ACTION IN FENIMORE COOPER'S TALES
MARANDA MAZUR HUNTER LONGINO
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Maranda Mazur Hunter Longino
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . .
Notes . . . . .
JOURNEY, QUEST, AND HUNT .
Journey . . . .
Quest . . . . .
Hunt . . . . . .
Notes . . . . .
STALK, FIGHT, CHASE,
AND JOURNEY AGAIN. .
Journey. . . .
Stalk . . .
Fight . . .
Chase . . .
Notes . . .
CHAINS AND LAYERS. .
Movement . . .
Chains . . . .
Layers . . . .
Notes . . . .
LIONEL LINCOLN . .
Notes . . .
HOME AS REFOUND. .
The American Return.
The American Urn .
Notes . . .
S . .
. . . 3
. . . 5
. . . 5
. . . 33
. . . 52
. . . 62
. . . . 67
. . . . 67
. . . . 8 1
. . . . 88
. . . . 10 8
. . . . 125
. . . . 128
. . . . 12 8
. . . . 141
. . . . 165
. . . . 189
. . . . 192
. . . . 2 35
. . . . 2 38
. . . . 2 38
. . . . 260
. . . . 291
SEVEN THE OAK OPENINGS . . . . .. 296
The Symbolic Openings. . . ... 307
The Author As Actor/Act-er . .. 340
Notes. .. .. . ... .352
EIGHT CONCLUSION . . . . . ... .362
BIBLIOGRAPHY. . . . . . . . ... 367
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . ... .380
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
ACTION IN FENIMORE COOPER'S TALES
MARANDA MAZUR HUNTER LONGINO
Chairman: John B. Pickard
Major Department: English
This dissertation examines the action in the
extended fictions of James Fenimore Cooper. While
Cooper's use of action is undenied, no thorough study of
these actions has been made. This paper describes the
types of actions in Cooper's fictions, explains the
basic action ordering structures of the texts, and
illustrates the significance of Cooper's use of action
in his romances. Three of Cooper's primary actions are
internally motivated: journey, quest, and search or
hunt. His other three primary actions arise from
external motivations: fight or battle, stalk, and chase.
Motion, as distinct from action, is non-static narration
suggested or mandated by conventions associated with the
narrative format itself.
Motion and actions are structured two ways.
Serial structure yields "chains" of action, and
synchronous structure produces "layers." Chained
structures offer "place centered" narratives, which
illustrate Cooper's basic conceptualization that story
unfolds in a scene analogously to the way a drama
unfolds on a stage. Layered structures produce "act
centered" narratives, which vivify Cooper's belief that
actions tell "the truth" about human existence. Both
action ordering structures yield viable narratives.
The various actions and structures of three
representative Cooperian texts are examined. Lionel
Lincoln, an "early work," shows how the characters'
actions undercut their narrative roles. The two volume
set from Cooper's "middle" period, Homeward Bound and
Home as Found, reveals how this author's characteristic
doubling conveys his meanings. The Oak Openings, a
"late work," illustrates how Cooper's symbols,
including his use of symbolic actions, operate within
one of his unfortunately misjudged narratives.
As this study shows, Cooper's literary capabilities
are habitually undervalued because his focus upon and
utilization of action is generally unexamined. Cooper's
artistic achievement is better appreciated when the
actions animating his texts are understood.
"You will establish your reputation for activity
If not for "ever," J. Fenimore Cooper did establish
a reputation for longer than any other American writer
of tales, and the reputation is certainly for "activity"
in these tales. According to Edgar Allan Poe, the tale
Cooper tells is a "succession of events." According to
William Cullen Bryant, Cooper's narratives are like
ships which fill the reader with delight as they pursue
their courses "at will, over the . waters."
According to Francis Parkman, Cooper's greatest
characters "move and act . .with all the truth and
energy of real life." Spiller finds Cooper to be "a
man of action rather than of mind" and the works to be
reflections of the man. Cooper "knew the art of .
movement," says Phelps. Lewis speaks of Cooper's "great
surge of motion"; House believes some of Cooper's
characters can only be known "by their actions"; Peck
finds Cooper's narrative structure "ordered on the basis
of constant motion"; Franklin believes the "lasting
significance of Cooper's novels derives from their . .
This dissertation will examine some of the
"energetic" portions of Cooper's works. While
Cooper's use of action is undenied, no thorough study of
these actions has been made. This paper describes the
types of actions in Cooper's fictions, explains the
basic action ordering structures of the texts, and
illustrates the significance of Cooper's use of action
in his romances. Chapter One defines three actions in
Cooper's fictions which spring from basically internal
motivations: journey, quest, and search or hunt.
Chapter Two discusses three actions which have their
inception in basically external sources: fight or
battle, stalk, and chase. Chapter Three examines two
ways Cooper structures his actions; serial structure
yields "chains" of action, and synchronous structure
produces "layers." Chapter Four examines Lionel
Lincoln, an "early work" by this author, and shows how
the characters' actions undercut their narrative roles.
Chapter Five offers a reading of the "doubled" actions
and aspects of Homeward Bound and Home as Found and
discusses how this "middle work" is a pivotal text for
the author. Chapter Six presents an explicatory study
of a "late work," The Oak Openings, and examines how
Cooper's symbols, including his use of symbolic actions,
operate within one of his unfortunately misjudged
narratives. As this dissertation shows, Cooper's
literary capabilities are habitually undervalued because
his focus upon and utilization of action is generally
unexamined. Cooper's artistic achievement is better
appreciated when the actions animating his texts are
1. From Edgar Allan Poe's review of Wyandotte in
Graham's Magazine 23 (1843) as reprinted in American
Romanticism: A Shape for Fiction, ed. Stanley Bank (New
York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1969) 182.
2. From the February 25, 1852 memorial speech
"Discourse on the Life, Genius, and Writings of J.
Fenimore Cooper" as reprinted in the Introduction to
Precaution (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1873; rpt.,
Grosse Pointe, Michigan: Scholarly Press, 1968 34.
3. Francis Parkman, "James Fenimore Cooper," North
American Review, 154 (January 1852): 148.
4. Robert E. Spiller, ed., James Fenimore Cooper:
Representative Selections, with Introduction, Biography,
and Notes (New York: American Books Company, 1936) ix.
5. William Lyon Phelps, Some Makers of American
Literature (1922; New York: Norwood, 1977) 44.
6. R.W.B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence,
Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955) 103.
7. Kay Seymour House, Cooper's Americans (Columbus:
Ohio State University Press, 1965) 47. She is speaking
of the Indian characters.
8. H. Daniel Peck, A World by Itself: The Pastoral
Moment in Cooper's Fiction (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1977) 92. He is discussing The Last of the
9. Wayne Franklin, The New World of James Fenimore
Cooper (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982)
10. Unless otherwise identified, the texts used
are James Fenimore Cooper, Works of James Fenimore
Cooper, 10 vols. (New York: Peter Fenelon Collier,
1891-1893). Citations to chapter and page number are
made within the text.
JOURNEY, QUEST, AND HUNT
Journey: Travel or Passage From One Place to
"He-e-e-re, he-e-ere, pups--away, dogs, away!--
ye'll be footsore afore ye see the end of the
Journey narratives, tales which take as an
organizational framework the description of travel
through space, are among the oldest and comprise some of
the most powerful literature in the world. Gilgamesh's
journey to the otherworld, Odysseus' journey homeward,
the Children of Israel's journey to a homeland, the
Wandering Jew's eternal journey, and the earliest
writings that can be considered American, Columbus'
voyage of exploration and John Smith's chronicle of
discovery of the New World--these seminal works are
"American literary tradition has been characterized
to a remarkable and peculiar degree by narratives and
images of journeys," notes Janis Stout. The earliest
American writings were of journeys to discover the New
World, journeys to escape the Old World, and journeys to
settle this "New Eden." The earliest American
"fictions," Joseph Morgan's The History of the Kingdom
of Basaruah (1715) and Benjamin Church's Entertaining
Passages on King Philip's War (1716), utilize the
journey as an organizational element. Journey is a
predominate aspect, too, in Ann Eliza Bleecker's The
History of Maria Kettle (1793), in all of Brockden
Brown's early works, and in Hugh Henry Brackenridge's
Modern Chivalry (1792-1815). All these American works
preceded Cooper's first narrative.
So it was that Cooper inherited and adapted a form
that was well-established in America for his tales which
treat travel, his journey narratives. It was a form in
which the major patterns were well-developed and
particularly relevant to the aspirations and beliefs of
his readers, both in the nineteenth century and now.
"The . distinctive power of American Literature has
in large part been a matter of the impact of motion, the
journey." Cooper's distinctively American fiction uses
the motion of the journey to good effect. Indeed, as
the following list indicates, twenty-five of Cooper's
tales include a journey, either thoroughly or sketchily
developed, in the first chapter.
The Last of the Mohicans
The Red Rover
The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish
Home As Found
Mercedes of Castile
A "solitary traveler" rides
through the rain.
Elizabeth, "journeying" home to
Templeton, meets Natty.
Two ships journey to anchorage.
Lionel ends his "tiresome and
The Munro sisters "journey in
A "traveler" journeys near
Mark Heathcote takes a
"journey . inland."
The Bush family "travels" across
the west in a wagon train.
Van Beverout takes an "expedition"
Monforte enters his gondola
for a "passage" across Venice.
"Travelers" begin a voyage.
Eve is a "traveler" home.
Eve continues her journey "home."
Four "wayfarers in the wilderness"
pause in their "journey."
The "departure of an embassy"
Natty and Harry "journey"
A craft arrives in port.
Nick goes "on an important
movement" to secure a patent.
Two men meet on a forest path.
Miles Wallingford The characters "voyage."
Satanstoe The narrator's "journey" begins.
The Redskins "My uncle Ro and myself had been
traveling . five years."
The Crater Mark's first voyage is to
Jack Tier A ship departs on the tide.
The Oak Openings Three travelers meet a fourth
man in a forest glade.
Undeniably, the journey is a vital component at the
beginning of Cooper's fictions.
Janis Stout's comprehensive study of the journey
in American literature describes six main types of
narratives and notes different sub-genres of the
family. The types are
3) The Home-Founding Journey
4) The Return to Home
5) The Journey to No End
6) The Quest
She notes the first three types are "the three primary,
the earliest, patterns of journey narrative in American
literature," and that the patterns for most of the types
Accounts of exploration generally play a minor
role in distinctively American literature, although they
are used frequently in non-fiction works which have
"chiefly historical" focus. Any time Cooper's
characters stride into virgin forests or float on
uncharted seas, they explore. It is in this sense
of examining the "never before seen" that Stout
classifies exploration. Any time the narrative treats
a character's movement through a space new to that
character, exploration is described.
The crews in The Sea Lions "steer with an
undeviating course into the mysterious depths of the
antarctic circle" (XIV, 102) as they approach "Cook's
'Ne plus Ultra'" (104), and the tale carries them into
strange regions of frozen wonder where fiery volcanoes
and exotic creatures interrupt the weird ice-scape.
Cooper also penned a similar narrative of
exploration, treating the seminal American exploratory
travel, when he created Mercedes of Castile, the tale
of Columbus' first voyage to the New World. In this
narrative, too, after the crew comes to land much
description is given of the scene. The strange, and
occasionally lovely, natives and scenes and the curious
customs of the place are "explored" extensively. In
Mercedes of Castile Cooper makes use of a characteristic
narrative technique which often tends to distract the
reader's attention from the main action of the tale.
Cooper gives the focus of his attention to a predictable
romantic hero, the twenty-year old Luis de Bobadilla.
The title of the tale is the name of Luis' stay-at-home
beloved. While Cooper does chronicle Columbus' voyage
with an almost log-like precision, working, as he notes
in the Preface, "with the journal of the admiral" (3)
before himself, Cooper downplays the exploratory tale
by encapsulating it within the romance of Luis and
Despite narrative flaws and although the New World
exploration in Mercedes of Castile may be thought of, as
may the Antarctic exploration of The Sea Lions, as a
species of imaginary voyage for Cooper, who never
personally visited the Azores or the Indies, these two
tales amply illustrate Cooper's knowledge of the journey
of exploration as a form for fiction.
The observation must be made here that brief
"explorations" occur in nearly all of Cooper's tales.
Any time a character first views a space, he experiences
a moment of "exploration." When young Natty first
glimpses the Glimmerglass, although he is in the company
of one who has often traveled the location, he
"explores," at least, as far as he is concerned. As the
bushes part, "An exclamation of surprise broke from the
lips of Deerslayer, an exclamation that was low and
guardedly made . .when he beheld the view that
unexpectedly met his gaze. It was, in truth .
striking" (The Deerslayer, II, 15). Deerslayer says of
the place, "This is grand!--'tis solemn!--This is a
sight to warm the heart! (17) . "a glorious spot"
(21). Cooper notes that Natty "found a pleasure in
studying this large, and to him, unusual opening in the
mysteries and forms of the woods" (22). Although Harry
has visited the area numerous times, despite the
Hutters' established residency of the spot, and even
though Indians have hunted the locale for generations,
Natty "explores" the Otsego when first he arrives.
Literally scores of such scenes dot Cooper's tales.
Although such "explorations" are purely personal and
typically fleeting, they convey a small wonder at each
The narrative of escape, unlike that of exploration,
continues Stout, is "pervasive and of central concern.
S. It is the most fully characteristic form adopted
by the American imagination." Flight narratives, about
the Pilgrims and the Puritans, about soldiers in defeat
and Indians in retreat, about Natty Bumppo, America's
first great fictional hero who finds himself no longer
able to abide the transmogrified Templeton of The
Pioneers--these narratives are of escape. Fiction of
escape offers the "motivational build-up toward the
culminating act of breaking out. . The journey that
follows . is not typically elaborated."
