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“Black Robe (1991)” and “Last of the Mohicans”, Thesis Paper Example

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Words: 1813

Thesis Paper

Introduction

“The Last of the Mohicans” and “The Black Robe” are movies that were produced in 1992 and 1991 respectively. The films depict the struggle between the European settlers and the Native American Indians, and the struggles involved with the different cultures and practices. The movies are based on historical facts that transpired during the early European settling in North America. Both movies depict the relationships between the Europeans and the Native Americans and attempt to show what transpired during their periods accurately. A broader evaluation of the films illustrates the journey of the Europeans to some form of enlightenment as both Duncan Hayward and Father LaForge act to save people whom they should hate.

“The Last of the Mohicans”

“The Last of the Mohicans” is a movie, directed and produced by Michael Mann, about an attack on the defeated and paroled English garrison of Fort William Henry[1]. The film is set in 1756 at a time when the English and the French were battling for territory in North America[2]. The English had just completed the construction of Fort William Henry on the Lake Georgia region. After naming the lake after the English king and claiming it for the crown, the Commandant Sir William Johnson passes the command of the fort to Lieutenant Colonel George Munro. However, the French had previously laid claim on the Lake and soon began building their own fort on the Northern side of the lake in response to the English antagonism. The French and the British carried out raids against each other in an attempt to gain control over the lake. When a new French commander arrives, Marquis Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, he gathers a large force of his militia and one thousand six hundred Indians and plans a frontal assault and siege of the Fort William Henry. The French numbers soon overwhelmed the English, and due to lack of reinforcements, the English quickly surrendered. Commander Montcalm agrees to allow the British to surrender; an act which does not please his Indian allies who had journeyed from far distances with the promise of plundering the enemy and scalping them. When the French commander fails to assuage their anger, the Indians charge into the fort and start looting and attacking the Englishthat were in hospital beds and those who had assembled below the fort to head to Fort Edward. Commander Montcalm tries to stop the Indian chief Magua and the Huron warriors from attacking the English, but all his attempts fail.Magua captures Cora, Alice, and Heyward and takes them to the Huron settlement. Hawkeye, the white adopted son of Chief Chingachgook of the Mohicans, goes to plead for their lives. The Indians decide that Alice should remain with Magua, Cora should be burnt to death, and Duncan handed over to the British[3]. Hawkeye pleads to Heyward to beg the Indians to take Cora’s place, but instead, Hayward takes Cora’s place and sacrifices himself. Alice chooses to step off a cliff rather than go to Magua and Chingachgook comes to duel Magua to avenge his son. Finally, Chingachgook pleads to the Great Spirit to revive his son and calls himself ‘the last of the Mohicans.’

“The Black Robe”

The “Black Robe” depicts the first contact between the Jesuit missionaries from France and the Huron Indians of a settlement that is now Quebec. The film is set in New France in 1634 or what is now Canada[4]. The Jesuit missionaries’ main aim is to convert the Algonquin Indians to Christianity; a pursuit that had little success. The Jesuit settlement’s founder and leader sends Father LaForge to a distant Huron village to find a Catholic mission. The Father is guided by Daniel, an assistant, and a group of Algonquin Indians as they journey through forests and lakes. On the journey, LaForge and his guides are attacked by Mohican Iroquois, killing Chomina’s wife and taking the others captive[5]. In the Iroquois fortress, the prisoners are forced to watch Chomina’s young son get murdered and told that they would be tortured the next day. However, Annuka, Chomina’s daughter, distracts the guard by sexually seducing him and knocks him out, allowing the captives to escape[6]. Annuka and Daniel take LaForge close to the Huron settlement and leave him to enter alone. Upon arrival, LaForge finds that only one French inhabitant is alive after the rest had been murdered by the Hurons for blaming the French for a smallpox outbreak. The Huron’s surviving leader tells LaForge that they are about to die and accepts to be baptized, hoping that it will save their lives. LaForge tells the leader that he loves the Indians after contemplating on his journey[7].The Huron people accept Christianity and get baptized. Later, the Huron were massacred by the Iroquois, destroying the French mission.

Comparison Between the European Journeys

Both films depict the Native Americans as ‘savages’ regarding their behavior and practices. In “The Last of the Mohicans,” the British and the French are in constant conflict. The British similarly dislike the Indians due to their attacks on the English, which involve killing and scalping their victims. On the other hand, in the “Black Robe,” the French believe that Indians are heathens and savages who need to be saved and converted to Christianity[8]. However, there are some Indians whom the French thought had signs of civilization, such as cultivating the land and making it productive. The Huron people traded with the French for food and other supplies. Coupled with their sedentary lifestyle, the French believed that the Hurons possessed signs of civilization, and thus thought that the Huron people would readily accept Christianity.

The Indians were similarly not fond of the European settlers, although there are some who had converted to Christianity and others who traded with them. The traditionalists opposed the Christians because of their confrontational preaching nature and conversion tactics. In “The Last of the Mohicans,” Magua blames Colonel Munro for some of his past humiliation and, therefore, refuses to let the English surrender.[9]. In the “Black Robe,” a Montanagi shaman is suspicious of LaForge’s influence over the Algonquins and accuses him of beingevil, convincing his Indian guides to abandon the Frenchmen and instead go to a winter hunting lodge.

