Structures of the Familial in the Last of the Mohicans, Essay Example

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Essay

One of the underlying motifs of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans addresses the social narrative of familial structures. Arguably, Cooper’s main approach to such a thematic attempts to show that there is an underlying continuity to families, irrespective of cultural difference. Namely, the family is a structure that provides a stable social arrangement, and this is not dependent on various racial, ethnic or cultural differences, such as in the case of the novel, where the interaction between Native Americans, as embodied in the Mohican tribe, and European settlers provides a crucial source of tension for the narrative. In other words, Cooper tries to show that all families are constituted by bonds of love that exist between generations, regardless of the particular cultural paradigm to which a given family belongs. This is particularly the case when one contrasts two families from such different backgrounds: the relationship between the Mohican father and son of Chingachgook and Uncas, and the relationship between Munro and his daughters. These relationships demonstrate a common bond based on the unique love of the familial structure, such that a cross-cultural dialogue can be formed in the novel based on this same structure. At the same time, however a crucial difference is demonstrated in how Munro and Chingachgook conceive their particular relations. In the case of the former, the relationship is above all constituted by an anxiety, insofar as Munro is constantly concerned with his daughters, and almost driven to the point of breakdown. In the case of the latter, the relationship is instead constituted by the need for traditional stability, as the father-son kinship takes the form of a need to maintain the bonds of Mohican heritage. Nevertheless, both of these relationships, despite their minimal difference, show the close bonds of the familial unit outside of any culturally relative frameworks.

In the case of Chingachgook and Uncas, such a familial relationship is closely tied to notions of patriarchy and the transference of power between father and son in a tribal framework. Chingachgook forms a symbolic model for Uncas, as they represent the few remaining members of the Mohican tribe. The father figure of Chingachgook transmits a certain heritage and connection to the past to Uncas, a structure which provides the latter a distinct world-view: Uncas is able to view the world from a perspective given by his father, such that here the familial structure serves as an important part of how one views the world itself. The sudden disappearance of Chingachgook becomes a traumatizing event to Uncas, as he immediately finds himself without the stability that the patriarchal figure provided to his existence. The familial bond, in Cooper’s vision, becomes one that creates entire viewpoints upon reality, and through the love of the family unit it becomes clear that distinct worlds are created through the unique relationships provided by this same unit.

When comparing the relationships of the Munro family to that of the Chingachgook and Uncas, some immediate connections become apparent. Much like Chingachgook is concerned with Uncas’ future, and on a larger scale, the future of the Mohican tribe, Colonel Munro’s life is heavily influenced by his concerns for his daughters amidst the wilderness of the frontier. A recurring motif throughout the novel is precisely his anxiety about his daughter’s future: this anxiety informs many of his decisions concerning their well-being. Hence, upon the capture of his daughters, Munro takes action, as he attempts to call for reinforcements to rescue his family. Here Munro’s actions are deliberately shaped by the bonds of the familial structure. At the same time, the stress of such events begin to take their toll on Munro himself, as he gradually descends into madness during the ordeal to rescue his family. Munro’s worldview is radically determined by the relationships to his daughters, such that they come to symbolize his own life.

Certainly, there are clear differences in these two accounts. Chingachgook and Uncas’ relationship takes the form of a certain stability, as their unity as Mohican father and son creates an identity that defines their interactions to the world. Munro’s relationship to his daughters, in contrast, is one heavily characterized by anxiety, and the fear of what will happen to his family. Cooper thus demonstrates in his narrative how family bonds can take radically different forms. The patriarchal relations to children, although sharing a common element of love, can nevertheless assume distinct ways of conceiving the relationship to children. Cooper thus demonstrates the depth that these relationships take, by contrasting the anxiety of Munro with the traditional stability of Chingachgook.

In both senses, however, the fathers in both these familial structures view their lives as integrally tied to their children, such that this relationship itself forms a way to look at the world. By showing this continuity between the two family units, Cooper precisely demonstrates the universality of familial love and structure and how it shapes the worlds of those who belong to a particular family, irrespective of various cultural, racial and ethnic differences. Anxiety and traditional stability, while serving as specific existential moods that define Munro and Chingachgook, are nevertheless epiphenomena in Cooper’s text, epiphenomena of this deeper love that engenders a world-view.

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