Stereotypes and Stereotyping of Native American in The Pioneers

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The Native American Behind the Stereotype in The Pioneers

Throughout the history of American literature, the Native American is rarely presented as a fully developed character; instead, he is degraded to a mere caricature, one deeply rooted in traditional racial prejudices. In his novel, The Pioneers, James Fennimore Cooper became the one of the first American authors to depict an Indian as a leading character; in fact, Cooper's depiction of the infamous Chinkachgook is widely considered to be the original archetypical basis for Native American figures as seen in American literature. However, Cooper's characterization of Chinkachgook, known by a variety of names, including John Mohegan and Indian John, is based solely on the white perspective, and as a result, is a highly unrealistic and historically inaccurate stereotype. Moreover, Cooper clearly romanticizes the character of John Mohegan, presenting him as a noble savage, but in doing so, Cooper both demonizes and sentimentalizes Native Americans as a people.

In order to more fully understand the historical inaccuracy of James Fenimore

Cooper's portrayal of the Native American, one must first examine Cooper's research and study of his subject. Though he was raised on the frontier of New York, Cooper had very little first hand knowledge of the Indians of the this area; in fact, he once wrote to a companion, "I never was among the Indians. All I know of them is from reading, and from hearing my father speak of them (qtd in Risetto)."1 Perhaps to compensate for his lack of personal familiarity with his subject, Cooper conducted extensive research on the Native Americans in New York, most notably Moravian missionary accounts...

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... of the fact that Cooper is a man of his times, and therefore, still adhered to the prejudices of the time.

Sources Cited

Alpern, Will. Indians, Sources, Critics. 1985. 1, April 2002.

Risetto, Adriana. Romancing the Indian. 1, April 2002.

Starna William A. Cooper's Indians: A Critique. 1979. 1, April 2002.

1 Risetto, Adriana. Romancing the Indian.

2 Alpern, Will. Indians, Sources, Critics.

3 Starna William A. Cooper's Indians: A Critique.
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