Filmic Context: Print -- Online
Barker, Martin, and Roger Sabin. The Lasting of the Mohicans: History of an American Myth. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1995.
When people most often think of The Last of the Mohicans, they tend to forget that before it was a film, or a comic, it was a novel. Although most people have never picked up the book by James Fenimore Cooper, they have seen one of the many versions that Hollywood has set up. This book is about the retellings of the original work and how each subsequent version refers back to the novel, as well as other renditions. For example, the 1992 Michael Mann version has many references to the 1936 Randolph Scott version, and so forth. The first major concept brought up by Barker and Sabin is the myth of the Mohican. It is symbolic of a people who are rich in character. The myth holds something that is dear to the reader and has some quality that we aspire to obtain. In the novel, this is shown through Hawkeye, who is a white man living with two members of the Mohican tribe. Hawkeye has the desire to be assimilated into that culture. Barker and Sabin show the various ways Native Americans are portrayed in the various adaptations of Cooper’s novel, discussing how the novel became such a classic because of the exposure given to it by Hollywood. Cooper’s novel has been redone so many times and in such a variety of manners that is keeps the novel alive to the American population.
Edgerton, Gary. “ ‘A Breed Apart’: Hollywood, Racial Stereotyping, and the Promise of Revisionism in The Last of the Mohicans.” Journal of American Culture 17.2 (1994): 1-20.
Most adaptations of The Last of the Mohicans devote 15-20 minutes of the film to the actual novel and a portrayal of Native Americans “which fluctuates from nobility to barbarism, mostly stressing the latter” (1). In the early 1920 version, Tourner portrays Uncas as the one “good” Indians, and Chingachgook and Hawkeye are reduced to minor roles. Magua and the other Huron are seen as cruel savages. They are seen as completely different than white men; their costumes are painted and primitive. In the 1936 version, the major shift is the love triangle which was Uncas/Cora/Magua and is now Hawkeye/Alice/Heyward. This ends all ideas of interracial attraction and relationship. This film removes Cooper's original attempt to present the concept in a delicate manner. In the most recent version, 1992, the goal is to present a better portrayal of native Americans. In this adaptation, the love relationship occurs between Cora and Hawkeye, but, for the most part, women are absent from the film. The major point of the 1992 Mann version is to remove the presumption that Native Americans are a “breed apart.” Overall Edgerton gives the most positive view to and spends the most time dealing with the 1992 Michael Mann translation of Last of the Mohicans.
Peck, H. Daniel, ed. New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
This book contains a collection of essays on the novel, The Last of the Mohicans. The first major point brought up in the novel by James Fenimore Cooper was the idea of disputed ground -- an area of the newly forming continent that two opposing groups contested. Out of this setting is born a hero who must successfully negotiate between the two parties. The hero, who turns out to be Hawkeye, serves to remind the settlers not to abuse the beauty that they have surrounding them. The novel grew from a trip of Cooper’s along the Hudson River. Many of Cooper’s critics of the time found his portrayal of Native Americans to be false. Peck believes that Cooper loved his Indians more when they were on their death beds. They always were buried in a manner that glorified their life. The final essay, "The Lesson of the Massacre at Fort William Henry," discusses the historical significance of the event on which the actual novel and films are based. Cooper spent much time and detail on setting the scene for this massacre. Cooper also addresses the people who were involved and actually existed in his novel. These essays give a variety of views into the depths of The Last of the Mohicans.
Walker, Jeffery. “Deconstructing an American Myth: The Last of the Mohicans (1992).” Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film. Eds. Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1998. 171-85.
Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, A Narrative of 1757 has generated more attention from Hollywood than any other novel ever written. In spite, of the attention it has received, Walker points out that most Americans have never read the novel. The novel has gained more fame for what it does not do, rather than what it does do. Walker also points out that all the Hollywood portrayals actually have little to do with the novel. The praise of the many versions of this tale stems from the telling of what actually happened, which was the massacre at Fort William Henry. The flaws that Hollywood brings to the tale are the constantly changing webs of relationships. Walker discusses how and why these relationships change, and in many of the cases it had to do with the societal view of interracial relationships. In the multiple renditions of the work, the love varies, making the interracial romances acceptable. The final theme that serves of major importance to Walker is the politics. Walker discusses how characters in the various renditions favored certain political sides and whether or not they show valid reasoning behind their actions.
Berkhofer, Robert F. The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian, from Columbus to the Present. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.
McWilliams, John P. The Last of the Mohicans: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.
Pearce, Roy Harvey. Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.
Peary, Gerald, and Roger Shatzkin. The Classic American Novel and the Movies. New York: Ungar, 1977.
Prats, Armando Jose. "'Outfirsting' the First American: 'History,' the American Adam, and the New Hollywood Indian in Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, and Geronimo: An American Legend." The Image of the American West in Literature, the Media, and Society. Pueblo: Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery, University of Southern Colorado, 1996. 197-208.
The James Fenimore Cooper Society
This web site provides a look into the life and work of James Fenimore Cooper. It contains several links to papers that were written about Cooper’s work, links to articles written about the multiple films and plays that are based on Cooper’s works, links to his biography as well as to the house and town in which he grew up, and literary criticisms by Mark Twain. Most importantly, this site also contains reviews of various Cooper films, including many on the 1920 The Last of the Mohicans (http://library.cmsu.edu/cooper/film/section3-film.html).
The Last of the Mohicans Web Site
Extensive web site on the 1992 version of the film, but its contents and links provide a context for discussing the earlier version as well.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Jessica Baker Roche, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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