An example of an undeveloped journey of "escape" in
Cooper's works appears at the close of The Sea Lions.
The romantic story line has already concluded with a
marriage between the hero, Roswell, and heroine, Mary.
Then follows this brief passage
Roswell . .sold his property and
migrated to the great West. . Mary . .
had seen certain longings after the ocean,
and seals, and whales, in her husband; and
did not consider him safe so long as he
could scent the odors of a salt marsh. (XXX, 231)
This migration "to the great West" is about as
unelaborated an escape as can be imagined; Roswell's
"motivational build-up" is similarly absent.
No journey action of note is to be found in Natty's
narrative of escape either, but his "motivational build-
up" is the core of The Pioneers. His conflicts with
Marmaduke Temple, who represents the force of
civilization, and his altercations with the law reveal
his desire to hold on to a philosophy and way of life
which is not a viable possibility in the changing
pioneer community. Natty, by the close of his first
narrative, has seen America's resources so depleted in
the Templeton area that his occupation is forever gone.
His home has been reduced to rubble. Major Effingham
and Chingachgook, and even Oliver and Elizabeth, no
longer need Natty's aid. As the old hunter loses
friends, fireside, and virgin forest, he suffers a
superfluity of motivations which build up within him.
Natty was originally conceived of as a secondary
character whose function was in opposition to that
served by Marmaduke Temple. Natty was created to lose
his struggle. Yet, as Bumppo's character came to life,
it grew. Cooper seems to have sensed the vital
potential Natty had, for the author changes the thrust
of Leatherstocking's actions in the closing few
paragraphs of the tale. Natty, as he makes clear, does
not leave Templeton on a journey of "escape."
While it can be argued that many of Natty's feelings
toward the end of The Pioneers may be concerned with
getting ready to "break out" of the Templeton area, none
of his actions illustrates this motivational build-up.
By the time he appears at the gravesites, Natty has
already focused upon a movement "to," and not "away
from." As Cooper describes the scene, Natty's "decisive
appeal" is not his early one, which does point toward a
motive of apparent "escape": "These [clearings] be
nothing. . I have took but little comfort [in them]
sin' your father come on with his settlers" (XLI, 783).
No, Natty's "decisive" argument which finally silences
Elizabeth indicates his forward-looking orientation:
"I'm formed for the wilderness. If ye love me, let me
go where my soul craves to be ag'in!" (783). Natty may
feel he must "escape," but he acts so as to return to
his proper home, the wilderness.
When journeys of escape are elaborated, Stout
maintains, they usually appear as a "series of new
compulsions or repeated acts of escape . .or as a
modulation into another form of journey." Such
elaborated journeys of escape often develop as action
narratives which are best seen as chase narratives. The
escaping prisoner, the settler fleeing Indian
hostilities, and the ship's crew flying before the
pirate or the enemy craft all act to escape only so long
as the pursuer remains proximate. While such action may
be lengthy, especially at sea, it is not so much one
unified action, as developed in Cooper's fictions, as it
is the sort "series" of repeated acts which Stout notes.
The acts of the escape, which are responsive acts that
the pursued takes only so long as his pursuer is
proximate end as soon as the threat is removed. If the
escaping character, once distance has been attained,
continues to journey, he does so for a new reason; his
journey of escape "modulates" into another type of
action. He may decide to return home, as does Natty; he
may choose to establish a new home, to explore, or
simply to keep in motion until some new person, place,
or thing attracts his attention and generates activity.
His choice is often influenced by the terminated escape
action; however, the journey taken, if any, after an
escape has a different focus than has the "pursued/pursuer"
orientation of escape/chase action.
Briefly then, the works of Cooper do utilize action
of the type called "journey of escape." During the
introductory period of motivational build-up, no action
occurs. The action which does finally occur and which
Stout calls "journey action" is better described as
"chase action" and is discussed at length below. Chase
action is one of Cooper's most effective forms.
No journey in Cooper's fictions is an exemplar of a
"journey of escape" similar to Huck Finn's, for Cooper's
escaping characters habitually do have a goal toward
which they move as soon as they are free to do so. The
"escaping" journeyer acts so as to move "away from" the
threat. Cooper's characters do not act throughout their
narratives so as to disengage; they seem to have a
desire to attain, to move "toward" a goal. They act to
secure a safe place, not merely to escape a hostile one.
Even his characters who do journey throughout their
tales, in action here called "quest action," do evince
an orientation toward some goal. That the goal remains
unattained does not alter their focus on it. Cooper's
briefly extended action of the chase does lead the
characters "away from" their foe. Cooper's extended
journey actions are movements "toward."
The Home Founding Journey, which frequently "begins
with escape," is generally hopeful or confident in tone
and focuses on the future, the new home to be
established. This journey is characterized by some, or
all, of the following: a pregnancy or successful new
birth, a focus on the method of the travel, the
development of a social order, and serial overcoming of
obstacles, usually presented by the terrain itself.
This form is "always to some degree collective, even if
only to the degree of being familial."
Cooper's first treatment of the Home Founding
Journey is in the pages of The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish.
Chapter I opens with the usual introductory exposition,
but this introduction reveals the modulation of journey
of escape into journey of exploration and into home
A colony of self-devoted and pious
refugees from religious persecution had
landed on the rock of Plymouth, less than
half a century before. . The labors of the
emigrants had been chiefly limited to the country
on the coast . But enterprise, and a desire
to search for still more fertile domains, together
with the temptation offered by the vast and
unknown regions . had induced many bold
adventurers to penetrate more deeply into the
forest. The precise spot [of the setting] was one
of those establishments of what may .. be
called the forlorn hope in the march of
civilization through the country. (I, 378)
The elder Heathcote had settled this region a
generation past, taking a "voluntary exile" from
England. "The very day he landed in the long-wished-for
asylum, his wife made him the father of a noble boy"
(388). Twenty years after this event, the father
"announced . that he intended for a second time to
establish his altars in the wilderness" (389).
Neither person nor property was transferred
from place to place, in this country, at the
middle of the seventeenth century, with the
dispatch and with the facilities of the present
time. The roads were necessarily few and short,
and communication by water was irregular, tardy,
and far from commodious. . Accompanied by a
few followers, he proceeded on an exploring
expedition, and . established . an estate
in the colonies. (390)
The birth of a son, the difficulty of locomotion along
the poor roads or via water, the collective nature of
the "followers", and their pre-established social order
point to a typical, albeit underdeveloped and sketchily
presented, home founding journey.
Wyandotte also opens with a home founding. Cooper
sets the stage for the journey like this
Our present tale now leads us to the
description of one of those early personal or
family settlements . in . a very remote
part of the territory. . Captain Willoughby
had married an American wife, and . .a son and
daughter were born . .. An adopted child was
also added to his cares. Our limits and plans
will not permit us to give more than a sketch of
the proceedings of the captain in taking
possession . . Our adventurers made the most
of their journey by water. After finding their
way to the head of the Canaideraga, mistaking it
for the Otsego, they felled trees, hollowed them
into canoes, embarked, and, aided by a yolk of
oxen that were driven along the shore, they wormed
their way . descending [a] river until they
reached the Unadilla, which stream they ascended
until they came to the small river . that ran
through the captain's new estate. The labor of
this ascent was exceedingly severe. (I, 6, 8-9)
The remainder of the chapter recounts with fair
detail the "hutting," the transportation of goods, the
opening of a natural dam, the planting, the
construction of a saw-mill, the first harvest, the
beginning of construction on a house, and the return of
Willoughby to his family, preparatory to their
departure to their wilderness home. In both The Wept
of Wish-Ton-Wish and Wyandotte, Cooper's home-founding
journeys modulate fairly rapidly into other narrative
However, in two of Cooper's tales home founding is
seen to be a more lengthy process. In Satanstoe Corny
Littlepage and the Mordaunt entourage journey to found a
home. The Mordaunt females travel in "a covered
vehicle" that transports "many articles of furniture,"
and the black servants have another "conveyance, strong,
spacious, and covered" (XIX, 321). The party is a large
one; a score of settlers moves into the woods.
Initially, the passage is fairly good.
Of roads, however, we were not long to enjoy
the advantages. . Herman Mordaunt was obliged
to quit his wagons, and to put all the females on
horseback. . [A]fter a delay of half a day, time
lost in making these arrangements, we proceeded.
The wagons were to follow, but at a slow pace, the
ladies being compelled to abandon them on account
of the ruggedness of the ways, which would have
rendered their motion not easy to be borne. . .
[T]he uneven road .. .soon became very little
more than a line cut through the forest, with an
occasional wheel-track, but without the least
attempt to level the surface of the ground by any
artificial means. (XX, 335)
As the journeyers approach their destination, Herman
Mordaunt tells Corny about the cost and trouble "in
getting the ten or fifteen families who were on his
property, in the first place, to the spot itself" (340).
Because these journeyers have an already erected
"log building" which Herman Mordaunt's agent has
prepared for his family, the only actual beginning of
settlement itself occurs at Mooseridge, Corny
Littlepage's prospective home. The choosing, felling,
cutting, notching, placing, filling of chinks, and
roofing over of the trees is described. "We were quite
a week in completing our house," Corny states (XXI,
353). The initial journey is complete by Chapter XXI,
but Corny's narrative of home founding does not end
until the very last page of the tale. He concludes,
"Early in October [Anneke and I] were married, and the
remainder of the telling of the tale "may fall to the
share of my son Mordaunt, should he ever have the grace
to continue this family narrative" (XXX, 511). More
than fifty chapters later, Cooper lays the Littlepage
family to rest.
But, at least, Hugh Littlepage, of The Redskins,
does finally rest. The Bush family, on the other hand,
is last seen in the final chapter of The Prairie
"Pursuing their course . the principals of the
family themselves . never heard of more" (XXXII,
429). This clan departs the tale as they entered, still
seeking, "Whatever might be the final destination" (I,
The Return To Home is not usually "as congenial a
form in American literature" because American authors
often present such returns through narratives that
indicate "defeat, frustration, and the giving up of
freedom" to be the result of the return. While many
American authors felt a strong need to "define
themselves" and their homeland by reference to Europe,
their resultant fictions are "freighted with the irony
of conflicting motives and ideals." Cooper treats the
return to a European home extensively in Notions of the
Americans, a nonfiction work, but he does not structure
a romance upon such a return.
John Paul Jones' "return" to Great Britain in The
Pilot does not qualify as a narrative created to
illustrate his "self-definition" via a return to
European home; it is a tale of adventure which depicts a
hero already fully developed. Miles Wallingford does,
finally, travel to England, but his "definition of self"
occurs in so many places--in Canton, off Sumatra, near
Madagascar, off Guadeloupe, by Virginia, in New York, on
a voyage "around the world" (to Madeira, Rio de Janeiro,
British Columbia, Hawaii, Ecuador, Marble Land, and New
York), to France, Russia, and Italy--that it would be
foolish to label his brief English sojourn as a "return
to home." In The Bravo, The Headsman, The Heidenmauer,
and The Wing-and- Wing, Cooper's scenes are European,
but so are his characters. Cooper does not offer a
full-blown narrative of an American character returning
to the European home to "define" himself.
It may be that Cooper felt he had offered quite
enough "definition" via European return in his non-
fiction works, or it may be that he had hit on the mode
that best suited his own temperament in the first
attempt, the "Notions" technique of an American
character's return to America as a self-defining return.
Whatever the reason, Cooper frequently treats the return
to the American home as the journey most rewarding for a
structure in his tales.
Lionel Lincoln returns to Boston after a seventeen-
year absence and feels "the place begins to freshen my
memory, and I now recall the scenes of my childhood"
(Lionel Lincoln, II, 219). The mysterious Ralph, also
returning to America after a stay in England, states, "I
have noted the increase of the town as a parent notes
the increasing stature of his child; nor is my love for
it less than parental" (II, 222). Both men return to
home and learn who they are in that place.
Elizabeth Temple, returning home after four years in
New York, examines Templeton as it bursts into sight
The scene . was so rapidly altering under
the hands of man that it only resembled in its
outlines the picture she had so often studied with
delight in childhood. . [S]o rapid were the
changes, and so persevering the labors of those
who had cast their fortunes on the success of the
enterprise, that it was not difficult for the
imagination of Elizabeth to conceive they were
enlarging under her eye, while she was gazing, in
mute wonder, at the alterations that a few short
years had made in the aspect of the country.
(The Pioneers; III, 562)
Mixed with the self-definition of the experience of the
return to home is a type of wonder, similar to the
wonder of discovery, if the returning traveler has been
absent from home for an appreciable time.
The "wonder" of rediscovery of the American home is
often not a pleasure-filled one. Perhaps the most
painfully "wonderful" return Cooper offers is Hugh Roger
Littlepage's journey back to upstate New York in The
Redskins. Although Cooper's polemical purposes
overshadow his characters and plots severely, the action
is "return to home" and Hugh's "self-definition" is as
lengthy as it is painful. While the changes in America
are profound, the hero changes not at all as he
rediscovers his home and defines himself in relation to
it. Despite the loss of his pew canopy and a barn, he
retains his property in defiance of the anti-renters and
secures his beloved, Mary Warren. He is a "sadder man,"
but not a "wiser" one in any meaningful sense of the
word. This is because he is one of Cooper's perfectly
"proper" heroes. Such characters, which function as
vehicles for conveying the author's message, need no
improvement. They are as good as is humanly possible.
All Hugh actually seems to learn is that America does
indeed have severe problems which must be borne because
they cannot apparently be remedied. With a species of
melancholy wonder at the facts of his life, Hugh makes
the best of that life, of himself, his extensive
property, and his heiress wife. While his journey has
altered his location in space and his companions, it has
not materially changed the man. Yet, when he is finally
properly "home," no more need be said.
