Analyze the character of Hawkeye in J. F. Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans. What is his significance in the novel. Explain how Cooper succeeds or fails in making Hewkeye both a believable human being and a mythic symbol.
The main theme that is analyzed in this essay is the characterization of a white man named Hawkeye who has been described as a mythic hero through his characteristics and honorable deeds. In the American classic, The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper presents Hawkeye as a pure white man who has a deep relationship with an Indian named Chingachgook. Hawkeye owns the Indian gifts for he is adopted by the Mohicans’ tribe.Yet, as a white man he also rejects the white society, therefore he has a double bind which is called ‘a man without a cross’. What is more, Hawkeye is presented in different ways, as a symbol of mixed European and Indian cultures, as a mythic hero, skilled hunter or a human being with different internal conflicts. Undoubtedly, Hawkeye is the most significant character presented in the novel. Mann (1998) describes Hawkeye as “tall and slender, lanky and angular, with gray eyes, a low forehead, a wide mouth, straight hair and sunnable skin. These were ominous attributes in Cooper’s time” (Mann, Man with a Cross: Hawkeye was a Half-Breed).
Cooper presents Hawkeye as a young and strong man in the prime of his life. Hawkeye, as Cooper says, has the eyes of hunter, or scout, which were “small, quick, keen, and restless, roving while he spoke, on every side of him, as if in quest of game, or distrusting the sudden approach of some lurking enemy”(Cooper). His good sight is undoubtedly essential as far as hunting is concerned. His name, Hawkeye derives from ‘hawk’, which is believe to be powerful creature, symbolizes bravery, sharp sight and a warrior. Moreover, he is also called the Long Rifle.Using the rifle masterfully makes him a great shooter, which Cooper describes as follows: “the lightening is not quicker than was the flame from the rifle of Hawkeye” (Cooper). Except from his ‘formidable weapon’ (Cooper) he has other attributes, such as courage, strength and speed which help him prevail an enemy even ‘with naked hands’ (Cooper). As he lived in the wilderness, depending on nature, it is not surprising that Hawkeye is a good hunter.
He has good instinct and a great experience in the wilderness which make him a great seeker. Cooper described Hawkeye as “ the last uncorrupted natural man who prefers the code of the Indian to the xplositive nature of the white settlers, who is loyal, courageous and a superb exponent of woodcraft, struck a chord with contemporary Americans that still finds an echo today “. This description makes him powerful as a hero. Yet, Hawkeye rejects the Indian’s custom in skinning the scalp of their enemies when they won the battle, as he says: “Twould have been a cruel an inhuman act for a white skin; but ‘tis the gift and natur’ of an Indian and I suppose it should not be denied. I could wish though, it had befellen an accursed Mingo rather than thet gay young boy from old countries! It shows that Hawkeye regrets and loathes what Chingachgook has done with his enemy.
Hancuff (1997) explains that “the environment dictated behavior, but in this scene, Hawkeye appeals to ‘natur’ to explain the killing of the Frenchman”. Moreover, Cooper presents Hawkeye as a ‘mythic hero’. In Greek mythology a ‘hero’ is “a man of great strength and courage who was at least favored by the gods” (Cook, 2002). What is more, Hawkeye is very often compared to a hybrid – “a person whose background is a blend of two diverse cultures or traditions”( Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).He is different from white people as he blends Indian and White tradition.
Hawkeye many times insisted that he is ‘a man without cross’. The meaning of a man without a cross is a pure white man, without any interbreeding with the Indian’s blood. Secondly, he is a pure figure who has only good sides of human being (Huncuff, 1997). Hawkeye says: ‘.
.. but neither the Mohicans nor I, who am a white man without a cross, can explain the cry just heard. We therefore believe it a sign given for our good’. Cooper) Here, Hawkeye wants to show that even he is a white man adopted by the Indians and has been living in the forest since he was a child, he still cannot explain what sound that is, he expresses his identity. In another quotation: ‘What have such as I, who am a warrior of the wilderness though a man without a cross, to do with books?..
. ’,(Cooper) Hawkeye is a real hero, he doesn’t need books to know what is right or wrong. He is an unlettered Christian who learns the Bible from life, he does what is right.
As a true hero he is willing to sacrifice himself to replace Cora as a prisoner of Magua.This is because Hawkeye does not want to make his loyal friend, Uncas suffers from losing his beloved one. Hawkeye says “I love you both you and your father, Uncas, though our skins are not altogether of a colour, and our gifts are somewhat different”.
Even though they are different, Hawkeye shows that he loves his friend and he wants his companion to live safely with Cora. Although Hawkeye has many conflicts that force him to take courageous decisions, the biggest appears when he is facing with Magua, he says: “Yes, Huron, I could strike you now, and no power of earth could prevent the deed!The soaring hawk is not more certain of the dove than I am this moment of you, did I choose to send a bullet to your heart! Why should I not? Why! – because the gifts of my colour forbit it, and I might draw down evil on tender and innocent heads! If you know such a being as God, thank Him, therefore, in your inward soul- for you have reason! ” In this quotation, it is clearly seen that Hawkeye is trying to kill Magua, but in the next quotation he shows that he has internal conflict within himself: “Why should I not? – because the gifts of my colour forbid it… (Cooper) When Magua offers Hawkeye to replace Cora as a prisoner and asked if he gave his life for the woman, he says: “No, no, I have not said so much as that. It would be an unequal exchange to give a warrior, in the prime of his age and usefulness, for the best woman on the frontiers.
I might consent to go into winter quarters now at least six weeks afore the leaves will turn on condition you will release the maidens”. (Cooper) This quotation shows that before Hawkeye decides to sacrifice himself for Cora, he has inner conflict. Yet, his success to overcome his conflict makes him appear as a warrior who is willing to sacrifice.Those conflicts show that he is a human being, who also has weaknesses. Hawkeye shows that as a human being he also can do a good thing for his beloved friends. Finally, Hawkeye is willing to sacrifice, as he says: “Huron! I accept your offer.
Release the woman. I am your prisoner”. (Cooper) This is significant decision that makes Hawkeye a mythic hero. To sum up, all the characteristics of Hawkeye have fulfilled Cooper’s idea of making him both a believable human being and a mythic symbol.
Yet, his sacrificial character is the most significant trait in considering him as a heroic figure.He is also presented as ‘a bridge’ between two cultures, as a great hunter and excellent shooter but at least he is only a human being with his internal conflicts and weaknesses. His traits show that he is not ideal man but he defeats his internal conflicts showing his courage and improving that he is a real hero. References: Cook, Nancy L. A call to affirmative action for fiction’s heroes of color, or how Hawkeye, Huck, and Atticus foil the work of antiracism. Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. 6/22/2002.
Web 7 May 2010. Cooper, J. Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. American Literature. Web 7 May 2010.Hancuff, Richard.
Without a Cross: Writing the Nation in ‘The Last of The Mohicans’. James Fenimore Cooper Society. SUNY Oneonta. No.
11, July 1997. Web 7 May 2010. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. Web 7 May 2010 Mann, Barbara. Man without a Cross: Hawkeye Was a ‘Half-Breed’. James Fenimore Cooper Society.
SUNY Oneonta. No. 10, Aug.
1998. Web 7 May 2010. VanSpackeren K. Outline of American Literature. Revised Edition.
United States Department of State, 2002. Werlock H. P. Abby and Werlock P. James.
The Facts on File Companion to the American Novel. New York: Facts On File, 2006.