Critical Response Essay: The Last of the Mohicans

605 words | 3 page(s)

Almost since the discovery of the moving picture, moviemakers have used literary works as the basis for their films. Countless literary titles, from ancient texts to modern novels, have been adapted into movies, with some titles even being remade multiple times. One such novel that has seen several adaptations is James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. It was first adapted in 1909 and was most recently adapted in 1992; between those two years there were several adaptations, including a silent film made in 1924 and remade in 1936 as a ‘talkie’ (Walker). However, despite bringing a very action-packed story to the screen, most of these movies do not do justice to Cooper’s intention for the story. Because of this loss or neglect of Cooper’s intention, I do not like the film versions, and I prefer the original novel.

One reason I like the original novel better than either the 1936 or 1992 movies is that it tackles significant social issues. According to Bill Christophersen, Cooper viewed America during the time period in which the novel was set as being “embroiled in its own dramas of ethnic violence, made anxious by its own racial nightmares” (263). Cooper was trying to explore the “Indian problem” and other issues related to slavery in America at that time (Christophersen 263). This emerges in the novel not only in the skirmishes between the whites and the Native Americans but also in the presences of Cora, who was of mixed race, and Hawkeye, a white man raised by Native Americans. Her tragic death in the novel seems to hint at a kind of hopelessness for racial resolution, but this issue hardly seems addressed in the movies. Hawkeye as a character is complex and seems to be an attempt on Cooper’s part to mix the best parts (as he saw them) of whites and Native Americans.

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Another reason I prefer the novel is that though the novel presents clear ideas of “Noble Indians” and “Savage Indians,” an idea very much “promulgated by the author of The Last of the Mohicans” (Paryz 220), it does it with more subtlety than the movies. The general public tends to “get” broad-stroke stereotypes quicker, which often accounts for their use in films. But the movies made the differences between these two groups very black and white, without acknowledging the subtleties which Cooper seems to take pains to show. Of course, the moviemakers have only two or so hours to tell the story, while Cooper had a whole series. But Cooper at least made the effort, while the movies tried to easily group everybody into “good guys” and “bad guys.” The reality is that Cooper seemed to pursuing a kind of “cross-cultural hybridity” (Smith 527), a fact also reflected in characters like Cora and Hawkeye.

The third reason I prefer the novel is that the story doesn’t get bogged down with manufactured romance. In almost all of the movie adaptations, the films portray Hawkeye being attracted to and/or falling in love with one of the Munro girls. While this might be an effort on the filmmakers’ part of “cross-cultural hybridity,” it seems unnecessary. Romance is already present in the tension between Heyward and Alice. Heyward represents old ways of thinking and behaving (Dennis), and Hawkeye new ones, which might be more attractive to audiences, but it misses the point to have Hawkeye distracted by romance.

Though the movies are not without merit, the novel simply has more depth. It explores more issues and does so with subtlety. It has a sophistication that seems lost in the movies, especially based on the merits of the novel discussed in this paper.

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