In Homeward Bound and Home as Found Cooper offers
his fullest homeward journey, another return to an
American home. The journey itself seems to have taken
control of the author. As Cooper writes in the Preface,
[Homeward Bound] was commenced with a sole
view to exhibit the present state of society in
the United States, through the agency, in part, of
a set of characters . who had freshly arrived
from Europe, and to whom the distinctive features
of the country would be apt to present themselves
with greater force. . By the original plan,
the work was to open at the threshold of the
country, or with the arrival of the travelers
[home]. . But . .the work [grew until it
was found to be] actually closing at, or near, the
spot where it was originally intended it should
This return to America after a twelve years' absence is
a journey that takes 52 chapters to effect. After
several chases, a gale, a transfer to another ship, an
expedition to Africa, an escape, an attack, another
escape, a bloody fight, yet another escape, and several
score lesser actions, Eve arrives in the New World. But
her journey is still far from over, for she must yet
travel the Hudson by steamboat and the Mohawk Valley by
canal boat and carriage, a further seventeen chapter
hegira, before she arrives at home. Needless to say,
somewhere along the way Eve manages to "define" herself
in response to her home-seeking journey.
The Journey to No End, the futile travel "of
uncertain destination or duration" has become the
characteristic American vehicle. This journey of
lostness is a journey of futility, of "rootlessness and
disorder." Many modern American fictions delineate
this journey, which has come into full flower in this
century. While Cooper did not make full-blown use of
this type, the zeitgeist of his era not resembling that
of our later times in this respect and the author's own
attitudes shaping a fictive world that seems ultimately
to have an orientation on a home place, Cooper does
offer certain examples of this journey type as early as
1824 in The Pilot.
The Pilot contains Cooper's first reference to The
Flying Dutchman. Long Tom Coffin asserts that, while
he himself has never seen the ship, he has "seen them
that have seen her, and spoken her, too" (XXI, 123). In
The Red Rover a ship, strangely out of place on the
ocean, calls to mind "the Flying Dutchman (XIV, 323).
While one character opines that this ship "can never be
the Dutchman," a common sailor notes that he "will not
swear that a real living ship" follows the Royal
Caroline through the worsening storm. House likens the
hero of this narrative to Odysseus, noting the fact that
he journeys throughout all of the romance. However,
he is ultimately seen to be a simple human whose journey
does end. It is in the reference to the Flying Dutchman
that Cooper offers the journey to no end.
Folklore has it that the Dutchman is a plague ship,
denied entry at every port where she calls. Eventually,
all aboard die. but the ship sails on. Crewed entirely
by corpses, the Dutchman can be seen in stormy weather,
often off the Cape of Good Hope, a wandering ghost-
vessel, doomed to journey without arrival, forever
tossed on the seas of ill-luck.
On a less legendary note, the closing action of The
Water-Witch offers a journey to no end. Tom Tiller, the
Skimmer of the Seas, bids a final adieu to his beloved,
"Whither go you?" she asked . "Whither
do you sail, and when do you return?"
"I follow fortune. My return may be distant--
never! Adieu, then, Eudora. . .
"We will go together! I am thine . .
Away, away!" cried the frantic girl .
"Think, for one moment, think!" he said.
"Thou wouldst follow an outcast--an outlaw--one
hunted and condemned. . With a ship for a
dwelling--the tempestuous ocean for a world!"
"Thy world is my world!--thy home my
home--thy danger, mine!"
Eudora was lifted from the ground as if her weight
had been that of a feather . she was borne to
the boat. In a moment the bark was afloat. . .
It lingered for a minute, and was swallowed in the
void. . It never returned. (XXXIV, 719-720)
On an utterly mundane level, Sancho Mundo of
Columbus' crew says that "sailing about the ocean is
[his] happiness" (Mercedes of Castile, XVII, 271). He
has been a wanderer for so long that "it sickeneth [him]
and taketh away the appetite, to walk on solid ground
"(XIV, 226). Throughout his life whenever his voyage
has ended he "has submitted to fate, and [gone] out
again, as soon as possible" (XIV, 227). This character
who wanders without end has some ties to shore; Sancho
was born on the land.
However, like Zephyr on The Water-Witch, Long Tom
Coffin is so much the journeyer to no end that he "was
born on board a chebacco-man, and never could see the
use of more land than now and then a small island to
raise a few vegetables" (The Pilot; II, 10). His life
begins in a state of journey, and it continues in that
same manner until his death, and beyond. The last view
of Tom shows him being swept rapidly through the brine
amidst the wreck of his beloved Ariel (XXIV, 150). His
body is never found; the sea, not giving up its "own"
dead, rocks him in an eternal, tumultuous embrace.
All of the journey types that American authors have
ever used are to be found in the works of Fenimore
Cooper. Not only does he utilize all the identifiable
types, but also he uses journey for both prosaic and
imaginative ends. At their most literal, journey
narratives are travelogues. The travelogue may consist
of a basic guide describing accommodations, meals, means
of locomotion, and worthwhile sights along a route.
Stripped of all fictive and imaginative devices, this
form, found even today in tourist guides, has no
pretenses at "literature." Portions of Cooper's non-
fiction approach this level of journey narrative. At
other times, Cooper takes pains to use his basic journey
framework as a soapbox for declamation of social
commentary, criticism, and panacea.
At the far end of the spectrum, Cooper writes
journeys of the sort which Philip Babcock Gove names
"Imaginary Voyages." Gove differentiates
grandss voyages" from little voyages, which he names
"journeys" or "trips," but he then specifically notes
that length in days or miles does not offer a method of
determination and that it does not matter if the account
fails to sustain the entire text. Types of "Imaginary
Voyages" include Utopias, Robinsonades, sea novels,
picaresques, chroniques scandaleuse, and framework conte
de fee tales. Gove concludes by calling all such
works "geographical fiction, comparable in scope to
Cooper utilized the imaginary journey comfortably.
The Crater offers a polemical Utopian tale. Mark
Woolston endures numerous mishaps before he arrives at
the Edenic island in the Pacific which he names Vulcan's
Peak, colonizes, and eventually abandons when its other
settlers, wresting control from the founding father and
discoverer, "spoil" the purity of his simple social
order. When the tale closes, the entire island has sunk
back beneath the surface of the ocean which originally
covered it. The Monikins recounts two voyages, one to
Leaplow, a land remarkably like the United States, and
the other to Leaphigh, a country marvelously similar to
England. In one respect, however, the two lands are not
like any place in the world: denizens of both are
monkeys. Both these tales are social commentaries; both
make use of completely imaginary voyages as a way to
arrive at locations which are developed polemically.
Cooper's narratives cover the full spectrum, from
the unremittingly mimetic to the thoroughly imaginative.
He moves at will between the two worlds, sometimes
within the same tale. In Lionel Lincoln Boston is a
"nightmare world," and the tale is the most Gothic
Cooper ever wrote. Yet the location is the one Cooper
researched the most carefully and that he described with
the greatest fidelity to actual, physical location. In
The Water-Witch, "the real and unreal are brilliantly
interwoven." The Leatherstocking Tales, too, exhibit
Cooper's easy movement between the two extremes of
journey presentation. The Deerslayer nicely illustrates
the polar opposites.
In Chapter XXVII, Natty takes to a canoe in an
ultimately vain attempt to escape his captivity in the
Indian camp on the banks of the Otsego. Approaching the
bark, he finds "that the paddles had been removed! . .
[G]iving a right direction to its bow, he ran off into
the water, bearing the canoe before him, and threw all
his strength and skill into a last effort, and cast
himself forward so as to fall into the bottom of the
light craft." Natty's actions for the next half hour
are most realistically described: taking out his knife
"to cut a hole through the bark in order to get a view
of shore," being shot at, hitching his body along with
the utmost caution" to get "his eye at the bullet-hole,"
moving a "large, round, smooth stone . to keep the
trim of the light boat while he worked his own body as
far aft as possible," having his skin "actually grazed"
by another bullet, "rowing without the necessity of
rising" by use of a stick, and feeling "his face fanned
by the air" as his exertions yield the desired result.
This finely textured and minutely rendered description
continues into Chapter XXVIII without ever once moving
away from unremitting realism.
At the other extreme, Cooper gives his reader an
earlier picture of Natty, with "a window in his breast
through which the light of his honesty was ever shining"
(IX, 83), afloat in the ark at night upon the
In this manner half an hour passed, during which
time the ark had been slowly stealing over the water,
with the darkness thickening around it . while the
mountains that lined the sides of the beautiful basin
were over-shadowing it, nearly from side to side. There
was, indeed, a narrow strip of water in the center of
the lake, where the dim light that was still shed from
the heavens fell upon its surface, in a line extending
north and south; and along this faint tract--a sort of
inverted milky-way . the scow held her course (84).
Out of this reflected dreamscape, Hetty paddles a
canoe. Her body is "dimly visible, resembling a
spectral outline of a human form standing on the water,"
and it is illuminated faintly by "that species of milky-
way" which Deerslayer calls "Natur's dim road" (84).
Only in an imaginary voyage can a person float atop the
Milky Way and encounter spectral forms standing on the
Both mimetically and imaginatively, Cooper utilizes
his American journeys. He also evinces a conscious use
of the journey "out and back." Cooper's habitual
utilization of this journey pattern seems to indicate
his understanding of the symbolic dimensions of the
movement. As the journey away from home and back to it
was to be raised into unmistakable symbolic dimensions
by Hawthorne, and a host of following American authors,
it is noteworthy that Cooper was apparently so fond of
the pattern. In The Sea Lions the romantic hero,
Roswell Gardiner, departs from his home a callow youth.
During the almost unimaginably harsh winter in the
Antarctic, he finds a proper faith in God. Cooper says:
"Roswell Gardiner has never wavered in his faith, from
the time when his feelings were awakened by the just
view of his own insignificance, as compared to the power
of God" (XXX, 232). As a fact, Cooper's journeys "out
and back" include the actions of major or minor
characters in every single narrative he wrote. All his
tales contain movements away from and back to homes or
safe places. This characteristic journey action is
discussed extensively below. Sometimes the return to
area of origin is treated briefly, sometimes the place
of debarkation is slighted, sometimes the journey itself
is of small magnitude or brief duration, and sometimes
the response of the returned journeyer is not given at
all; however, the characteristic "out and back" movement
The journey need not function as a symbol for man's
own process of maturity. Sometimes, in those
narratives by Cooper that take the characters to the
famous "neutral ground" between combatants or between
civilization and nature, the journey is a representation
of human conflict. As Stout notes, the journey in
American literature functions both as "a real event in
time and a timeless symbolic action." Cooper was
certainly aware of at least some of the import which
journey can be seen to have in his narratives. The fact
that he did not make conscious use of the form at all
times and in all places does not subtract from the fact
that he did make use of the form in all narratives in
Somewhere within Cooper the idea that journey was
somehow the "proper" movement for Americans had a
tenuous hold. In the same place within the minds of the
citizens, and in the fictive creations that speak and
act for the real people, was and is the same conviction.
Americans move as much as they do because they must;
their heroes do too. An examination of how Cooper
utilizes his various journeys, as well as his other
action types, both illuminates any particular text and
helps to explain his artistic talent.
Quest: A Seeking; Adventure; Usually
Involving a Journey
"Life is a pilgrimage, and a penance; though few
of us think so while journeying on its way; but so
it is to all. . .
Because the quest usually involves a journey, Stout
discusses this action as a sub-genre of the family.
However, as Peter Revell has discussed, real differences
exist between simple journey and action of quest or of
search or hunt. In Quest in American Poetry he
discusses the differences among journey, quest, and
search or hunt. He notes that a journey is merely a
series of adventures. He states that quest and search
both have an underlying basis in pursuit of goal "but
that 'quest' seems to . imply (though the standard
dictionaries do not support this view) something
different from a search--the searcher knows what he is
looking for . while the quester seeks to find
something not completely known."
The quest differs from simple journey because the
ultimate goal of the quester is both "radically
uncertain" and "radically significant. . Equally
uncertain is the route that the quester must follow."
Further, when journey action ends, the journeyer simply
stops acting; when quest action closes, the quester is
typically emotionally affected and often either
radically transmogrified by the experience or destroyed
by the act.
As the questing hero moves toward his goal, his
interchanges with his fellows in society make clear his
basic loneliness. This loneliness is, as Blackburn has
noted, "the outgrowth of the sense of failed identity,
of the instability of an inferior social standing, and
of the failure to find human solidarity." Richard
Bjornson, speaking of the European novel, notes that the
questing hero exhibits ambiguous links with his own
past, that he always leaves home, that he undergoes some
sort of initiation, and that his contacts with his world
reveal its dehumanization and its pressures to
Cooper's questing characters are usually odd specimens
of humanity, as they would almost have to be. After
all, the quester is both isolated from humanity
emotionally and disjuncted from people spatially,
seeking through his world for a goal that his fellows do
not value with his intensity of emotion. The titular
character in Jack Tier is a short, waddling little
figure with a cracked voice, and Jack seems particularly
representative because he is notably peculiar in word
and deed. Boarding the Molly Swash from a skiff at sea,
Jack spins a yarn that he was accidentally left on an
island twenty years past and that he has been shipping
on other vessels ever since, trying to rejoin Captain
Spike and the Molly's crew. Spike cannot remember Jack,
but hires him on anyhow. The captain is a drinking
privateer, coarse and violent. When Spike attempts to
abduct the heroine, Jack rescues her and they escape;
however, at the first opportunity, Jack rejoins the
When the Molly Swash sinks, Spike flings Jack out of
the yawl, but the game little character swims to safety
and is next seen wearing female attire, assiduously
mending clothing beside the hospital bed where Spike,
mortally wounded, is soon to die. This female, then, is
"Jack Tier--for it was he, appearing in the garb of his
proper sex, after a disguise that had now lasted full
twenty years" (XVI, 395). And for twenty years Jack has
quested across the oceans of the world seeking Stephen
Spike because, as she reveals to him, "I am your wife!"
