Sexual and Maternal Instincts in James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans

Sexual and Maternal Instincts in James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans

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Cora Munro's Sexual and Maternal Instincts in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans


Cora Munro's relationship with her younger, fairer sister Alice demonstrates a distinct mother-daughter pattern that manifests itself in every interaction between the two women. Throughout James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, the character of Cora continuously hides her sister's face in her bosom as an indication of undying protection from the ravages of the American frontier. Alice depends on Cora as her champion and defender but, most unmistakably as a mother figure. Cora maintains a immutable position of motherly nurture with her sister, however, when interacting with other frontier characters, Cora shifts her style of human interaction towards a conscious understanding of her gender capacity. Though not overtly sexual, Cora does demonstrate a cognizance of female sexuality and feminine influence on various male characters. Cora does not often demonstrate motherly instinct while practicing the powers of her sex; rather, her authority particular to each sphere manifests itself during situations of great conflict and tension concerning Alice or, separately, the other surrounding male characters.

The narrator refers to Cora's motherly intuition in many instances, but most especially when Alice demonstrates a case of need or dependence. When Alice shows doubt and fear, Cora immediately rushes to protect and soothe her. Cooper writes, "For many moments the elder sister looked upon the younger, with a countenance that wavered with powerful and contending emotions. At length she spoke, though her tones had lost heir rich and calm fulness, in an expression of tenderness, that seemed maternal" (109). Cooper writes clearly of the strong bond that exists between the sisters while illustrating a power relationship that has Cora playing the role of shepherd and Alice as that of a small, helpless lamb. Moreover, Cooper repeatedly shows the character of Alice grasping onto the arm of Duncan Heyward‹an obvious physical need for refuge and shield‹while Cora remains free of an explicit male bond and receives the admiration of the remaining men from afar. Alice, the weaker of the two, appeals to her sister for attention while Cora remains aloof and confident. Cooper, at many instances, describes Cora with almost beatific characteristics which heighten her esteem and power as a female character. Her motherly feelings towards Alice verge on the saintly; Cora often rises above common human sensibility and takes on the role of a martyr in the manner that a mother would for her child.

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Cora's motherly instincts, however, are contrasted with her femininity and sexual command. Hawk-Eye, Uncas, Duncan and many other men look upon her as a powerful and alluring female figure‹a female to contend with rather than protect. When Uncas speaks to her about accompanying her during her plight, Cora says, "ŒGo, generous young man,'" and Cooper then describes, "Cora continued, lowering her eyes under the gaze of the Mohican, and, perhaps, with an intuitive consciousness of her power" (79). Though he does not overtly indicate a knowledge of sexual power, Cooper does imply that Cora's awareness of her sexuality and interaction with males. At another point, when Cora implores Chief Tamenund to free the captives, Coopers writes of his reaction, "Cora had cast herself to her knees, and with hands clenched in each other, and pressed upon her bosom, she remained like a beauteous and breathing model of her sex, looking up in his faded, but majestic countenance, with a species of holy reverence. Gradually, the expression of Tamenund's features changed, and losing their vacancy in admiration, they lighted with a portion of that intelligence, which, a century before, had been wont to communicate his youthful fire to the extensive bands of the Delawares" (303). Both of Cooper's descriptions show Cora's usage and understanding of sex as a powerful medium of change. Her attitude during these particular interactions differ considerably from the chaste, motherly interchanges with Alice and indicate a complex character development and a dueling concept of purity and motherhood, eroticsm and sexuality.
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