Re: The Deer Slayer

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Posted by Chris on December 19, 1999 at 15:02:25:

In Reply to: Re: The Deer Slayer posted by Gayle on December 19, 1999 at 10:59:04:

: : Here are a couple of thoughts as a start for the East coast early risers on The Deerslayer Sunday.

: : I enjoyed the book very much. I read it in a hardcover edition that includes the complete Leatherstocking Saga. On the evening that I finished the Deerslayer, I was tempted to just continue on with the Last of the Mohicans, which comes next in Natty Bumppo's chronology.

: : However, for the sake of potential dissent, I found several aspects of the story to be rather maddening.
: :
: : Cooper skims over some of the best action sequences or has the action happening "off-camera", for instance: when Deerslayer is floating in the canoe while Hurry and Hutter are on their fool-hardy expedition after scalps, or later when Hurry and Hutter fight the losing battle in the castle, or during Hetty's bible thumping excursions to the Mingos. I was interested in hearing more regarding those (and other) episodes. Unfortunately, we miss-out on all the action that doesn't include Deerslayer. We even miss-out on some of Deerslayer's adventures.

: : We are almost constantly subjected to Deerslayer's moralistic opinions and advice. A personal visit from Deerslayer would be hard to take with his constant racist, self-righteous preaching. He probably missed his calling as a preacher. Deerslayer is particularly rankling with his "redskin gifts" and "white gifts" moralizing. Perhaps his only redeaming quality is his steadfast adherance to his arcane beliefs even in the face of certain torture and death.

: : Either Cooper was a male chauvinist or he was clever enough to imbue his male characters with the quality. I wonder if his contemporary readers understood the false perspective he presents or was he simply insync with the prevaling prejudice. Both Judith and Hetty were beautiful, caring, and willing to sacrifice for their loved ones. I suspect that Judith was the most intelligent of the whole crew.

: : Hawkeye was a fool for rejecting Judith. Too bad that Hawkeye was so fettered by misconceptions. What could have been closer to heaven on earth then to set-up house on Glimmerglass with Judith. I believe that she would even have gone with him to the Delawares.

: : Collin

: Collin,

: ABSOLUTELY GREAT INPUT! Thank you. This is really a good assessment of the problems with The Deerslayer. It also points out why Cooper's books and characters and opinions are still being analyzed exhaustively after all this time, while many more immediately popular and easily digestible books have been long forgotten.

: On the subject of scenes and action that were left to "background", Michael Mann might have frustrated along with you on that. I think he ran into the same problem Cooper did - so much story to tell, and so little time. I agree that the scalping expedition would have been much more interesting than watching Natty floating around in the canoe. Cooper definitely dropped the ball there. Since Cooper was trying to highlight the cruelty and injustice of scalp taking, he could have made his point much more clearly and succinctly by forcing the reader to focus on the mentality and actions of people like March and Hutter. It would have been more direct than spending time with Natty's doleful head-shaking and tsk-tsking in the canoe.

: As to Natty's arcane views, remember, in the 17 and 1800s, his views were not arcane. They were the accepted order of things. The most difficult thing about listening to someone else's views is the challenge of temporarily suspending our own views to put ourselves in their shoes, so to speak. The ability to do that does not imply acceptance of what they thought or how their society was structured - it simply allows us to recognize that different centuries functioned on different principles - purely objective observation of history, and very hard to do.

: Glad you brought up the male chauvinist issue. I just finished doing a project on that issue, with Judith Hutter as one of the examples. However, rather than seeing Cooper as a chauvinist, I take the approach that, since he was a wide observer of the human race and more of a realist than people gave him credit for, some of his characters simply defeated him and took on lives of their own. He saw and wrote people for what they were, whether or not he approved of them. As soon as he created a character, that character became a full person and flowed onto the pages in the whole context of human nature, rather than being structured and ordered strictly to prove a point, as novelists today use their characters. Also, I believe Cooper was so confident of his own view of the world, that he failed to see how many interpretations readers and analysts might apply to his characters over the next 200+ years. So in many cases, the outcomes of his situations were dictated by the characters themselves, rather than by his own intentions. He recognized this himself, and occasionally, very humorously rectified his mistakes in the later books of the series - most notably, in The Prairie, when he refers to the outcome of the marriage of Alice and Duncan. It's a real hoot!

: I also have a problem with Natty passing up Judith Hutter. In the first place, if he was such a moral and righteous person, he had the opportunity to "save" her, and instead he sanctimoniously walked away from her and left her to her fate. Not to be daunted by his abandonment, she proceeded to climb out of her hole by herself, and married or not, I think she ended up being the only winner in the book. For all his patronizing disapproval of her, Cooper ended up rewarding her for being dissatisfied with the cards Life dealt her. Totally in opposition to the message Cooper pounded away at through the entire Leatherstocking Series - that every person should "grace" his or her assigned social station instead of fighting against it.

: On the other hand, for all her passionate attraction to Natty, I don't think Judith would have been a good wife for him, and I think he sensed this. She had social ambitions, she wanted more than he would have ever been able to provide for her, and given a year or so of the realities of life on his terms, I think she would have been a very discontented and unmanageable person.

: Anybody else want to weigh in here?

: Gayle

Hi Gayle and Collin,

I was talking to my husband about "chatty Natty," who BTW also drives me nuts, and he had a very different and interesting perspective on him. He said that people who spend lots of time alone in the wilderness (as my husband does) tend to do a lot of philosophizing (is that a word?). They have plenty of time on their hands and no one to dispute their philosophies, so they develop unchecked. Then when they do come across another human being to talk to, they can spend hours elaborating on this philosophy. He said the miners he talks to, who spend months alone on their mining sites, will sometimes have read some obscure article in an old newspaper or magazine and will then talk for hours about something of which they have very little real knowledge. I had never thought about Natty in quite that context. One thing I had considered was that he is very young in this first book, and young men often think they know a lot more than they really do and that they have solved, or can solve, all the problems of the world. Thinking of him in this way makes him more understandable, if not more tolerable.


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