James F. Cooper (1789-1851):
American Literature I
Cecilia H.C. Liu
Facts on James Fenimore Cooper (1)
• Cooper was born James Cooper on
September 15, 1789 in Burlington, New
Jersey. (The "Fenimore" was legally added
only in 1826.)
• In 1790 the family moved to Lake Otsego, in
upstate New York, and these early
experiences in a frontier town gave him the
background for The Pioneers (1823), among
other frontier novels.
Facts on James Fenimore Cooper
• In 1819, his career as a writer began, and the first
tale he published in 1820 was Precaution, a novel
of morals and manners which showed the
influence of Amelia Opie (whose work Cooper
very much admired).
• Later, since the work and its reception were
pleasant enough to encourage JFC to continue,
he continued on writing, publishing The Spy: A
Tale of the Neutral Ground (1821), The Pioneers,
The Pilot (1824), Lionel Lincoln (1825), The Last
of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827),with
remarkable explosion of creativity.
Facts on James Fenimore Cooper
• Cooper was also a keen observer of the
political and cultural life of America, an
accomplished controversialist and a fine naval
• By the time of his death Cooper had developed
a reputation as America's "national novelist,"
and D. H. Lawrence portrayed his work as "a
decrescendo of reality, and a crescendo of
beauty," but all his novels engaged historical
themes and helped to form the American
history and romantic historiography in the 19th
The Pioneers: Background Info.
• In 1785, Cooper’s father, wanted to
investigate a a piece of land in this
wilderness, Otsego, with a party of
• At the commencement of the following
year, settlement began; and from that
time to this the country has continued to
flourish and increase in number.
Cooper's Natty Bumppo
• Natty Bumppo, as described
in The Pioneers as “6 ft. tall in
his moccasins, thin and wiry,
with grey eyes, sandy hair, a
large mouth and rather heavy
• He appears physically as a
cross between his best friend,
the Indian Chingachgook,
and his nemesis, Judge
Bumppo’s various names in
Leather-Stocking Tales (in the order of
events in the life of Natty Bumppo)
• The Deerslayer (1841)—young hero
• The Last of the Mohicans (1826)—mature
• The Pathfinder (1840)—come into maturity
• The Pioneers (1823)—hero’s old age
• The Prairie (1827)—hero’s death
Cooper’s novels reflect his continuous
awareness of contrasts in society, behavior,
and government between the United States
and Europe, particularly Great Britain.
Natty Bumppo’s Views in Ch 3 (I)
• He implores the group to see that men
should only kill and use the wilderness
to sustain themselves.
• In essence, man should only take what
he truly needs. However, the chapter
ends with the eyes of the dead pigeons
staring up at the men, Natty becomes
the one who understands the virtuous
relationship between man and the
Natty Bumppo’s Views in Ch 3 (II)
• While the settlers see wilderness as
being tamed by their presence, Natty
Bumppo has a vision of civilized life
coexisting with nature.
• Natty Bumppo, additionally, wants to
keep the unique role that this vast
unexplored wilderness contributes to
the complexity of America.
Cooper’s Intention in Natty Bumppo
• A critic, James Wallace, writes that Cooper wanted
Natty Bumppo “to combine a popular tradition of the
eloquence of Indian oratory with the garrulity of a
• Natty Bumppo is Cooper's tool to express his views on
the mores of 18th and early 19th century U.S. Natty
Bumppo agrees with the concept of a firmly class-
structured society, and shows disdain for
• Fearless and miraculously resourceful, Natty Bumppo
survives the rigors of nature and the villainy of man by
superior strength and skill, and by the help of heaven,
for he is always quaintly moral.
Cooper’s Intention in Natty Bumppo (2)
• Nonetheless, Natty Bumppo is filled with
contradictions, combining "the soul of a
poet with the nature of a redneck."
• Natty craves companionship, but trusts no
one, is used by all, but owes nothing to
anyone, and craves traditional society
while fearing and despising civilization.
• According to Duncan Heyward, Natty is "a
noble shoot from the stock of human
nature, which never could attain its proper
elevation and importance, for no other
reason than because it grew in the forest."
