Literary Perceptions and the American Indian

James Fenimore Cooper

Published fifty years apart, two of America’s most important works of fiction, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and Mark Twain’s Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), characterize a change in popular perception of the American Indian from the sentimentalized “noble savage” to the demonized “half-breed.”In this module, we will visit a website created by Adriana Rissetto titled “Romancing the Indian: Sentimentalizing and Demonizing in Cooper and Twain.” Though most Americans have some degree of familiarity with both of these written works (or in the case of The Last of the Mohicans, we know the wonderful 1992 Academy Award winning movie) Rissetto takes us back to a representative view of the text while adding her own insights. Follow the instructions below; then proceed to Exercise #14.

Go to “Romancing the Indian”

  • Using the Index along the left side of the page, go to “Cooper’s Indians”Read the short article on “Cooper’s Indians”
  • Next go to the bottom of the page and click on “Discussion of Magua and Uncas in The Last of the Mohicans
  • Be sure to note Cooper’s interpretation of Uncas
  • Using the Index on the left, go next to “Twain’s Indians”Read that brief article and, then, scroll to the bottom and click on “Injun Joe” and read that secton.

Exercise #14

  1. Briefly summarize both Cooper’s and Twain’s representation of the American Indian. Use “Uncas” and ” Injun Joe” as the basis of your summary.
  2. In The Noble Red Man (1870), Twain concludes that his interpretation was not based on books, but from personal observation. What does that say about his cultural perspective?
  3. Which interpretation, Cooper’s or Twain’s, is more representative of our contemporary view of American Indians? Can you come up with an example from modern literature or media to support your contention? Communicate that example in your response.