995) puts it, white culture was regarded as civilized in those times, while the culture of Native Americans was considered as savage (52-53). Thus, according to this particular viewpoint, two cultures could hardly successfully interact with each other. However, Sedgwick rises against this stereotypic vision. Close relations between Magawisca and Hope, women of different races and cultures, point at the possibility of one culture to exist with another culture. Despite the fact that Magawisca’s race and religious faith differ from her own beliefs and culture, Hope is unaffected by the existing stereotypes of the seventeenth century and is able to overcome them, if she has to do so for the sake of her family. But the writer reveals that Hope still finds it difficult to interact with other Indians.
The situation is different with Hope’s sister Faith who is captured by indigenous people and is brought up with them. As a result, she marries an Indian Oneco and becomes greatly involved in the Indian culture. In this regard, miscegenation of these secondary characters is rather successful, because Faith changes her white culture and Christian religion into Indian culture and Catholic religion. She rejects her people and decides to live with Indians. However, other characters of the novel refuse to accept another culture and strongly oppose to miscegenation.
Mrs. Grafton represents a stereotypic female who acts precisely, according to the established social norms, and who avoids any interactions with different races. For her, miscegenation is unnatural and wrong. Esther Downing is obsessed with her religion and is very subordinate to males, but she rightfully considers that “marriage is not essential to the contentment, the dignity, or the happiness of a woman” (Sedgwick, 1987 p.371). Similar to Mrs. Grafton, Esther avoids any contacts with people of different races and she meets Magawisca only when she attempts to convert this Indian female into Christianity.
Esther opposes to any race mixture and doesn’t believe that two different cultures can exist together. Opposite to these docile female characters, Magawisca is presented as a woman that rises against any cultural and racial prejudices of the seventeenth century. She possesses many virtues and tries to achieve equal position with males. Although Magawisca realises that miscegenation and racial relations are rejected by white people, she reveals devotion to some members of white culture. Nelema is another female character who, despite her anger towards the Puritans, provides help to Cradock at the cost of her life. Unlike other characters, Everell manages to maintain good relations with both Indians and his own people, but he is especially devoted to Magawisca.
Though they belong to different cultures, they are very close to each other, because they ignore their racial differences. Unfortunately, miscegenation between these characters is still impossible because of the social pressure and the existing stereotypes that prevail in their societies. In Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie miscegenation appears to be a powerful obstacle for the characters. Throughout the narration Everell interacts with three women – Hope Leslie, Magawisca and Esther. Two of them are white, and the third woman is an Indian princess.
Although Hope and Magawisca are similar in their views and values, although Magawisca saves Everell and is admired by this white male, Everell chooses Hope Leslie as his wife, being unable to perceive Magawisca as an appropriate marriage partner. Everell’s nature rejects her; despite admiration and desires, he is not able to establish close relations with a woman of a different race. As he claims, “I might have loved her – might have forgotten that nature had put barriers between us” (Sedgwick, 1987 p.214). However, Everell is not able to overcome his own prejudices towards a person of another culture; these prejudices are too powerful and they continue to implicitly create barriers between Everell and Magawisca.
Thus, racial mixture in Sedgwick’s narration greatly depends on the possibility or impossibility of people to destroy the natural barriers. According to Person (1985), for a person who is brought up in a civilized society, it is rather difficult, even impossible, to get accustomed to the uncivilized culture of Indians, and vice versa (pp.680-682). In this regard, biological differences are not as important as cultural differences. Although Cora is half-Indian and Uncas is Indian, they are brought in different cultural environments and they are not able to marry because of these differences.
Despite the fact that Hope and Faith are sisters and belong to one race, they appear to be separated by various conditions of their upbringing. The same concerns Magawisca and Everell who understand that their marriage is impossible. The marriage between Everell and Hope or Alice and Duncan is considered normal, because in these relations the characters are equal to each other. However, there is a great difference between the relations of these two pairs of white people.
In the case of Alice and Duncan, the characters adhere to the traditional representation of a family, where a wife is inferior to her husband, while in the case of Hope and Everell, their union is based on the principles of equality and freedom. On the other hand, both pairs are culturally identical to each other, while miscegenation was considered as a sexual mixture of two people with different cultures. It was thought that it was impossible to create a strong family only on sexual relations; in those times cultural and religious similarities were regarded more crucial for a normal family than sex.
As Calloway (1987) claims, any mixed relations were exposed to the threat of becoming “degenerated” (p.117). And children who appeared as a result of such relations couldn’t live in the world of white people. However, if a person of different race agreed to convert to Christianity, a marriage between a white person and an Indian could be accepted by American society. Under these complex conditions, such characters as Magawisca and Everell, Cora and Uncas understand that their relations with each other will fail as soon as they interact with the rest of the world.
Analysing the issue of miscegenation through the characters of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, the dissertation compares and contrasts the representation of racial relations between Native Americans and European Americans. Although both writers oppose to miscegenation in their novels and maintain the idea of racial purity, Sedgwick mentions the possibility of relations between white people and Indians on the example of her secondary characters.
Such rejection of miscegenation responds to the existing social and cultural standards that inspired inequality between the indigenous population and European colonizers, depriving both races of freedom. Dividing their characters on mixed and unmixed people, Cooper and Sedgwick reveal that persons with pure blood were more easily accepted by American society, and thus had more possibilities to survive. However, persons with mixed blood couldn’t find their places either in the world of white people or in the world of Native Americans.
Such attitude can be explained by the wish of White Americans to control people of other races and prevent any social changes, while miscegenation erased any differences between two races, taking away their power and superiority. As racial relations were closely connected with gender issues in those times, miscegenation could provide females with freedom that they were deprived of. As White Americans wanted the indigenous population to conform to their own culture and religion, they were not allowed white females to be involved in sexual relations with the Native Americans, applying to different measures to prevent miscegenation.
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