Cooper as the American Scott

In a collection of essays entitled James Fenimore Cooper, the American Scott (1967), George Dekker wrote, "The Pioneers is the most impressive imitation of the Waverley-type novel" (43). He draws out a comparison between Cooper's novel and a few of Walter Scott's, including Guy Mannering, The Antiquary, and The Bride of Lammermoor. Dekker draws attention particularly the similarities between Scott's and Cooper's treatment of the relationship between man and nature, which he sees as Cooper's greatest strength. "The main episodes on which Cooper brings to bear all his artistic and moral intelligence are those which exemplify man's relationship with nature during the growing year: making maple sugar, massacring pigeons, netting fish from the lake, killing a buck out of season, burning down teh forest at the end of a long dry summer" (45).

Dekker identifies Cooper's main theme as the diplacement of nature, the primitive order, by civilization. It is for this reason that Cooper chooses to focus on the relationship between man and nature, instead of the relationship between man and man. "It was Cooper's purpose, (as under similar circumstances it was Scott's) to show that something positive was lost, at the same time that something positive was gained, when one order superseded another" (46).

Dekker praises in particular the scenes of lake fishing in Chapters XXIII and XXIV for the best illustration as what he sees as the chief issue of the novel, the relationship between man and nature. Dekker praises Cooper's ability to blend Leatherstocking into the nature which he knows so well. No other writer has "communicated more effectively how certain men live in such harmony with nature that they seem part of it, not through mystic identification but through long study and peace" (49).

Dekker identifies Leatherstocking's trial as the central event of the novel, underscored by the Temple-Effingham conflict, a quintessential representation of old aristocratic New York. Dekker calls the Judge "one of Cooper's finest characters and a most remarkable development of Scott's wavering hero" (55). Here Dekker defines the essence of the Scott in Cooper. In the work of both novelists, too experimental to rely on a formulaic hero, "the archetypal pattern of a hero caught in between two opposed forces is of course repeated; but the relationship of the hero to those forces varies considerably" (55).

"Cooper's firm grasp of the circumstantial reality of frontier life is everywhere apparent in The Pioneers -- so much so that the novel is an irreplaceable document of Americansocial history" (61). Here, Dekker claims that Cooper has superseded Scott's "lively genre pictures" in his ability to make meaning out of the relationship between man and the changing landscape of the frontier. Dekker credits Cooper's "inwardness with the rhythms of American life" for his surpassing of the great Scottish model.

|Critical Response |

| Home |