(XVI, 405). Abandoned by her husband, Jack (Mrs. Spike)
has spent two decades seeking him out, forced to live as
a man so the quest could continue. "It is hard for a
woman to unsex herself . to throw off her very
natur' . and to turn man" (XVII, 411), but it is far
from impossible if the woman has reason enough for her
actions. Jack Tier's motivations are sufficient, and
"his" peculiarities are explained when "her" true sex is
revealed. Her questing ends when Spike dies. She
remains in skirts, remembers how to cry, and comes to
forgiveness. Subsequently, she grows out her hair,
leaves off chewing tobacco, and becomes a sort of old
maid aunt to the child born to the hero and heroine.
Once her quest action concludes, she becomes a "normal"
female person again.
With quest, as with journey, the character moves in
response to an internal motivation. Yet, the character
who journeys moves from one place to another place; a
character who quests moves from one place to some thing.
The quest object may well be another place, as is
evident. Religious pilgrimages are quests to attain
Cooper's only full blown religious pilgrimage
occurs in Chapters XXIV-XXIX of The Heidenmauer. In
this text, the pilgrims journey afoot to expiate the sin
of their community, the burning of a local Bavarian
abbey. Of their number, only three seem to display the
properly reverent attitude of religious pilgrim; the
remaining dozen characters seem simply to be journeying
because they are forced to do so. The three true
pilgrims, Father Arnolph, a deeply devout Catholic,
Lottchen Hintermayer, who believes her only child to
have died, and Meta Frey, who loves the assumedly
deceased Hintermayer son, display the requisite
emotions for people on pilgrimage. They pray often and
fervently. They weep, faint, or stand transfixed by
awe. They are the least interesting members of the
group as they follow along after the leaders to the
shrine in Switzerland.
None of the proper pilgrims displays the sort of
sublimely transcendent union of quester with quest
object which proper quest narratives offer. Cooper
could understand, intellectually, the concept of
Catholic religious pilgrimage; however, he was not able
to comprehend the emotional verity of the act. This
single pilgrimage he offers, his sole religious quest,
is a failure. As a journey, the action is successful
enough. The dozen members of the group who are just
going along according to instructions are interesting
characters and they offer comic relief. But as a quest,
the action is unfortunately flawed. The three devout
pilgrims fail to come to life as they act. However,
even though the pilgrimage in The Heidenmauer is not a
good example of a religious quest to a sacred shrine, it
does reveal Cooper's knowledge of this particular form
of quest action.
Other quests found in Cooper's works are not
movements to special place; questers may move toward an
object, a person, or some ideal state of consciousness.
For example, the term "quest" is often given to
narratives involving no spatial journeys at all. While
Stout maintains that "the designation quest for a purely
mental yearning and effort" is a misnomer, she notes
that it is with this externally inactive form of the
quest that American journeys "have their strongest
affinities." While the concept of quest without
"movement" is possible, the idea of "journey" without
"movement" is absurd. Some quests involve no journey;
quests are different from journeys.
One way to see the difference between the two
actions is to examine the emotional intensity of the
quester's evaluation of the quest object. Another way
is to examine the emotion in the rhetoric surrounding
the moment of attainment of quest object. The quest
object, unlike the object of attainment for the
journeyer (i.e.: "journey's end"), may be either
materially real, physically obtainable or abstract,
ultimate, and intangible. Journey's end is the place
where action stops; quest's end may be anyplace--or no
place at all, in the sense that the quester may have to
die and depart all earthly places to attain his object.
When the journeyer finishes his action, he turns to some
other relatively average activity. When the quester
achieves his goal, he experiences an apotheotic moment
of emotional release, a transcendent instant.
The quest object itself, its intrinsic value, is
immaterial. Ahab pursues a whale; Gatsby a light. It
is the quester's personal evaluation of his quest
object, the "radically significant, beyond definition or
rational assessment" value he gives the item which
invests the object with its import. With a monomaniacal
orientation on the object, the quester gives pursuit.
He follows after his goal with such intensity that he
comes to view the real world around himself as somehow
not real any longer. Often the quester is frightened by
the world, or mystified by it, or horrified. Only when
he attains his desire, his quest object, is he content
with a contentment which appears apotheotic to non-
Cooper wrote no quest narratives of the caliber of
Moby Dick; he was not the artist Melville was. But he
did attempt quest narratives. Jack Tier's quest for
reunion with Captain Spike and the several characters'
pilgrimage to Switzerland in The Heidenmauer are two
examples. Three other quests that Cooper penned are
effective and merit lengthy examination.
In the hopes of beginning an extensive chronicle of
American history, Cooper wrote Lionel Lincoln. Readers
of his era and of subsequent ones agree that the tale is
a failure. Cooper mishandles his plot, stifles his
characters, and makes the wrong choice with his tone.
The only truly interesting character in the narrative is
Ralph, and he is not the hero. Because Ralph is not the
focus, his actions are not followed. Because of his
under-development, his quest is not immediately
Ralph, unbeknownst to all, is actually Sir Lionel
Lincoln, a baronet; he is also a lunatic, escaped from
an English madhouse. Not surprisingly, given his
peculiar manner of speaking and his even more unusual
appearance, the other characters view Ralph with scorn,
confusion, and fear. To one woman, he "is some madman"
(XII, 283). To another, he is not human at all; "he can
even read our secret thoughts, as I had supposed man
could never read them" (XIV, 291). To Meriton, Ralph is
a "disagreeable old stranger . with his mean, filthy
bundle of rags" (I, 214); to Lionel, Ralph is
"remarkable . [hallowed] by the air of great age and
attendant care" (VIII, 255). The idiot savant, Job,
"worships [Ralph] as a God" (VIII, 258); the heroine,
Cecil, hears his voice and "instantly recalls] the
tones of the aged messenger of Death" (XXX, 388).
Ralph has left behind his home, distancing himself
so far from his past that even his name is lost. "I am
returned from a sad, sad pilgrimage" (I, 215), Ralph
intones, and he says, "I am alone . .without love"
(VI, 244). Ralph is so alienated from humanity that he
says he finds all the people in all the world evil, and
all their acts vile. "All is treachery and sin" (IV,
231), he raves at one point. Ralph is so far severed
from his proper past that he seems to have actually
forgotten how old he is; chronologically no more than
fifty years old, Ralph moans of his great age and of the
"generations" of sinful men which he has seen pass away.
He states that he has borne "the burden of life till
Death has forgotten him" (XXXIII, 403), and in the
saying he reveals his quest.
I, who have seen ages pass since the blood of
youth has been chilled, and generation after
generation swept away, must still linger in the
haunts of men! (XXXI, 396). . 'tis the old
that cannot die. . I [grew] to manhood, and
learned] how hard it is to live, but .. I
cannot die! (XXXIII, 402-403).
Ralph is on quest throughout his narrative, peripherally
and dementedly, it is true, but he quests after his own
death. When he is finally granted his desire and death
comes to him, "a ray of passing reason lighted his
pallid and ghastly features, . his look gradually
softening. . A calm and decent expression possessed
those lineaments . and, stretching forth his arms in
the attitude of benediction . he fell . .
perfectly dead" (XXXIII, 405). Ralph's "interests," as
he states early in the narrative, are all "already in
the grave" (IV, 231). When he attains union with his
goal, his Gothic quest ends.
Various actions by Natty Bumppo, the most
extensively studied character in Cooper's canon, have
been seen as quest actions. Walker labels the action
in The Deerslayer "quest" action, arguing that the
narrative of Natty's first kill can be seen as action
with "religious overtones suggestive of the quest for
the pure in heart for the Holy Grail." Peck believes
The Last of the Mohicans to be a narrative of "mythic
quest," with Uncas as the questing hero.
In The Prairie a third example of Natty's questing
action is evident. In this text, the same quest after
death which animates Ralph occupies the aged Natty
Bumppo, albeit not presented in as gristly a guise as is
Ralph's. In Lionel Lincoln the quest for death is not
the primary focus; in The Prairie, at least in reference
to Leatherstocking, it is. Cooper had set the stage
perfectly for Natty's quest for death at the close of
the narrative which first presented the hero. The final
chapter of The Pioneers depicts Natty "stretched on the
earth before a head-stone of white marble" and musing to
himself, "Who will be there to put me in the 'arth when
my time comes?" (XXXXI, 781). His concern is justified,
for he has "none of his name and family" in "all the
world." Also, he intends to depart the Templeton area
and leave behind all the lovely scene he holds so dear.
Natty states: "I'm weary of living in clearings . I
crave to go into the woods ag'in--I do. . If ye
love me, let me go where my soul craves to be" (XXXXI, 783).
The Prairie presents Natty first as a "colossal" (I,
218) figure, and then as a being emaciated, "suffering,
withered," "of more than eighty" years of "decay" (I,
219), moving through a "bleak and solitary" (I, 216)
land which is also "aged" (II, 221). Natty is no longer
a hunter, his occupation gone as completely as is his
home, the wilderness woods. "I have no regular abode,
and seldom pass more than a month at a time on the same
range" (II, 222), he states; "Seventy-and-five years
have I been upon the road" (II, 223). His travels have
brought him to such a desolate spot, according to him,
that "You may travel . weeks, if not months . in
these open fields" and find "neither dwelling nor
habitation for man or beast" (II, 223). when Natty
speaks these words, he is surrounded by the Bush clan,
who are soon to be attacked, besieged, and beleaguered
by enough Indians to keep them busy for weeks. Indeed,
Natty himself does allow that "hundreds, nay, thousands
of the rightful owners of the country [are] roving about
the plains" (II, 225). Natty is suffering from the
myopic vision of the quester, unable to see, here at the
opening of the narrative, the reality of the Indian camp
where he will, later, find the acceptable place to die.
Although when Natty speaks of "the inner country"
(XXXIII, 434) he literally means the "inhabited lands,"
his words conjure the image of that very subjective
world which the quester inhabits. When Natty can see
the Pawnee village for what it "really" is, he finds it
to be good, and he waits out the remainder of his life
in the midst of the respectful savages.
Cooper skillfully describes the close of Natty's
quest for death. Seated in a thronelike seat,
illuminated by the setting sun, accoutered with his
rifle and the preserved skin of his dog, attended by a
crowd of onlookers, Natty prepares to die. After he
leaves the "Here!" an Indian honors his passing with the
eulogy: "A valiant, a just and a wise warrior, has gone
on the path which will lead him to the blessed grounds
of his people" (XXXIII, 442).
Yet not all Cooper's quests end (or is it begin?)
with death. In Mercedes of Castile, the questing hero
is Christopher Columbus and his quest is to find the
As Cooper makes clear, Columbus is obsessed with his
inner vision, "filled with the vastness of his purposes"
(IIII, 53), "awakened . to mightier things" (IIII,
59), set apart as "the chosen vessel" (V, 98), seeing a
"truth that was concealed from most eyes" (XIII, 198).
Many of the people around Columbus believe him to be no
more than a "mendicant adventurer" (v, 106); he is often
an "object of scorn" (VIII, 112), this "madman" (V,
109), this "visionary" (VIII, 117). Utterly solitary,
he has no family and no friends as he travels Europe
urging his suit for funding.
Columbus, even before he finally sets sail, has
spent a generation "on his weary pilgrimage" (IIII, 57).
As he tells the tale,
This matter hath now occupied my mind quite
eighteen years. During the whole of this long
period I have thought seriously of little else,
and it may be said to have engaged my mind
sleeping and waking. I saw the truth early and
intensely. . I feel a reliance on success,
that cometh from dependence on God. I think
myself an agent, chosen for the accomplishment of
great ends. (V, 103)
His "great ends" are, first, "to see the wealth of
the Indies pouring into the coffers of Castile" in
consequence of this voyage and, second, to effect "the
recovery of the Holy Sepulchre" (XII, 183) through use
of this wealth. When Columbus finally prepares to leave
Europe in pursuit of his great ends, his face exhibits
"the chastened rapture of a Christian who was about to
quit a world of woe, to enter on the untasted, but
certain, fruition of blessed immortality" (XIII, 194).
Perhaps because Cooper himself was aware that his
book was failing somehow to vivify the rapturous quest,
he wrote in a character to accompany Columbus. And, in
order to make the point of the quixotic exercise
unmistakable, Cooper names the character Sancho--Sancho
The voyage to the New World is chronicled with a
documentary precision. It is, according to Columbus, a
voyage which "never had a precedent on this earth, for
its length or for the loveliness of its way" (XIV, 220).
Columbus believes his voyage will carry them to Cathay
or to Cipango (Japan), and he produces a map "from Paul
Toscanelli, a learned Tuscan" (XIX, 317), which shows
the city of "Quisay." This city's name means "The city
of Heaven" (XIX, 318). The quester does not know where
he is going in his quest. The pole star seems to "jump"
in the sky as the voyage continues, and the compasses
fail to point properly north. So uncertain is the
location of the quest object--or even its verity--that
Columbus himself is tricked by a low-lying bank of
clouds into believing that land has been sighted. His
face "became radiant with delight and pious exultation.
