Book Club - The Deerslayer

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Posted by Gayle on March 05, 2000 at 09:09:41:

Dear Book Club Members,

While waiting for Dana to return so we could resume the Book Club discussions of "The Deerslayer", Kate and I carried on quite a conversation of our own about the book, via E-mail. Now that Dana is back, I convinced Kate to let me post some of her observations, because I think they are really thoughtful and worth discussion. So here they are, along with the insertion of a few of my own comments that she was responding to.

Most of the Book Club readers are going on into "The Pathfinder" to find out what Hawkeye's mid-life "love affair" was all about. So I guess that is the next Leatherstocking Tale we should take up. However, there are bound to be more observations on "The Deerslayer" as new thoughts come to mind and other readers (please) add their ideas. Eventually, I think you all will find that each of the five books brings new thoughts and perspectives on ones already read, and the comparisons and changes of opinions will swing far and wide as you get to know Cooper's longhunter better and meet his other characters. Most interesting of all, I think, is the evolution of the character over two centuries into the various literary and cinematic "Sons of the Leatherstocking", and finally into Michael Mann's Hawkeye.

Re Hurry Harry and his redeeming qualities:

Kate: I didn't reckon on the 7th Cavalry being the 'heroes'! I felt it wasn't really like 'Hurry' to go off and not come back, but I didn't think that he would be the saviour of the group. I thought it might be Hetty, but when she was stopped from interfering, I did wonder how their rescue would be achieved! I didn't see it as a 'twist' in Hurry's behaviour to return to the group 'under seige'! I believe Hurry really isn't as bad as he would have us believe. He left them in anger but I felt that that was part of Hurry's personality - getting angry when challenged and backed into a corner with no facing saving latititude given but by the same token, it isn't in his nature to STAY angry for long and when all is said and done, he is loyal to his friends and when his anger subsides, he wouldn't desert his friends in time of trouble.

I think, when his anger subsided (and I believe it would happen quite quickly) his sense of things is that the best way to help the 'beseiged' is by going to the Fort for help. Though he lacks Deerstlayer's keen skills, he knows enought about 'tactics' to be able to sum up the desperate situation and understand the most practical and productive way of helping - that of going for 'back-up'.

He was the only one in the book who was willing to forgive and forget Judith's faults. She was just as unaware of his value as Natty was of hers.

Re Judith's suitability as a wife for Deerslayer:

Gayle: I felt for a long time that he was making a big mistake, too. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Judith's attraction to him was basically sexual (possibly maternal), and she would not have lasted very long amongst the realities of life as his wife.

Kate: Well, I think I over simplified my statement - I shouldn't have said Judith would have made the 'perfect' wife! No, she wouldn't have been 'perfect' but I think it would have been a union that would have worked. Particularly, as her experience of living out in the wilds with her 'father' had prepared her for the realities of life as his wife!

Now you see, I never saw Judith's attraction as being sexual. I saw her attraction to Deerslayer as being one of strength and little sex! I believe, in the beginning, that she was attracted to him physically and she knew that he saw her as physically attractive. But I think she feels that Deerslayer is worth more than his physical beauty. As she gets to know him and his inherent honesty, she realises that she will have to be totally honest with him and most of all, with herself. I think in wanting to be acceptable to him, he forces her to examine herself and her motives and this forces her to modify her behaviour.

She has been used to 'dallying' with the soldiers from the Fort and enjoyed their 'pretty' words, but she realised she needed more than to be simply admired. She actually found Deerslayer's honesty refreshing. I think that, educated as she was, she would find life frustrating and boring with someone with the soldiers' lack of conversation and lower level of standards. However, she respected Deerslayer's knowledge and customs of the woods, his strength, his skills and his ability to be self sufficient.(She knows his personality is strong and that he would not give in/pander to her - she needs someone stronger than herself).

She needs to be respected. And she knows that in examining herself and redefining herself, she could earn his respect. He would be honest, he wouldn't use shallow words, but would respect her, recognise her gifts and would challenge her potential. He would 'stretch' her as the other soldiers would not.

Gayle: She wanted to grab what appeared to be her only chance at respectability and rescue from her current situation, but when push came to shove, it was Captain Warley she was "in love" with, and he represented glitter that Natty could never have provided for her.

