Fenimore's Natty Bumppo

| Natty as Indian | Natty as Frontiersman |

Straight Tongue...Pigeon...Lap Ear...Deerslayer...Hawkeye...La Longue Carabine...Pathfinder...Leatherstocking...Trapper...

Who is Natty Bumppo?

Nearly two hundred years after James Fenimore Cooper published The Pioneers, the challenge of placing Cooper's central character in a historical context remains paramount. Appearing first as a seventy year-old man in the first volume of The Leatherstocking Tales, Natty Bumppo emerged in Cooper's works as something of an enigma. Though Natty's experiences and actions comprise the core of Cooper's five-part narrative, details of his origins and the nature of his obvious symbolism are noticably lacking. Living on the literal edge of society in Deleware Indian country, Natty is both frontiersman and Native American; part of both the white world and the land of savages. In his relatively undeveloped state in The Pioneers, Natty represents the frontier in conflict with civilization and the law.

So who is Natty Bumppo? Described in The Pioneers as being "six feet tall in his moccasins, thin and wiry, with grey eyes, sandy hair, a large mouth and rather heavy eyebrows," Natty appears physically as a cross between his best friend, the Indian Chingachgook, and his nemesis, Judge Temple. This juxtaposition is well-intentioned; critique James Wallace writes that Cooper wanted Natty "to combine a popular tradition of the eloquence of Indian oratory with the garrulity of a frontier character."

In light of his dual identity, Natty is Cooper's vehicle for the expression of the author's personal views about the mores of eighteenth and early nineteenth century America. Throughout The Leatherstocking Tales, Natty agrees with Cooper's concept of a firmly class-structured society. He dislikes the French, the Iroquis, and Catholics, and shows disdain for miscegenation. Nonetheless, Natty holds his own apart from his creator. Filled with contradictions, Natty combines "the soul of a poet with the nature of a redneck." He craves companionship yet trusts no one, is used by all yet owes nothing to anyone, and craves traditional society while fearing and despising civilization. In the words of literary critique Duncan Heyward, Natty is "a noble shoot from the stock of human nature, which never could attain its proper elevation and importance, for no other reason than because it grew in the forest" (mohicanpress).

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