Uncovering himself, he cast a look upward in unbounded
gratitude, and then fell on his knees, to return open
thanks to God" (XX, 323). Although this sighting is a
false alarm, when the New World is actually seen,
Columbus and all the crew exhibit "exultation" (XXI,
346). His face revealing "the glow of inward rapture"
(XXI, 356), Columbus says, "Laud be to God!" (XXI,
Cooper is obliged to remove Columbus from the
central position in the narrative after he has attained
his quest object. This shift of focus back to the
typically lifeless young and noble hero, Luis de
Bobadilla, does not help the tale; in fact, focus upon
the languishing romantic lead puts the kiss of death on
the quest narrative. However, just at the end of the
tale a breath of life wafts back into the pages when
Columbus has a final moment of attention. The old man
is aship again and he says,
I now go forth from Spain, on a far more
perilous adventure than [the first]. . Then,
I sailed concealed in contempt, and veiled from
human eyes by ignorance and pity; now, I have left
the Old World followed by malignancy and envy. (XXXI, 508)
In Mercedes of Castile Cooper consciously uses the
quest to discover the New World as his ordering
mechanism. Once the quest object is attained and the
tensions which the quest action generated is lost, the
focus of the narrative disappears, illustrating just how
integral the ordering mechanism of quest action really
is. Possibly Cooper feared to offer the public yet
another work "which could scarcely be a favorite with
the females," and it might be for this reason that
his love story stretches all around the quest tale, like
a great anaconda, to choke the life out of the story.
However, the truth remains that Cooper was unable to
write a really effective quest narrative. He may
have known it himself, for he shies away from focus on
the quest hero, habitually presenting the quest moment
through the eyes of another character or with recourse
to his calm, authorial persona. Even when the focus is
directly on the quester, his tongue seems somehow tied:
"His lips moved in a vain effort to speak
Ralph, in Lionel Lincoln
Natty, in The Prairie
"Laud to be God!"
Columbus, in Mercedes of Castile
The problem with Cooper seems often to be that his
turgid prose destroys the surest method to precisely
identify quest: the revelatory moment when quest is
culminated. Cooper's words do not produce the emotional
effect necessary to the task. It may be fairly noted
that Cooper was not habitually concerned with writing
"The Great American Quest." Yet it can also be as
fairly noted that Cooper's fundamental purpose, his sub-
textual foundation, was to recreate the great American
quest itself, the quest of attaining a national
identity. Cooper, the man, knew American reporters to
be slanderous rumor-mongers, American lawyers to be
opportunistic bombasts, American voters to be uneducated
vacillators, and American citizens to be greedy and
selfish opportunists. But Cooper, the writer, knew the
artistic truth behind the unremarkable reality of his
New World home. And this artist could not help but
reach toward, yearn after, that myth.
Part of that American myth was, for Cooper,
marriage. All of his formulaic romantic story lines,
then, can be said somehow to spring from the world of
myth. The wedding ceremony, is thus that fusion of
quester with quest object. Frequently, the tale closes
just after the wedding itself because the end of the
quest brings an end to the action of the quester.
Such scenes, of course, offer a conclusion "favorable
with the females." The formula ends with "And they lived
happily ever after." But there seems to be another
dimension to the closure of tale with marriage, a
feeling of static "rightness" akin to the emotional
quiescence which the quester feels when his quest is
finally realized. Cooper's "proper" romantic leads,
however, are often so refined that they fail to vivify
the emotional intensity which is the surest indicator of
quest attainment. Further, Cooper's convoluted syntax
and painfully turgid prose usually interfere with the
realization of any emotional plateaus which the
characters purport to feel.
Finally, it may not be that Cooper is simply unable
to write the words that would vivify a quest; perhaps he
is also unwilling. It is certain that any man married
for 41 years to the same woman, as Cooper was, surely
knows that marriage is not an extended union of quester
with quest object that either destroys him or else
transmogrifies him radically. Yet, the idea that a
proper marriage was somehow a perfect marriage seems to
remain with the man. Lawrence has discussed the yawning
gulf between Cooper's "Wish-Fulfillment" and his
"Actuality" in reference to the Leatherstocking myth.
The "vision" which is Cooper's wish fulfilling fictive
reality in Natty's world is the author's "presentation
of a deep subjective desire" that is somehow "real" and
"almost prophetic." It is another species of this
"real" vision which animates Cooper's equally fictive,
but equally powerful, concept of the "ever after" which
he assigns to his lovers.
In 1820, Cooper wrote:
If there be bliss in this life, approaching
in any degree to the happiness of the blessed, it
is the fruition of long and ardent love, where
youth, innocence, piety, and family concord, smile
upon the union. (Precaution; XLVII, 715)
As late as 1850, in Cooper's last published narrative,
he still believes:
Perhaps there is nothing on earth that so
nearly resembles the pure happiness of the
blessed, as the felicity that succeeds the entire
union of two hearts that are wrapped up in each
other. The affinity of feelings, the
community of thought, the steadily increasing
confidence which, in the end, almost incorporates
the moral existence of two into one, are so many
new and precious ties, that it is not wonderful
the novices believe they are transplanted to a new
and ethereal state of being. ( The ways of the
Hour; XXX, 190)
Cooper's terms describing marriage as "approaching
the happiness of the blessed" which "transports" the
couple to "a new and ethereal state of being" embody
quest-object attainment. If he fails to recreate the
apotheotic moment, it is not because he lacks knowledge
of it, but because he is burdened with refined
characters who speak too "properly" to be properly
human, hampered by his own emotional reserve and
ambivalence, and constrained by the dictates of his
century and the conventions of his art.
Hunt: To Search Diligently; To Seek
"We looked carefully, in all directions, in the
hope of discovering something that might give us
Afloat and Ashore
Journey narratives and quest narratives are two
self-motivated types of action that Cooper uses with
differing degrees of success in his various fictions. A
third type of self-motivated action, a type not properly
termed either journey, or quest, is the hunt or search.
A hungry or thirsty character, a character who is
impecunious, a marriageable youth with no potential
mate, a vaguely dissatisfied man or woman may set out to
hunt. The character may have no certain or definable
goal, seeking neither journey's end nor quest object.
He simply begins to move about in search of surcease
from his personal dissatisfaction. The searching
character casts about in the environment, vaguely
attempting to somehow rectify the "wrong" aspect of his
Hunt or search action differs from journey of
exploration action, for the explorer acts to learn
something new about his world while the hunting or
searching character, as here defined, acts so as to
remedy an existing lack within himself. While both
actors may feel a similar internal motivation, the
"discontent" of wanting to move toward "something," the
explorer wants his vague need filled with sights or
knowledge never before seen or conceptualized; the
hunter has a specific lack of some sort which he wants
remedied. Both explorer and searcher are dissatisfied
and both move through space because of their emotional
feelings. And, it is true, the explorer who has no firm
idea of where to find a "new" place may cast about in
hunting action. Similarly, the hunting or searching
character may be "hunting" for previously unknown or
unseen places if he suffers from a "lack" of scenic
novelty. Yet, brief consideration of the difference
between action of the sort generated by a narrative
about Lewis and Clark and action described by a
narrative about thirsting people seeking a source of
water in any wilderness illustrates the real difference
between the two motivations. Proper explorers act to
attain "new" locations; proper hunters and searchers act
to resecure that which they have somehow "lost."
The hunt or search is typically an action of
relatively short duration. While characters may quest
or journey throughout an entire narrative, or even two,
Cooper's characters rarely search for very long.
Cooper's hunts are used either as brief, active
interludes or as a means of entry into one of the other,
more sustainable actions.
In The Last of the Mohicans Cooper presents a
typical and brief hunt. The Fort Henry massacre has
begun. The Munro sisters are surrounded by maddened
Indians. In the midst of the slaughter Magua has been
"raging from group to group, like one who, scorning to
touch the vulgar herd, hunted for some victim" (XVII,
107). When he finds Cora, he takes her captive. His
peculiar "raging from group to group" keeps him from
slaughtering, which is the proper act for an enraged
savage on the field. Magua has been "hunting" for
Lieutenant Colonel Munro, but he has not been finding.
When he locates Cora, a suitable substitute to assuage
his need, he begins a journey.
As is evident, a searching character on hunt may
find some item not even sought. This phenomenon
illustrates the basic self-orientation of hunting
action. When the personal lack is rectified, no matter
whatever item satisfies the searcher, his hunt is
As The Pioneers opens, Natty is in need of food.
The buck he has shot is loaded onto Judge Temple's
sleigh. Although the wounded Oliver Edwards (Effingham)
says he will bring "a quarter of the buck" (I, 556) back
for dinner, Natty does not need the food; no hunter of
Bumppo's skill needs help to find game for his rifle.
Natty shoots a nearby pheasant and calls to Edwards,
"never mind the venison, boy." Here the
Leatherstocking's hunt for dinner yields not only fresh
game, but also serendipitous meeting with travelers in
In The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish only "six-and-thirty"
sheep, rather than the requisite "seven-and-thirty,"
arrive back at home. The sheepboy adds that he has been
"an hour among the briars and bushes of the hill,
looking for the lost wether" (II, 395). "Hast thou
ridden carefully through the clearing?" asks the owner
of the animals. The boy replies he has. The owner then
rides away from his home, loitering "along the path .
and at times bending his gaze around the whole of his
limited horizon . (II, 395). What the wether's
owner finds is a stranger, arriving at the secluded
settlement. Here again a man on hunt discovers an
unsought find. Many hunters find what they seek,
Harry March and Natty hunt together for a canoe
which Harry had earlier hidden in a hollow tree.
Harry knew the direction . and he now led
on with the confident step of a man assured of his
object. . After proceeding near a mile, March
stopped and began to cast about him with an
inquiring look, examining the different objects
with care. (The Deerslayer, II, 14)
But poor Harry is unable to find the hollow tree until
Natty indicates, "See; this is the spot you came to
Natty hunts often. At the climactic moment when
Deerslayer has just slain his first human being, the
Mingo who will shortly bestow a new name on the hero,
Natty goes hunting for a rifle. "The piece was found
where its owner [the Mingo] had dropped it" (VII, 62),
and only after securing the weapon does Natty approach
his fallen foe. Soon again there is a hunt. Natty,
Judith, and Chingachgook hunt for the key to the chest
on the ark. Natty cannot find it, so he asks the Indian
to join in the search. Chingachgook immediately begins
to cast about for the hiding place, and all three are
"soon engaged in an anxious and spirited search,"
turning their "inquiries to those places that struck
them as ingenious hiding-places" (XII, 108). They
"examine" and "rummage" until Chingachgook suggests that
they look in the "coarse pocket" belonging to Hetty.
There the key is secreted.
One type of activity which is a type of search or
hunt is the well-established scouting action found in
all Indian tales. By whatever name it may be called, to
scout out or reconnoiter, investigate, get the lay of
the land, or to take a "look-see," this type of casting
about is a hunting act. Indians "sent out to
reconnoiter . soon return to report their want of
success in making any discovery" (XVIII, 162) in The
Deerslayer. Others of their number check in an opposite
direction; "others had examined in different
directions." At the same time, Hetty hunts for an
Indian friend, but does not "find" her (163). Some of
the savages keep watch against their foes, two of them
constantly passing back and forth in "vigilance" against
a surprise attack. In three paragraphs in Chapter
XVIII, Cooper presents six different hunt or search
actions. None of these yields the desired end.
People ashore, hunting afoot or in conjunction with a
beast of burden, are subject to the sorts of physical
constraints that limit all land-bound peoples: they get
tired fairly soon. They must rest. Mimetic
characterization requires that fairly brief segments
only can be devoted to land searches or to land actions
such as chase, discussed below. After a relatively
brief time, all characters relying upon their bodies or
any corporeal body must either find what they seek, find
an acceptable substitute, or turn to other actions, such
as eating or sleeping. After these sorts of resting
activities, the hunting action may recommence or it may
not. Either way, in Cooper's tales land hunts are
actions of short duration.
Sea hunts, however, are another matter. People who
are aship have the physical capability to hunt for far
longer than those ashore. Searches of several hours
length are lengthy shore hunts, but ships' searches may
last for unremitting days, weeks, or even months.
In Afloat and Ashore, Miles Wallingford ships
aboard the Crisis under Captain Williams. This is the
sort of man who "is never so happy as when he is running
round the ocean in places where it is full of unknown
islands, looking for sandal wood and beche-la-mar!" (XI,
320). On this particular occasion, the captain wishes
to "double the Horn", which place is subjected to such
conflicting descriptions that no two mariners "seem to
have found it exactly alike." Also on this passage a
"tempest" commences. The mariners lose their reckoning,
and the captain attempts to get a sight of some sort of
land "as it would enable [them] to get some tolerable
accurate notions of . position." None of the men
retains any hope of finding the passage they "aimed at."
For three full days, all hands search through the thick
weather, trying to locate some route to safety. "It is
not easy to make a landsman understand the embarassments
of" (323) such a situation, when the captain of a ship
does not know in which direction to sail in order to
find home. On the fourth day, they are blown into some
sort of passage through some islands which might be part
of Tierra del Fuego. The storm continues. On the
morning of the sixth day, the Crisis' crew realizes it
has "found a passage westward that actually led into the
ocean!" (327). Unfortunately, it is the Pacific; they
have passed "the Straits of Magellan without knowing
For nearly a week, Captain Williams and his crew
hunt for the passage through which Williams, at least,
has already passed four times. Although the tempest
contributes to their inability to find the route, the
seekers continue to strain their eyes for the passage
whenever the weather allows them sufficient time to
hunt. Cooper wisely interspaces this extended hunting
action with fight action (man against his environment);
a minute recitation of six days' fruitless searching
would yield a poor narrative at best. People who hunt
or search when on a ship are not interesting to read
about when they are actively hunting: they look, but do
not see, as their ship moves through the water.
