FATHERHOOd & FERTiliTy iN THE LAST of THE MOHiCANS

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					STRUGGLE FOR THE AMERICAN SOUL


                                                  Eric Seddon
                                 Fatherhood & Fertility in
                                 The Last of the Mohicans


I
     t is a wild romance, like a river with tributaries and      nund’s answer, framed in majestic prose:
    rapids shooting from all directions. Semi-comedic epi-
                                                                     The old man looked down upon her from his el-
    sodes intermingle with terrifying darkness, history
                                                                     evated stand, with a benignant smile on his wasted
vies with romance, the plot lurches, drags, and sprints
                                                                     countenance, and then casting his eyes slowly over
until one peak among many, like one of the Adirondacks
                                                                     the whole assemblage he answered: “Of a nation.”
in which so much of the book is set, looms in stillness
above the rest. Just when it seems as though the multitu-               The beauty of this moment conjures up sensations
dinous strands of symbolism in James Fenimore Cooper’s           that range from Abraham, who was told by God that he
The Last of the Mohicans (1826) cannot possibly be tied          would be “a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:4), to George
together in time for the finale, a silence falls over the book   Washington, already revered in Cooper’s day as the father
as Cora Munro, the book’s heroine, pleads desperately to         of the young American Republic. Yet it is also haunting,
Tamenund, the Lenape chief, in a final attempt to spare          because we know that Tamenund’s nation is disappear-
herself and her sister from being handed over to the Hu-         ing, and that the time for the destruction of his people is
ron tribe. The moment is a study in character and sym-           at hand. Symbolically, then, there is a tension between
bolic depth:                                                     these visions of fatherhood: Will Washington’s fatherhood
                                                                 be permanent, like Abraham’s, or is it destined to fall, as
     Cora bowed her head…and, for a bitter moment
                                                                 did Tamenund’s? In Tamenund’s answer is posed a fur-
     struggled with her chagrin. Then, elevating her
                                                                 ther question to a young nation building upon the ruins
     rich features and beaming eye, she continued in
                                                                 of an older one.
     tones scarcely less penetrating than the unearthly
                                                                        This implication of ruins is significant in that two of
     voice of the patriarch himself: “Tell me, is Tame-
                                                                 Cooper’s contemporaries, Washington Irving and
     nund a father?”
                                                                 Nathaniel Hawthorne, were to point out that America had
                                                                 no physical ruins, such as were to be found in Europe.
Adding power and symbolism to the question is Tame-              Irving used this as an occasion for his untiring wit when
                                                                 addressing the English readers of Bracebridge Hall (1880),
                                                                 slyly lamenting that, unlike theirs, his native land could
                                                                 not “boast of a single ruin.” Hawthorne took a more con-
                                                                 descending tone (toward all) when he suggested that
Eric Seddon is a writer in Cleveland. His scholarly work         America’s lack of ruins made the writing of romance im-
has appeared in both British and American journals on            possible. America, he wrote in the preface to The Marble
a wide range of subjects pertaining to the interaction           Faun (1860), possessed “no shadow, no antiquity, no
between culture, religion, and the arts. This article is         mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong,” and there-
part of his ongoing study of American Poetics.                   fore could have no true romantic literature. “Romance and

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