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Free MonkeyNotes-The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper-Free Booknotes
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Main Themes

The white man in the wilderness is a heroic but ultimately sad figure. In Cooper's books about the life of Natty Bumppo, Cooper addresses some early nineteenth century concerns about the early history of the American colonies. There is a realization that the natives were treated terribly, and there is a concern in The Deerslayer to show how the natives had some reasonable concerns about the welfare of their own people, and how the whites did not always practice the Christian values they taught. But, in Cooper's time, the idea of Christian values was not in question in all his books, Natty is the ultimate Christian, and the christianized natives are the "good" guys.

Fairness and manliness in all dealings is the enforced theme of this book. Where that leads will be discussed later. One should always stay true to one's people and speak honestly, from the heart. Those who are selfish and act in bad faith (Tom Hutter, Hurry Harry) pay for this mistake. The Deerslayer is a highly moral tale.

Minor Themes

Female characters take up a significant part of narrative time in The Deerslayer, though it is clear that Cooper sees female concerns as secondary to the action of the male figures. Woman have a tendency to be frivolous, vain, and emotional--Cooper seems to take such ideas as given, and has the women relate to Deerslayer in such a way that we get a clear picture of what Cooper considers actual female virtue to be (though no one actually embodies it; except, perhaps, Hetty). Even though this book would be considered a male adventure story, there is a moralistic lesson for women here, too.

Also, although Cooper addresses the tragedy of the English and European cultures advancing on the natives, he suggests no alternatives for the native groups--other than becoming friends of the whites, and christianized.

In each of the Natty Bumppo books, Cooper displays an interest in nature conservancy. One of the most terrible things a "bad guy" can do in a Cooper novel is to use resources greedily, wastefully, or without veneration for the gift. In a sense, the natural world is Natty's church, God, and prayer all rolled into one.


The Deerslayer is a deadly serious account of early American frontiersmen in the wilderness. The mood is somber, sometimes lofty, and always dramatic. Cooper's veneration for the "uncivilized" landscape is very clear. There is also a note of sadness at the end, for the outcome of the conflict was already clear in Cooper's time there was very little place in the new country for a man like Deerslayer. The resources of the new country were going to be used in certain unsavory ways, and civilization was going to corrupt the true and honest natures of both whites and natives. Deerslayer, as Cooper's representative American, is a very lonely figure.

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