The feelings of hostility between most of the Indians,the European settlers, and  the environment, made it difficult for the Europeans to journey between tribes The Europeans found it necessary to have native American guides and translators  when  they wanted totravel to other villages. In “The Last of the Mohicans,” Alice and Cora, who were Munro’s daughters, are escorted by Major Duncan Heyward and Magua[10]. In the “Black Robe,” Father LaForge is guided by a Frenchman named Daniel and a group of Indians that include Chomina, his wife, and his daughter Annuka.

In both films, the journeys are dangeroussincethe Europeans are attacked and captured by hostile Native Americans. In “The Last of the Mohicans,” Magua leads the British to an ambush that leads to deaths. Fortunately, Heyward and the women escape death with the help of Hawkeye,Chief Chingachook, and his son Uncas, who agree to escort them to their fort. Eventually, Magua captures Heyward and the women and takes them as prisoners to the Huron settlement. Father LaForgue and his escorts in the “Black Robe” are similarly attacked by Iroquois, leading to thedeath of Chomina’s wife. The snow similarly makes Father LaForgue’s journey to the Huron settlement more challenging.

The journeys in both films lead some of the characters to gain aform of enlightenment. In “The Last of the Mohicans,” Duncan Hayward admired Cora, and had proposed to her but got no response. After meeting Chief Chingachgook and Hawkeye, Cora and Hawkeye become attracted to each other[11].  Hayward sees Hawkeye and Cora kissing and feels jealous.Hayward is further enraged when Cora finally tells him that she will not marry him. Despite these feelings, when Hawkeye pleads for Duncan to tell Magua to take him in Cora’s stead, Hayworth instead sacrifices his own life forCora’s. It was the perfect opportunity to get rid of the person who stood between him and Cora, but he chose self-sacrifice. The act thus shows some form of illumination where Hayworth learns to overcome his disdain and perform a noble act. In “Black Robe” Father LaForge is first abandoned by his Native American guides following advice form the Montagnais shaman. They, however, go back for LaForge only to get captured by the Iroquois. The Iroquois threaten the prisoners with torture. The prisoners, however, manage to escape due to Annuka’s efforts, and Father LaForge is able to reach his destination.  Upon arrival, LaForge realizes that all but one of the other French settlers have been killed by the very Indians they are trying to convert to Christianity. In spite of all that has happened to LaForge during the journey and the death of his comrades, he remembers all the Indians he encountered on his journey and still answers that he loves them[12]. LaForge later baptizes them, and they accept Christianity, showing that he had some form of enlightenment which allowed him to forgive all that had happened to him at the hands of the Native Americans.

Conclusion

Bruce Beresford’s “Black Robe” and Michael Mann’s “The Last of the Mohicans” are films depicting the Native American and European experiences during the first decades of European settlement in North America. Although both stories have some historical inaccuracies, they are able to adequately depict life in those days. The European perspective is similarly brought to light, and it is evident that despite the circumstances, people like Father LaForge and Duncan Hayworth are able to gain illumination. The manner in which they act when faced with challenging situations is proof of this enlightenment.

[1]Steele, Ian K. “Review: The Last of the Mohicans.” The Journal of American History 80, no. 3 (1993), 1179.

[2]Steele, “Review: The Last of the Mohicans.” 1180

[3]Clark, Robert. “The Last of the Iroquois: History and Myth in James Fenimore Cooper’s: “The Last of the Mohicans”.” Poetics Today 3, no. 4 (1982), 115. doi:10.2307/1771994

[4]Ward Churchill, “And They Did it Like Dogs in the Dirt: An Indigenist Analysis of Black Robe,” in From a Native Son: Selected Essays, ed. Ward Churchill (Boston: South End Press, 1996), 423.

[5]Ward Churchill, “And They Did it Like Dogs in the Dirt: An Indigenist Analysis of Black Robe,” in From a Native Son: Selected Essays, ed. Ward Churchill (Boston: South End Press, 1996), 423.

[6]Churchill, And They did it Like Dogs in the Dirt: An Indigenist Analysis of Black Robe. 423.

[7]Ibid, 426

[8]Goddard, Peter A. “Converting the Sauvage: Jesuit and Montagnais in Seventeenth-Century New France.” The Catholic Historical Review 84, no. 2 (1998), 219-239. doi:10.1353/cat.1998.0069.

[9]Strunk, Jr, William. “The Last of the Mohicans : a Narrative of 1757 / by James Fenimore Cooper ; Edited for School Use by William Strunk, Jr.” HathiTrust. Accessed November 6, 2017. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.b3321251.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Rinne, Craig. “White Romance and American Indian Action in Hollywood’s The Last of the Mohicans.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 13, no. 1 (1992), 6.

[12]Churchill, And They did it Like Dogs in the Dirt: An Indigenist Analysis of Black Robe. 427

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