A more lengthy sea hunt is the one acted by Captain
Rowley, on the English frigate the Briton. Rowley's
orders are to "cruise three months" (XXIV, 418) in a
specified area of the Atlantic, searching for American
ships to inspect or French vessels to fight. Of course,
Cooper does not chronicle ninety weary days and nights
of heel-and-toe watches by the crew. His knowledge of
how to present a good tale precludes much more than the
briefest summary of the cruise: "More than two months
passed without the Briton's speaking, or even seeing, a
single sail!" While this hunt by the crew may well be
the greatest number of days devoted to this action in
all the Cooper canon, the one sentence summary of the
action itself--which is rendered in the negative--does
not offer an extended action sequence presentation.
Even when Cooper has the opportunity to present a
mimetic search of extended duration, as he does here, he
has the good sense not to weary the reader with one.
Characters often lose things or need things or
places they have not got. Most hungry characters in the
wilderness must devote much time to hunting for food.
All hunting generates action which is describable and
which may be of some narrative interest. However, hunt
action is not as major an action type as are journey or
quest actions. Most hunts are brief actions; long hunts
are typically presented in recapitulative fashion.
These three action types are similar in that they
all arise from internal promptings. The questing
character has the strongest personal compulsion to act.
His own evaluation of what is real and important to him
forces him to keep on acting in the attempt to gain
union with his quest object; the quester drives himself
unmercifully into action. He seems a most peculiar
individual to those characters who observe him. Unlike
the quester, the journeyer is a usual human type who
displays a universal action. While the journeyer may
act for any of several reasons--to return home, found a
home, escape, explore, or just keep in motion--his
action is familiar and his reason for acting logical.
Just so are the acts of the hunting or searching
character. His needs are usually ascertainable and
comprehendable and his acts are rational. All people
hunt and journey. One kind of journeyer, the questing
character, acts irrationally, but the actions he does
are describably human.
All three action types arising from internal
motivations are mimetic. Further, they provide both
brief and extended structures which Cooper uses to craft
effective narratives. Long journeys or brief hunts,
extended quests or fleeting searches, vignettes of
escape or voyages of exploration--all these acts shape
and direct Cooper's works. But it is not only the
inner-directed acts that generate motion; three outer-
directed action types contribute as effectively to the
structure of Cooper's tales.
1. Definitions from Webster's New Collegiate
Dictionary, 2d ed.
2. Janis P. Stout, The Journey Narrative in
American Literature (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood
Press, 1983) 3.
3. Stout 247. Cooper is the first internationally
successful American author to employ journey action
effectively in his work. Many fictions by nearly all
subsequent American authors make good use of journey
action. This phenomenon illustrates both the apparently
inexhaustable relevance of this action for American
artists and audiences and also explains one reason why
Fenimore Cooper's fictions continue to appeal to modern
4. Leland S. Person, Jr., in "Cooper's
The Pioneers and Leatherstocking's Historical Function,"
Emerson Society Quarterly 25 (1979): 1-10, notes the
departure of Natty at the close of The Pioneers. "A
similar splitting up of the main cast recurs in each of
the Leatherstocking novels" (1). Journey is often used
in the final chapter of Cooper's works, not merely in
the Leatherstocking tales, leaving many narratives in
the same state of "motion" as they opened, albeit in a
different location sometimes.
5. Percy G. Adams, Travel Literature and the
Evolution of the Novel (Lexington: The University Press
of Kentucky, 1983) presents another study of travel
literature. In Chapter 5, Adams discusses what he
considers to be the six basic "movements" in literature:
1) The Journey, as found in Tom Jones
2) The Wandering, as found in Huckleberry Finn
3) The Quest, as found in Sir Gawain
4) The Pilgrimage, as found in Pilgrim's Progress
5) The Odyssey, as found in The Odyssey
6) The Going-Forth, as found in The Red Badge of
Adams does treat thematic concerns, motifs, and
character types; however, his thesis is broad and its
development is diffused. A study of Cooper's actions
yields but few insights when approached via the use of
6. Stout 30.
7. Stout 31. Exploration is a primary activity of
the heroine in much Gothic literature. Often that
exploration is a quest for some object known or
surmised. Cooper's use of such action is limited, for
his romances do not follow the formula for the
established Gothic tale.
8. In the sense that Antarctica remained
unexplored until long after Cooper died, the exploratory
voyages by the crews of the two Sea Lions could be
labeled "Imaginary voyages" of sorts similar to that
found in Poe's Narrative of A. Gordon Pym (1838).
However, Cooper presents this exploration as a realistic
journey. This may be seen when the journey of the Sea
Lions is contrasted with the journey of John Goldencalf
in The Monikins or Mark woolston in The Crater. I treat
the "Imaginary voyage" later in this chapter.
9. Stout 31.
10. Stout 32.
11. Stout 33.
12. Stout 42.
13. Stout 45.
14. Stout 66.
15. Stout 68.
16. In 1836 Cooper offered the world his first
"Gleaning" from Europe. Since Cooper's avowed purpose
is not "story" in these works, it is not surprising that
his use of action should function in a much different
manner than it does in his tales. In the non-fiction,
the action of the travel leads directly to description
of picturesque scene or to idea. Cooper moves to the
proper place quickly and gets on with the static aspects
of his true purpose. While Cooper's "gleanings" utilize
action, they do not tell "tale." In Notions of the
Americans (1828) the return to home is to an American
home. As Cooper's fictions reveal, this return to an
American home is the "Return to Home" which was the most
congenial to this author.
17. This is a remarkably effective moment in the
tale. Lionel Lincoln, unbeknownst to himself, is
actually the son of Sir Lionel Lincoln, which personage
is this very Ralph himself. Ralph is later revealed to
be an escaped lunatic, Lionel has inherited a propensity
toward this mental dysfunction, and the narrative closes
with all the major characters either dead or fled the
nascent republic. The returns to "home" here lead to
insanity or to violent death. The doubled and redoubled
returns seem a most deft example of Cooper's art. The
ambivalence of historical Americans, torn between
loyalties both to England and her traditions and to
America and her potential, seems perfectly embodied in
the characters' many disordered movements and actions
and, most especially, in the apparent ability to return
to two homes. Of course, this ability actually
illustrates the inability to properly "return" to
18. Stout 105.
19. Stout 111.
20. Different commentators on Cooper have
discussed the various "journeys to no end" which they
believe exist in Cooper's canon. George Dekker, in
James Fenimore Cooper: The American Scott (New York:
Barnes & Noble, 1967), sees in The Wing -and-Wing
parallels with a dual Ulysses figure (Ulysses of Homer
and Ulysses of Dante). He puts forth the idea of the
unending journey but ultimately skirts the issue.
Donald A. Ringe, in American Gothic: Imagination and
Reason in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Lexington: The
University Press of Kentucky, 1982), describes Harvey
Birch of The Spy as "the Wandering Jew" (107). Leland
S. Person, Jr., in "Home as Found and the
Leatherstocking Series" (Emerson Society Quarterly, 27,
1981; 170-180) establishes the difference between
Natty's function as the mythic figure of "return to
origin for Americans" (their past), and contrasts his
function with the "nervous, rootless energy of the
American present" (174). He believes that the
Effinghams are ultimately unable to achieve satisfaction
on their "religious pilgrimage." He seems to indicate
their movement as being a sort of journey to no end, but
because his focus is not on the action itself, he moves
from matters of motion to matters of myth, leaving this
particular area unresolved.
21. Cooper's last reference to this legend may be
found in "The Lake Gun" (1850), a political allegory
which offers as the "Wandering Jew" a tree trunk which
purportedly has floated for ages about the surface of
Seneca Lake. Indian legend has it that this log is
actually an Indian chief, metamorphized for wicked
22. Kay Seymour House, Cooper's Americans
(Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1965) 123.
23. Philip Babcock Gove, The Imaginary Voyage in
Prose Fiction (New York: Arno Press, 1975).
24. Gove 87.
25. Gove 178.
26. Donald A. Ringe, Long Fiction of the American
Renaissance, ed. Paul McCarthy (Hartford: Transcendental
Books, 1974) 108.
27. George Dekker, James Fenimore Cooper: The
American Scott (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967) 125.
28. Stout 247.
29. Peter Revell, Quest in Modern American Poetry
(Totowa, New Jersey: Vision Press, 1981) 7.
30. Stout 88.
31. Alexander Blackburn, The Myth of the Picaro
(Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press,
32. Richard Bjornson, The Picaresque Hero in
European Fiction (Madison: The University of Wisconsin
Press, 1977) 7.
33. Stout 90.
34. Stout 88.
35. As House notes, Natty is part picaro, "like
Don Quixote" (307).
36. Warren S. Walker, James Fenimore Cooper: An
Introduction and Interpretation (New York: Barnes &
Noble, 1963) 41.
37. Daniel Peck, A World by Itself: The Pastoral
Moment in Cooper's Fiction (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1977) 121.
38. At least, this is what the reader must assume
he says. Actually, through what is surely an
unfortunate typographical error, the great explorer's
words read "Laud to be God!" Only a Freudian critic or a
metacritic could assign the proper reading to the
39. Preface to The Pilot.
40. Cooper's habitual narrative closes with
marriage or the promise of immediate marriage and new
journey action. Married couples either occupy homes or
move directly toward attaining stable homes. Closing
journeys, which often balance the habitual opening
journey actions, take the journeyer toward certain
safety; quest action, such as lovers often engage in,
lead the quester into unanticipated scenes and dangers.
41. D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American
Literature (London: Martin Secker, 1933) 51.
STALK, FIGHT, CHASE
AND JOURNEY AGAIN
"You remind me of the necessity of being in
The acts examined in Chapter One are internally-
motivated, or self-directed actions. The three main
externally-motivated, or other-directed actions are the
stalk, the fight or battle, and the chase. But to
begin a discussion of these, one must first return to
journey, for some journey types are clearly other-
Travelers making rendezvous may journey solely at
the direction of the other person. Messengers and
guides direct their courses according to dictates from
other people. Soldiers at all levels of command usually
move in response from their superiors. After the battle
is over, these soldiers may either regroup and advance
or retreat and disperse as a result of the actions of
the foe. Hostages, prisoners, and captives move solely
at the discretion of their guards. And any person,
ashore or--especially--afloat, may find himself
suddenly having to act solely in response to forces of
nature. The pioneer fleeing a raging forest fire
performs other-directed acts as surely as does the
boater traversing a rapids or the mariner harried,
buffeted, or shipwrecked by a tempest.
In The Last of the Mohicans Cora and Alice spend the
entire book, save for their brief interlude at Fort
William Henry, in movements directed by either Natty,
their father, the Indians, or--in Alice's case--a
husband-to-be. There is merit in the claim that
Cooper's heroines' movements are overwhelmingly
controlled by a mate, a father, a brother, or a
designated male agent. A vast number of Cooper's
females are passed through their narratives like
"Fortune's Footballs," either as actual captives or as
apparent ones. All of Cooper's well-bred and dutiful
heroines are bound to obey, to attend, and--if the male
authority figure wishes to move--to follow their men.
In this sense, the women are hostages to their
upbringing and to their emotions or vows. Such females
are actually captives of their author's visualization of
"proper" female duty and conduct. The refined heroine
should always "live out of herself, as it might be, and
in the existence of those whom she esteemed or loved"
(Miles Wallingford; VI, 295).
But the "captivity narrative" as it is usually
described is a specific narrative form. Beginning with
the 1682 publication of Mary Rowlandson's own tale of
captivity, this narrative was a distinct American type.
After the latter part of the eighteenth century, the
original form transformed, according to Richard Slotkin,
from a "fearful" narration to an "imaginative" one.
While Louise K. Barnett gives a later date for the
transformation, she agrees that the original captivity
narrative was finished as a force before Cooper began to
write. The transmogrified narration of captivity was a
tale of "overt fiction in which the horrors and travails
of the frontier experience were combined with a
complicated romantic plot of English origin. In this
amalgam, a set of foreign and artificial conventions was
superimposed on the basically real and indigenous
captivity events." She calls this later form the
"frontier romance" and notes that it was influenced by
Scott. Both Slotkin and Barnett agree that Cooper
offers well-developed examples of this later form,
Barnett finding The Last of the Mohicans to be "an
excellent paradigm of the multiple captivity plot" (62)
and Slotkin discussing both The Prairie and The
Deerslayer in his Chapter 13, "The Leatherstocking
In the "romantic" or "imaginative" captivity
narrative several necessary characters appear
1) A maiden, passive
2) A male, young and white
3) A frontiersman, older and the ally of #2
4) A good Indian, friend to 1-3
5) A bad Indian, enemy to 1-4
6) A white villain, enemy to 1-4 and
possibly to 5
7) (Occasionally) An Indian maiden, good.
Cooper offers several examples of romantic captivity
narratives, but all of them display variations, of some
sort, from the unadorned schema. Inez Middleton is held
by white, not Indian, captors in The Prairie; although
the six requisite character niches are all occupied, the
function of the characters is not typical of the genre.
In The Wept of Wish-ton-wish the captive is the Indian,
Conanchet, and the captors are the whites, the
Heathcotes. Conanchet's six month captivity in the
white community is devoted to attempts by the Puritans
to convert him to Christianity. In due time, a young
female Heathcote, Ruth, is abducted by members of the
escaped Conanchet's tribe. Although no part of her
captivity narrative proper is directly presented, more
than a decade after Conanchet's escape it is discovered
that he has married the girl, now thoroughly Indianized
and known as Narra-mattah. Soon after her return to her
white home, Conanchet is killed and she dies. Here, the
several characters fill several different roles as the
plot complications develop.
In The Pathfinder Mable Dunham is, for a time, a
captive within a blockhouse. She has full freedom of
movement within the structure, but is at the mercy of
the surrounding Indians if she moves outside. All seven
of the possible character roles are filled in this text
and all the characters assume their correct niches. It
is the captivity itself which is atypical. Mable is
simultaneously free and captive. In The Redskins an
even more unusual captivity narrative unfolds. The
captives are white, but they are men: the older white
ally, Uncle Ro, and a minister. The "Injins" are white
men, wearing blackface. The captivity is brief, but
active. Ro and Rev. Warren are whisked by dearborn to
the local meeting house while Mary and Hugh (#'s 1 & 2)
follow volitionally. This deformed "captivity
narrative" serves as an excellent comment on the
deranged society which Cooper presents in the tale.
