A Feminist Reading of The Last of the Mohicans
While most often studied as a romance or adventure novel, the most dominant characteristic of The Last of the Mohicans is overlooked: phallicism. From this phallicism stems Cooper's patriarchal view of society. In the novel, men are symbolically set apart from women by the possession of weapons (the phallic symbol), and men are separated from one another by the size of their weapons. The more powerful the men are those bearing the larger, longer weapons. The main character, Hawk-eye, possesses "...a rifle of great length..." (32). Indeed, the rifle is so long, and so deadly in the scout's hands (he has "...a natural turn with a rifle..."), that he is given the name of 'La Longue Carabine' by his enemies. The scout symbolizes the greatest male power in the novel, and he is therefore the greatest protector of the women as well.
As the size of the weapons of the other characters decreases, so too does their generative power. Only slightly shorter than the scout in weapon length are Uncas and Chingachgook, who, while carrying knives, also brandish long hunting rifles. Uncas is the closest to the scout in length, for he carries his former rifle-hearing a shot in the woods, the scout recognizes the shot of Uncas, saying " '...I carried the gun myself until a better offered'" (230). Thus even though Uncas possesses a weapon of substantial length, he still comes up a bit short when compared with the scout. Next on the list of length is Duncan Heyward, who begins the novel carrying a mere pistol, grows in generative power as the story progresses-near the end of the novel he shows he can handle a hunting rifle almost as well as the scout. When the group first leaves ...
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...weapon...drawn to his shoulder," the scout preserves the honor of all by killing Magua with a blast from 'Kill-deer' (401).
In this novel overflowing with phallic imagery, it is clear that power lies in weapons, and size does matter. Without weapon, Gamut protects no one. Heyward only begins to wield power when he exchanges pistol for rifle. Although a valiant warrior, even Uncas dies after abandoning his rifle. Conversely, Chingachgook keeps his weapon, and remains alive. And Hawk-eye, the most powerful protector, is only vulnerable when he does not have 'Kill-deer' in his hands. In Cooper's patriarchal society, the man with the longest gun is the man who saves the day. When the big gun is gone, however, all of society is vulnerable.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. NY: Signet Classic, 1962.