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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   



5. Masculine
Heroes


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
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Activities
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Activities: Author Activities


James Fenimore Cooper - Teaching Tips

Back Back to James Fenimore Cooper Activities
  • Because it was set in England and featured only English characters, Cooper's first novel, Precaution (which he published anonymously), was assumed to be the work of a British citizen. Reviewers also concluded that the author was a woman because the novel centered on domestic scenes and social manners. Perhaps distressed by this misreading of his nationality and gender, Cooper focused many of his subsequent novels on American subjects and masculine heroes. After you give your students this background information, ask them to think about the strategies Cooper uses to identify his work as both "manly" and "American." What does Cooper see as appropriate behavior for a man and for an American? Which characters represent his ideals of American masculinity? How might his books respond to the notion, current in nineteenth-century America, that novel reading was a frivolous and feminine pursuit?

  • Although Cooper features prominent Native American characters and describes tribal customs in detail in his most famous novels, he was not personally familiar with Native American culture. In fact, even though many of his American readers took him to be an expert, Cooper's knowledge of Indian culture came largely from books, legends, and stereotypes. Ask your students to think about how Indians are portrayed in Cooper's novels, especially in The Pioneers and/or The Last of the Mohicans. You might have them pay special attention to the way he creates two separate versions of Native American character, celebrating "noble savages" like Uncas and Chingachgook while portraying other Native Americans as ferocious, barbarous, and inhumane. How does the Mohicans' doomed fate work to make them sympathetic and nonthreatening to Cooper's white audience? What kinds of prejudices do Cooper's negative depictions of the Mingo tribe appeal to? How are Cooper's stereotypes similar to or different from twentieth-century stereotypes depicted in Westerns, comic books, and other popular media?



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