The Last of the Mohicans, is Cooper's masterful
treatment of a true captivity narrative. In it, all the
requisite categories are filled, sometimes several times
over, and the actions are representative of the genre.
Cooper handles the several conventions of the type
effectively, including one of the "foreign and
artificial" conventions which Scott bequeathed: the
characteristic young, white, male hero whose essence of
"proper conduct" appears to be the ability to maintain a
supreme "self control under trying circumstances". Such
a passive young man is notable for his inactivity.
"The hero's action was confined to an ideal that all but
prohibited activity," one critic notes. This passive,
or "wavering," hero receives, rather than does the
action. The meaningful action, given to Natty Bumppo or
Harvey Birch or Guert Ten Eyke, rushes around the hero
or bears him up on the general swell of movement. All
too infrequently does the hero step forward to do
Like the passive Cooperian heroine, who seems to
live only "out of herself," the smitten hero often is
immobilized by his passion and seemingly paralyzed by
the proximity of his beloved. The adoring hero,
enmeshed in "the weakness of passion," must submit "to
its power, like feebler-minded and less resolute men
becoming little better than the vulgar herd under its
influence" (Wing-and-Wing; XXVI, 351). The hero in love
is a changed man. From "a very resolute he [becomes] a
very irresolute sort of person" (The Oak Openings; XIII,
204). Cooper believes that, "When a man is thoroughly
in love, he is quite apt to be fit for very little else
but to urge his suit" (XV, 242).
The "Fortune's Football" female and her "feeble"
lover are the two perfect types to take center stage in
captivity narratives, for their roles call for the sort
of passivity that characterizes a proper captive. In
The Last of the Mohicans infantile Alice Munro and
anxious Duncan Heyward (#'s 1 & 2) display archetypal
behaviors and obtain the proper reward for their right
acts. She is a captive; he is captured when he attempts
to rescue her; they eventually marry. Natty, of course,
is the perfect older frontiersman, ally of the young
man. The good Indian who lives is Chingachgook; the
good Indian who dies is his son, Uncas, the "last" of
the Mohicans. The bad Indian is Magua. The white
villain is the French commander, the Marquis of
Montcalm, whose dastardly machinations precipitate the
Fort William Henry "massacre." The role of "Indian
maiden, good" is not here filled, although Dew of June
(The Pathfinder) illustrates Cooper's knowledge of her
type and his ability to utilize the character
effectively. In The Last of the Mohicans, either
Chingachgook's deceased but beloved Wah-ta-wah (The
Deerslayer), the undifferentiated chorus of savage
virgins that eulogizes Cora, or the "tainted" Cora
herself fill the supporting female role when requisite.
The action of the captivity portion of the narrative
is exciting; the plot develops according to the plan.
However, in The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper writes a
captivity narrative with a difference. The difference
is that this time the formula works as it should. The
formulas exist because they offer a familiar and
accepted method of presentation to author and reader.
Most of the time, the narratives produced by formula are
no better than they ought to be, "familiar" and
"accepted." But sometimes a good author can pen a
formula tale that transcends its genre. Cooper's The
Last of the Mohicans is one such work. It is not just a
"good" story; it is actually "excellent."
Even when Cooper does not choose to write narratives
about captivity, he often writes narratives which
include action of captivity as a portion of the tale.
Old Major Effingham, in The Pioneers is literally
carried through his tale, a captive, of sorts, to his
own senility and physical disability. Even Natty
Bumppo may "travel" solely in the arms of other people:
"As soon as the body of Deerslayer was withed in bark
sufficiently to create a lively sense of helplessness,
he was literally carried to a young tree, and bound
against it" (The Deerslayer; XXVIII, 263). When Natty
moves in response to the dictates of other people,
though, he usually is able to stand on his own two feet.
Arriving at the fort in The Last of the Mohicans, and
"under the custody of a French officer . Hawkeye was
dejected. . and his arms were even bound" (XV, 89).
As an old man in The Pioneers Natty is taken as a
"prisoner" from the smouldering ashes of his hut and
marched into Templeton to be jailed until his trial.
"Presently the Leather-Stocking made his appearance,
ushered into the criminal's bar under the custody of two
constables" (XXXIII, 733). After justice has been done,
Natty is placed in the stocks. The aged trapper Bumppo
of The Prairie, along with Paul and Ellen "prisoners" of
Indians, must move when compelled "by a mandate . to
change their positions" (IV, 237).
Characters who journey on the water may, at any
moment, find themselves unexpected "hostages" to natural
forces. Even so small and calm a body of water as the
Glimmerglass may transport the unwilling traveler to
unexpected locales. Natty falls asleep in a drifting
canoe. When he awakens, he finds his craft has "drifted
twice the expected distance; and [has] approached
so near the base of the mountains that . it must
inevitably touch [the shore, inhabited by inimical
Indians], .. for the drift had amounted to miles in
the course of the night" (The Deerslayer; VII, 58). If
so brief a span on so small an area as this can
transport the drifting mariner "miles," how much greater
the unwilling journeyer may be carried by an angry sea.
When, as a seaman says in The Red Rover, mariners
find "the sea getting up in an unaccountable manner"
which may "threaten to engulf all before it" (XV, 331),
even a skillful captain may find his craft's movements
meeting "neither the wishes of his own impatience nor
the exigencies of the moment" (XVI, 337). When Captain
Wilder asks, "Does the ship mind her helm at all?" the
sailor responds, "Not an inch, sir" (337). These
mariners, at the mercy of "an air that apparently teemed
with a hundred hurricanes" (XVI, 338), find their
strenuous efforts too futile "to keep the despoiled hull
from becoming prey to the greedy waters" (XVII, 341).
As "the water rushed into the vortex, everything within
its influence" yields to the "gaping whirlpool" (349).
The characters who survive find themselves adrift on a
"blind and watery path" (XVIII, 350) in a little boat
blown about by an "unwelcome wind" (351). They are
threatened with a journey "across the whole Atlantic"
which would force them away from "that land it is so
important to reach" (352). And even when a rescuing
ship is sighted, their prospects for reaching the craft
are not assured; as Wilder states, The gale may
prevent--in short, many is the vessel that is seen
at sea" (XVIII, 354), but that it proves impossible to
A list of Miles Wallingford's very many
captivitiess," as recounted in Afloat and Ashore and
Miles Wallingford, could serve as a kind of study of how
an active and self-reliant man may be at the mercy of
nearly every portion of his world. Miles' first ship,
the John, wrecks because Captain Robbins is an
incompetent commander. The craft that rescues Miles is
bound for Philadelphia. Miles, forced by two men whose
desires differ from his own and under the authority of
the two, is captive to his superiors. Miles is held a
literal captive by Pacific Indians, French privateers,
British sailors-of-the-line, French privateers (again),
British sailors (again), and an American sheriff's
deputy who arrests him for his debts and marches him off
to prison. Miles, fated to journey during troubled
times, is captive to political enemies and democratic
functionaries. Miles is often becalmed and battered by
storms; he is cast away twice (from the Tigris' boat off
Cape May and from the Dawn), driven severely off course
twice (the Cape Horn attempt aboard the Crisis and off
Ireland in the Dawn), and repeatedly buffeted by
contrary winds. He is captive to nature's whims.
Miles is also a captive to society. Miles fears to
ask his beloved Lucy to marry him when she is wealthier
than he and moving in a "set" superior to his own
station. Finally, Miles is a captive to his own
emotions, rushing back to the sea to escape his sorrow
after his sister's death and shipping out desperately
after each supposed rejection by Lucy, whose true
affections toward himself he misunderstands repeatedly.
Perhaps in this way he is a captive to his own
stupidity; at any rate, he is assuredly trammeled by
myriad internal and external captors in both the natural
and the social spheres. While Miles' may be a
noteworthy series of captivities, it is certainly not an
As Mercedes of Castile illustrates, even as fine a
mariner as Christopher Columbus travels always at the
mercy of the elements. Inauspicious calms hamper his
progress, unpredictable winds cause a loss of reckoning
and an uncertainty about the proper course, unfavorable
winds prevent landings, and a near-hurricane drives
Columbus away from Spain, his proposed destination, and
When flood or fire, avalanche or volcano, ice or
bison charge come hurtling out of the environment,
people hurry to move away. Ashore, travelers are not
as often "captives" of nature; landsmen do move because
of natural threats, but only infrequently as "hostages"
in the same way that a floating character is physically
transported "by" the water. The only analogous movement
Cooper offers for the "shorebound" character is to be
found on horseback, and the analogue is one Cooper
"Two vehicles dashing along a highway, with
frightened and runaway teams, would not present a sight
one half as terrific" (Afloat and Ashore; XXV, 451) as
do two storm-tossed ships running before the tempest.
When even so fine a horseman as the Indian may have
trouble, as Hard-Heart in The Prairie does when the
grasslands are ablaze, how could it not be that white
men, and females most especially, would be equine
hostages, propelled unwilling through space. In The
Pioneers the "captives" are asleigh. When Richard
mishandles the team, the confused horses, "dancing up
and down with that ominous movement which threatens a
sudden and uncontrollable start," plunge in such a way
that two riders are "thrown" and Richard is pitched
"some fifteen feet" (IV, 568) through the air into a
In Satanstoe the combination of a sleigh ride
behind matched blacks and a partial thaw followed by a
snap cold enough to render the surface of the Hudson
River apparently stable creates a memorable late night
return from a dinner engagement. Corny Littlepage and
Anneke Mordaunt end up in a horseless sleigh perched on
a sinking block of ice, battered by the swift currents
of the Hudson.
The horrific "grating or grinding of the ice . .
sounded like the rushing of heavy winds, or the
incessant roaring of a serf. . The . ragged
barriers set slowly but steadily down . and the
whole river seemed to . be in motion" (XVI, 275).
Past the couple, "like the tempest," rushes an empty
sleigh, its horses "maddened by terror," that rolls and
tumbles across the broken ice. The two scramble up a
mound of piled ice as "a torrent" of water submerges
their previous perch. This "floating island" (XVII,
276) of theirs shoots "into an eddy, and turning slowly
round" (278) bears them away from the shore. They pick
their way across the "confused pile," waiting for "any
contact with the shore" that might offer them a means to
safety. "Several times did it appear . that [the]
island was on the point of touching . .and as often
did it incline aside" (280). A "small cake of ice .
floating in between" eventually provides a "bridge"
(281) to land. Behind them, the Hudson is "chaos
rushing headlong between the banks" (282). A house, a
complete bridge "of some size," and a sloop flash past
"with fearful rapidity" as the escaped captives turn
homeward through the snow.
In many ways, the journeying character may move at
the direction of some external force. Save in a fully
developed captivity narrative, most other-directed
journeys are action segments of relatively brief
duration. While they continue, the actions forced upon
journeyers may well be intensely important to the
characters who are compelled to move. However, most
characters in Cooper's fictions captured and controlled
by external forces effect escapes from their situations
with rapidity. Of course, true captivity narratives
offer lengthy action during which the captive is unable
to escape. As some of Cooper's characters show, the
lengthiest captivities are emotional. Such captivities
are demonstrably self-imposed and are as "self-directed"
as can be any human activity.
Stalk: To Approach By Stealth
"Here are the Mohicans and I on one end of the
trail, and rely on it, we find the other though
they should be a hundred leagues asunder!"
The Last of the Mohicans
All stalk, fight, and chase action in Cooper's works
is other-directed; such acts mandate a dual component.
The opposition is usually of man with man or with some
sort of natural being or force, such as animals or fire
or flood. While it is perfectly possible for anthropo-
morphized animals or personified forces alone to engage
in conflicts, examples of this type of action are not
found in Cooper's works. Cooper crafts narratives
which describe real beings in conflict with other
humans, natural forces, or creatures; occasionally
nature does produce conflicts between purely natural
forces, but all such opposition are rendered through
the consciousness of a human mind. With these three
actions, Cooper has twice the narrative possibilities as
he had with quest or hunt or most forms of journey.
With stalk and fight and chase, the author can give the
point of view either to the pursuer or to the prey. The
author can even alternate between the two.
While search or hunt, as Chapter One defines it,
depicts actions done by characters who wish to fill a
certain lack in themselves, stalk describes actions
characters do when a particular external goal has been
identified and is being approached. The stalker engages
in certain movements which the hunter does not exhibit.
The stalker is always quiet. The stalker uses his
environment as cover for himself, creeping through tall
grasses or squatting behind rocks or flitting from tree
to tree or submerging himself beneath water. The
stalker moves in response to the actions of his prey; if
the prey looks in the predator's direction, the stalker
stops and seeks to hide. when the prey's attention goes
elsewhere, the stalker moves again quietly toward his
A stalk is often action of fairly brief duration.
As may be expected, Natty Bumppo stalks and is stalked
throughout his life. Near the opening of The
Deerslayer, Hurry Harry and Natty hear a noise in the
forest near the canoe in which they float.
Both the adventurers started, and each
extended a hand toward his rifle. . .
"Put your paddle in the water, and send the
canoe to that log; I'll land, and cut off the
creature's retreat up the p'int, be it a Mingo or
be it only a musk-rat."