Perspective in The Pioneers
• It could be said that the incidents of this tale
are purely a fiction, even though the literal
facts are connected with the natural and
artificial objects and the customs of the
• The academy, and court-house, and jail, and
inn, and other things, are exact.
• Cooper is aware of the numerous faults
in the story, but he still decides to
overlook this fact but wrote the story
with the intention to please himself.
Responses to The Pioneers
• Cooper's ingenious wasn’t expressed
in his development of American
novel, but the ability to find audience
for it. With The Pioneers, he
facilitated an American literary
awakening: from imitations of
imported novels to a true literature.
"Quite simply, Cooper created a
community of readers whose taste
dominate the market for fiction in
America, .in the 19th
century“ (Sydney Smith’s The
What Cooper Says About The Pioneers
"Our political institutions, the state of learning
among us, and the influence of religion upon
the national character, have been often
discussed and displayed; but our domestic
manners, the social and the moral
influences, which operate in retirement,
and in common intercourse, and the
multitude of local peculiarities, which form
our distinctive features upon the many
peopled earth, have very seldom been
happily exhibited in our literature"
The Limitation of Cooper’s Work
• The weaknesses of Cooper is obvious, which is
his female characters, since they lack variety,
and are generally sappy and flat.
• All his fictional works reflect the didactic
concern to educate about democracy in a
oppressively schoolmasterish method, but his
characters are often richly developed, and
recognized as a remarkable gallery of
American types, with richness, depth, and
complexity unsurpassed in American fiction
before Hawthorne and Melville.
• Top: James Fenimore
• Middle: Natty
• Bottom: Lake Otsego
•Photo Credits: http://www.ub-unibielefield.de/diglib/KarlMay/cooper/
Discussion Questions (1)
• Several scenes in The Pioneers reflect
specifically Cooper's portrayal of Natty
Bumppo as a American frontiersman. Name
some of them in Chapter 3.
• Natty is portrayed as the literary bridge between
the "old world" and the dawning of American
possibility. His interactions in the woods and in
civilization make him a vestige of the natural man
that Cooper admires, trapped in the changing
world that Cooper bemoans. Is there a similar
situation we face in the present as readers?
Discussion Questions (2)
• The story of Natty Bumppo is linked to Natty Bumppo the
Indian, representing him with two identities. In Taiwan,
could it be possible that our indigenous people today also
face the same conflict?
• Cooper mentioned that "In point of civilization, comforts,
and character, the Indians, who remain near the coasts, are
about on a level with the lowest classes of European
peasantry. Perhaps they are somewhat below the English,
but I think [ . . .] they are much below the condition of the
mass of the slaves.” How does this view affect Cooper’s
portrayal of the story?
Landscape in The Pioneers
• In this novel, Cooper
debates the complexity of
landscape within a new
• Nature replaces history
within American culture;
and Cooper evaluates his
landscape as one that will be
established by a civilization
unable to escape its own
traits of wastefulness and
Landscape in The Pioneers (2)
• Cooper foreshadows the settlers'
inability to conceive the power, life, and
autonomy of nature because they feel it
cannot truly exist without their influence.
• In Chapter III, Natty Bumppo emerges
as the antithesis of the wastefulness
demonstrated by the settlers. He
struggles to understand how abusive the
Sheriff and Billy Kirby are when they
slaughter pigeons just for sport.
Otsego in The Pioneers
• Otsego was included in a county of Albany,
and then became a part of Montgomery after
the war; was finally set apart as a county after
1783, which lies among Alleghanies,
covering the midland counties of New York.
• Otsego is said to be a word compounded of
Ot, a place of meeting, and Sego, or Sago,
the term of salutation used by the Indians of
Otsego in The Pioneers (2)
• There is a tradition that says the neighboring
tribes were accustomed to meet on the banks of
the lake to make treaties, to strengthen
alliances, and which refers the name to this
• In 1779 an expedition was sent against the
hostile Indians, who dwelt about a hundred
miles west of Otsego, with the troops proceeded
to the other extremity of the lake, where they
disembarked and encamped.
• James Fenimore Cooper Biography
• Fenimore's Natty Bumppo
• Landscape in The Pioneers
• The Pioneers--Cooper's Introduction to the Novel
• Critical and Popular Response
• Natty as Indian
• Natty as Frontiersman