Apples and Oranges

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Posted by Gayle on October 06, 1998 at 08:22:15:

Ilse wrote:
Hi Gayle and Marcia,
This is bordering on a topic that has interested me for a long time. Why the big difference between the two sisters? Why would Alice be so fragile, and Cora be so strong, if growing up together. This is so as well as in the book as in the movie. I have been thinking about the impications of Cora being of mixed blood. This topic is sadly ignored in the movie, and I think it is although very subtle in the book, it is also very important. Now, as far as I know, over here, they mostly put it down to the fact that the attraction between Cora and Uncas (again, ver subtly in the book) could not have happened, in that time, if Cora would have been "pure white". But I also wonder if that is, in the book, the reason why Cora is so different from her sister. Maybe she had to battle prejudice a long time before that; maybe she would have learned to defend herself?
Just brainstorming?

Ilse and Marcia,

I havenít been ignoring your ruminations on the sisters. Time has been in short supply, and I have been trying to come up with some intelligent perspective on why their relationship is so confusing. We have diddled with the subject on the Board for some time, and there still is a sense of discomfort with their relative strengths and the sense that, if they were sisters with the same background, they would not be so extremely different from each other. So here is some more musing on the subject.

Since LOTM was meant to be primarily the story of the Massacre of William Henry, the complicated history of the Munro family was something that Michael Mann probably saw no sense in introducing. It would have been an irrelevant distraction, and it would have led into racial issues that Mann did not want overpowering the purpose of the movie. (Not to speak of probably requiring him to cast Whoopi Goldberg as Cora.) So, Mann simply presented the sisters in the context of the British emphasis, and we all, myself included, have bought it without question and been talking about Cora and Alice as being daughters of the British elite. Mostly it works for us, and itís right for the movie, but for "Inquiring Minds", it leaves a lot of personality questions unanswered.

Well, letís look at the original Munro story which, I think, makes the difference between the sisters clearer and more understandable. First of all, they were not English - they were Scottish. When Duncan comes to Munro to ask for Aliceís hand in marriage, Munro tells him the story. "I was, maybe, such an one as yourself when I plighted my faith to Alice Graham, the only child of a neighboring laird of some estate. But the connection was disagreeable to her father, on more accounts than my poverty. I did, therefore, what an honest man should - restored the maiden her troth, and departed the country in the service of my king. I had seen many regions and had shed much blood in different lands, before duty called me to the islands of the West Indies. There it was my lot to form a connection with one who in time became my wife, and the mother of Cora. She was the daughter of a gentleman of those isles, by a lady whose misfortune it was, if you will, to be descended remotely from that unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people. . . .When death deprived me of my wife, I returned to Scotland, enriched by the marriage; and would you think it, Duncan! The suffering angel had remained in the heartless state of celibacy twenty long years, and that for the sake of a man who could forget her! She did more, sir; she overlooked my want of faith, and all difficulties being now removed, she took me for her husband." "And became the mother of Alice?" exclaimed Duncan . . . "She did, indeed, said the old man, . . . I had her but a single year, though; a short term of happiness for one who had seen her youth fade in hopeless pining."

Well, there you have it, folks. Cora and Alice were stepsisters of very different origin, heritage and early upbringing. Cora was probably somewhere between 5-10 years old when she and her father returned to Scotland, and a year later a new sister was born and left motherless in one stroke. Picture Cora, West Indian by upbringing, already widely traveled and having already absorbed the death of her own mother, and a child thrown much on her own resources because of her fatherís military lifestyle. She was uprooted to Scotland and a year or so later became substitute mother to a tiny, fragile, beautiful little baby sister who depended on her for everything. Being little more than a child herself in years, Cora probably looked upon Alice almost as a plaything - a doll of her very own - and she not only lavished in the dependency of that baby, but also gained respect from her father for taking a motherís responsibility for Alice. Alice, in turn, was encouraged to be the plaything, the doll, the helpless image of her meek and martyred mother.

Mann retained the characters of the sisters without going into the background that made them. He probably didnít anticipate a whole computer site coming into being on which "Inquiring Minds" would end up analyzing every aspect of the movie and books the way we do here. Ainít it fun?

All counter-arguments welcomed.

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