Kate: I don't really feel that she 'grabbed what appeared to be her only chance at respectability'. Judith had been used to the relative freedom of life by/on the Glimmerglass. However, she is forced to be practical, considering her new status - an orphaned, single young lady with no family and a rather 'liberal' reputation! I think that that is actually how it was in those days. (Life for an orphaned young lady was pretty tough). She HAS to be resourceful. And I think though she realises that she would feel very restricted by life and 'society' in the settlement, if she married a soldier, on the other hand, she has 'dallied' with many of the young officers, and marrying one of them would not be out of the question. She would have rank and a position in the community. But - I do believe she is IN LOVE with Deerslayer. Not the wild, passionate kind of love that a person nowadays would want, but a love that was suited to the people in that era and in that environment.

Re Deerslayer's problem with taking a wife:

Kate: I was sorry that Judith and Deerslayer didn't 'get together'. To be honest, I likened Judith to MM's 'Cora'. Judith had the experience of having lived in the wilderness so she knew what life would be like to be a part of a 'woodsman's wife and would have fitted in to 'frontier' living and, too, she had 'Cora's' strength to survive there. Judith wasn't frightened to live that kind of life, certainly not with Deerslayer as a husband. I don't think Deerslayer had the insight to recognise that these qualities would be needed for any woman he might want for a wife. I think he was being unrealistic in thinking that Judith wasn't suitable for him. Quite frankly, I feel that Deerslayer was really just making excuses to himself - he really didn't WANT a wife at that point (though I don't think he was aware of that).

I think actually Deerslayer had a problem with trying to work out 'who he was'. He wasn't a white man... but he wasn't a red man, either. He loved the life of a red man and found it preferrable to a white man's way of life. But all his instincts told him that he couldn't MATE with a red (wo)man. And though he could deal with others around him not having the high ideals he did, he couldn't deal with dishonesty in himself. Therefore, I think he felt that, as he didn't love a white man's life, he couldn't really think of marrying a white woman, and wouldn't EXPECT a white woman to accept his way of life. But, having 'white gifts', he couldn't marry a red woman nor expect her to have to deal with her 'man' having these 'white gifts'. So - he was at a loss to know where a 'woman' would fit into his scheme of things, when he didn't really know where HE fitted in.

I don't think he really understood that Judith was a woman who COULD solve this dilemma and fulfill all the criteria of 'the perfect wife' for him. I DID wish that he could have seen this MY way!! :0) However, from the discussions, I knew he wasn't going to. But as I got to know Judith, I liked her more and more and I felt Deerslayer was making a BIG mistake!!

I'm not totally convinced that Deeerstlayer thought it throught to the point where he made a negative decision that he didn't want a wife. The way I read it was that I think he's taken with the idea of hunting, 'playing' with Killdeer, practicing his tracking skills, etc., etc. But as you say, has seen the 'games' that couples play and having such an honest nature, doesn't see any value in what he sees as almost dishonest, coquettish tomfoolery. Therefore, he emotionally detatches himself from that level of relationship. Also, he sees no value in taking or thinking of taking either Hetty or Judith for a wife, because of this inner turmoil he has of where his wife is going to originate from. I think he actually sees valuable qualities in Wah-Ta-Wah and would, I think be tempted by marriage to one such as she. But - again, there comes the dilemma - his strong religious background and his 'white gifts' prohibiting him from considering one such as Hist. Therefore, he just automatically sticks to what he DOES feel comfortable with - Killdeer and coming off his first 'warpath' with credit! .

Re Cooper's purpose in the Deerslayer character:

Gayle: He was a man on the outside of things in every way, even up to his death in "The Prairie". So, in this sense, Cooper used him as a detached observer

Kate: Well, you see, *I* would have to question the word 'detached' in this context! I think, because he is quite 'screwed up' if you'll pardon the more modern way of describing this psychological problem he had) I don't think he was able to view things in a detached way. He would always put his own slightly 'outside' interpretation on things. I think his uncertainly as to 'who he was', clouded his view of things and he couldn't view things in the way someone with NO hang-ups would.

Many thanks to Kate for her ideas and interpretations. We look forward to everybody's input.


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