As Hurry complied, Deerslayer was soon on the
shore, advancing into the thicket with a
moccasined foot, and a caution that prevented the
least noise. In a minute he was in the center of
a narrow strip of land, and moving slowly down
toward its end, the bushes rendering extreme
watchfulness necessary. Just as he reached the
center of the thicket, the dry twigs cracked
again. . Hurry heard these sounds also, and,
pushing the canoe off into the bay, he seized his
rifle to watch the result. A breathless minute
succeeded, after which a noble buck walked out of
the thicket. (III, 27)
The prey may either become aware of the stalk, as
this "noble buck" does, or it may remain in ignorance of
the approaching stalker, as do the stalked creatures in
the opening chapter of The Pathfinder. Charles Cap,
Mabel, Arrowhead, and his Indian wife are traversing the
woods when they sight smoke from a domestic fire, and,
unable to "determine whether the sign that others were
in their vicinity was the harbinger of good or evil" (I, 298),
they decide to "go toward the fire, and ascertain who
had lighted it" (300). Arrowhead, scrutinizing the
woods as intently as "a trained pointer, while he waits
his master's aim" (298), leads the party. "For the
first half mile no other caution beyond a rigid silence
was observed; but as the party drew nearer to the spot
where the fire was known to be, much greater care became
necessary" (300). As they move forward their footsteps
"gradually became lighter," their scrutiny "more
vigilant," and their bodies "more carefully concealed"
by the "rustic columns . or trees" (301).
The stalkers decide Mabel should approach the three
men who sit around the fire "eating their grub" (301).
So, Mabel advances, alone,
toward the group seated near the fire. Although
the heart of the girl beat quick, her step was
firm, and her movements, seemingly, were without
reluctance. A death-like silence reigned in the
forest, for they, toward whom she approached, were
too much occupied in appeasing that great natural
appetite, hunger, to avert their looks for an
instant from the important business in which they
were all engaged. (302)
When Mable steps on a dry stick, Natty and his
companions rise to their feet to greet her. Here Natty
is the object of a friendly stalk, but he is often
involved in an inimical one.
A stalk may be of extremely brief duration. In The
Pioneers Natty is chatting with travelers. Suddenly he
"held up his finger with an expressive gesture for
silence. He then moved softly along the margin of the
road, keeping his eyes steadfastly fixed on the branches
of a pine. When he had obtained such a position as he
wished, he stopped, and . as soon as the rifle bore
on the victim drew his trigger" (I, 556).
In The Last of the Mohicans Natty, Uncas, and
Chingachgook, resting in the forest and feeling some
hunger, discuss the local situation. Unexpectedly,
Natty observes "the biggest antlers I have seen this
season, moving the bushes below the hill" (III, 19).
They decide not to hazard a rifle shot, so "Uncas threw
himself on the ground and approached the animal with
wary movements. When within a few yards of the cover,
he fitted an arrow to his bow with the utmost care"
(19). In an instant, the buck falls.
This is the stalk stripped to its essentials. Two
parties must be proximate, either through serendipitous
chance or directed action. The stalker must identify
its prey through sensory input, such as sight or sound
or smell. The aggressor then responds physically,
moving surreptitiously to approach.
The stalk in The Pathfinder leads to a friendly
meeting and a resultant journey. The stalk in The
Last of the Mohicans leads to conflict and a sudden
death. Stalk, as will be discussed in Chapter III, is
often an action which begins a chain of events.
The discussion of action by recourse to such rigid
categories as the six delineated here naturally leads to
some problems of classification. The tracking or
trailing of prey illustrates this point. "Following a
trail" is a demonstrably other-directed action. But
sometimes it is all but impossible to determine if
"trailing" be stalk action or chase action. In both
groups of action, the pursuer has a clear focus on his
object, either through sight, sound, or with recourse to
a tangible proof of passage. While, if the point of
view is helpful, some instances of stalk present clear
proof that the prey knows itself to be in danger, at
other times the extent of the prey's knowledge cannot be
known. Surely, the tracker on the trail of an unwary
antagonist is stalking. The movements of two opponents,
both of whom are known to each other, is chasing. The
actions which fall in between the two categories are the
difficult ones to label, as the following example from
Corny, Susquesus, Guert, and Jaap know there to be
hostile Indians in the woods around Mooseridge, the
Littlepage homestead. As soon as the party ascertains
that their hut is unoccupied, the whites and Jaap enter
the structure while Susquesus, a friendly Indian, casts
about for signs in the woods. He finds evidence of the
enemy. After a meal, the men decide they are probably
as safe spending the night where they are as attempting
to travel through the dark woods. They secure the door.
During the night Susquesus wakens Corny, and the two
slip out into the woods to listen. Hearing a chilling
cry, they attempt to locate the origin of the sound;
and, when they near the place they believe to be the
correct one, they stop and select "the dark shadows of
two or three young pines .. where, by getting within
their low branches, [the two men] are completely
concealed from any eye" (XXV, 418). Agonized groans
echo through the night. When day finally breaks,
Susquesus uses "the greatest caution in looking around
before he [leaves] cover . peeping through such
openings as offered" (421). A bloody corpse meets their
gaze. Susquesus again reads the signs on the forest
floor, noting the traces left by their foes. When the
two arrive at the hut again, they take a "long and
distrustful survey of the forest" before they venture a
close approach. When the news of the bloody night's
deeds has been discussed, the four men, wishing to
contact some allies whom they know to be nearby but whom
they cannot signal to with a rifle shot because the
sound would alert their foes, set off through the woods,
their "senses . keenly on the alert" and avoiding
"everything like a cover that might conceal ambush"
Twenty more pages of description follow. The four
continue to move in response to their enemy, but not in
any clearly identifiable manner. The party covers miles
of ground, and never sights the first Indian, besides
Susquesus. The stalk movement is protracted in
Satanstoe, but it is not very well focused. What
Susquesus learns from his reading of tracks is not very
helpful, nor is the action the party takes very
meaningful. while a "proper" tracker may learn much
from examination of the "spoor," most characters never
notice the "trace" at all, and many who do examine the
"sign" fail to understand what they have seen. Many
stalks begin as track readings; many stalks abort before
the characters have the chance to frame a proper
response to the trail. But, like stalk proper, a good
reading of the trail may lead to a closing of the
distance between two parties. Both actions can offer
entries into other forms of action.
Fight: A Struggle, Contest, Contention,
Competition, or War
"The battle is not always to the strong,
neither is the race to the swift."
The nomenclature for fight action is diverse,
probably both because human beings engage in so many
types of fights and at so many levels and also because
the human species is so aware of and so interested in
such conflicts. When the strife includes many
individuals whose actions are centrally ordered, the
conflict is named a war and the resultant action labeled
a battle, an offensive, a skirmish, or, perhaps, an
"action" or a "brush." Actually, for the purposes of
fiction, "battles" during "war" are practically never
described; the language cannot convey the experience and
the human mind cannot properly encompass the magnitude
of the action. A recitation of events in any war leads
invariably to history, and that is not the concern of
the storyteller who wishes to spin a "good tale."
Cooper very often does make use of a war as the
containing framework for a narrative. Beginning with
inclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in Precaution and
continuing right through the canon to The Oak Openings
(1848), which includes a peripheral conflict generated
by the War of 1812, Cooper's texts utilize historical
warfare. The conflicts he treats span a period from
1740, the year Natty in The Deerslayer is involved in
action preparatory to the French and Indian War (1754-
1763), to 1848, the year Stephen Spike in Jack Tier
smuggles gunpowder to the enemy during the Mexican War.
In just about half of the tales Cooper wrote, war or
rumor of war contributes to the depicted action.
Cooper treated the global war which might best be
called the British "War for Empire" (1754-1763) in The
Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish, Satanstoe, The Pathfinder, The
Last of the Mohicans, and The Deerslayer. In America,
the actions of this war are called "The French and
Indian War." The continental European actions resulting
simultaneously are known as "The Seven Years' War." In
The Red Rover Cooper utilizes a setting not strictly
American, so the war is known by the latter name in this
tale. The war he treated next most frequently in his
fictions is the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).
Lionel Lincoln, The Spy, and Wyandotte utilize the
conflict ashore and The Pilot asea. The "Napoleonic
Wars" (1805-1814) provide battle action in Precaution,
Miles Wallingford, and The Wing-and-Wing. The 1745
conflict of the "Jacobite Rebellion" underlies The Two
Admirals; the "quasi-war" between the United States and
France supports much action in Afloat and Ashore.
When most effectively woven into the texture of a
tale, battle action provides a gripping focus. The
outcome of battles often determines the fate of the
characters. The scope of the conflict augments the
purely individual importance of the actors and lends a
more universal interest to the actions of the specific
players. Even when the battle action is not integral to
the text, it allows Cooper to add excitement and action
which, although rather peripheral, is mimetic and
In Precaution, which offers Cooper's first use of
battle, the struggle is of this second, relatively
peripheral, type. Cooper does not have recourse to war
until his penultimate chapter, for the previous 47
chapters have treated "matters of the heart." Perhaps
the author himself felt his text needed a less
restricted field as it neared its conclusion; he
switches his focus to war. The Napoleonic conflict,
"which for a time threw the peace of the world into the
scale of fortune," provides action to conclude Cooper's
first narrative. After all the birth mystery plots have
been unraveled and the numerous marriages have
transpired, Cooper turns to war.
Napoleon had commenced those daring and
rapid movements, which for a time threw the peace
of the world into the scale of fortune, and which
nothing but the interposition of a ruling
Providence could avert from their threatened
success. As the th dragoons wheeled into a
field already deluged with English blood, on the
heights of Quatre Bras, the eye of its gallant
colonel saw a friendly battalion falling beneath
the sabers of the enemy's cuirassiers. The word
was passed, the column opened, the sounds of the
quivering bugle were heard for a moment above the
roar of the cannon and the shouts of the
combatants; the charge, sweeping like a whirlwind,
fell heavily on those treacherous Frenchmen, who
to-day had sworn fidelity to Louis, and to-morrow
intended lifting their hands in allegiance to his
"Spare our life in mercy," cried an officer,
already dreadfully wounded, who stood shrinking
from the impending blow of an enraged Frenchman.
An English dragoon dashed at the cuirassier, and
with one blow severed his arm from his body.
"Thank God," sighed the wounded officer,
sinking beneath the horses' feet.
His rescuer threw himself from the saddle,
and raising the fallen man inquired into his
wounds. It was Pendennyss [the hero], and it was
Egerton [an acquaintance]. (XXXXVIII, 717-18)
Here, with Cooper's first use of battle, are found
the general characteristics of his habitual treatment
of this action. A general, panoramic sweep over the
setting is offered. The general rapidly gives way to a
particularized vignette of local action. Conversation
usually ensues, amidst the frenzy. A few paragraphs
later, Cooper offers his second battle; this time he
dwells on the sentimental hero and so avoids any
description of real action, save for the mounting of a
As the opening cannon of the enemy gave the
signal for the commencing conflict, Pendennyss
mounted his charger with a last thought on his
distant wife . and gave the remainder of the
day to duty.
Who has not heard of the events of that
fearful hour, on which the fate of Europe hung as
it were suspended in the scale? On one side
supported by the efforts of desperate resolution,
guided by the most consummate art; and on the
other defended by a discipline and enduring
courage almost without a parallel.
The indefatigable Blucher arrived, and the
star of Napoleon sunk.
Pendennyss threw himself from his horse, on
the night of the eighteenth of June . with the
languor that follows unusual excitement, and
mental thanksgiving that this bloody work was at
length ended. (XXXXVIII, 718)
Cooper relegates all of the action to Blucher's
arrival, neglecting to give even one battlefield act to
Pendennyss. The nascent author disposes of the Battle
of Waterloo, for so this lifeless fray was, with the
phrase "the star of Napoleon sunk." Yet, the basic
pattern remains. The central character moves into the
background as the battle scene is offered in large
scale. Once the large action is met ("Blucher
arrived"), Cooper shifts the focus to a close-up on the
main character. Even in this faltering delineation,
Cooper uses this structure.
In Cooper's next published work, The Spy, the battle
scenes are well-developed throughout. Here is the first
narrative where Cooper "found his voice," and, from
Introduction to conclusion, the voice tells of war.
"The dispute between England and the United States of
America, though not strictly a family quarrel, had many
of the features of a civil war," Cooper relates, in the
"Introduction" (443). To conclude the narrative, Cooper
offers more war. "It was thirty-three years after .
that an American army was once more arrayed against the
troops of England; but the scene was transformed from
the banks of the Hudson to those of the Niagara"
A young Captain Wharton Dunwoody and a nameless old
man meet coincidentally just before battle. Of course,
the old man is Harvey Birch, the titular hero. Before
Dunwoody has the opportunity to ascertain Birch's true
identity, the men are "interrupted by sudden and heavy
explosions of artillery, which were immediately followed
by continued volleys of small-arms, and in a few minutes
the air was filled with the tumult of a warm and well-
contested battle" (655).
The men move toward the American camp, which is a
scene of activity.
Everything in the American camp announced an
approaching struggle. At a distance of a few
miles, the sound of the cannon and musketry was
heard above the roar of the cataract. The troops
were soon in motion, and a movement made to
support the division of the army which was already
engaged. The summit of [a nearby] hill was
crowned with the cannon of the British, and in the
flat beneath was the remnant of Scott's gallant
brigade, which for a long time had held an unequal
contest with distinguished bravery. A new line
was interposed, and one column of the Americans
directed to charge up the hill. . During the
last of these struggles, the ardor of the youthful
captain [Dunwoody] . urged him to lead his men
some distance in advance, to scatter a daring
party of the enemy. He succeeded. (XXXV, 655-656)
Immediately after the battle, Captain Dunwoody hunts for
the old man, finds his body, reads the paper in the tin
box the corpse grasps, and discovers Birch's true
identity. One further sentence closes the tale.
Here in The Spy and, for the most part, in all of
Cooper's succeeding narratives, the movement from
general battle action to particular functions
effectively and is presented intelligently. The actions