A Feminist Reading of The Last of the Mohicans
While most often studied as a romance or adventure novel, the most dominant characteristic of The Last of the Mohicans is overlooked: phallicism. From this phallicism stems Cooper's patriarchal view of society. In the novel, men are symbolically set apart from women by the possession of weapons (the phallic symbol), and men are separated from one another by the size of their weapons. The more powerful the men are those bearing the larger, longer weapons. The main character, Hawk-eye, possesses "...a rifle of great length..." (32). Indeed, the rifle is so long, and so deadly in the scout's hands (he has "...a natural turn with a rifle..."), that he is given the name of 'La Longue Carabine' by his enemies. The scout symbolizes the greatest male power in the novel, and he is therefore the greatest protector of the women as well.
As the size of the weapons of the other characters decreases, so too does their generative power. Only slightly shorter than the scout in weapon length are Uncas and Chingachgook, who, while carrying knives, also brandish long hunting rifles. Uncas is the closest to the scout in length, for he carries his former rifle-hearing a shot in the woods, the scout recognizes the shot of Uncas, saying " '...I carried the gun myself until a better offered'" (230). Thus even though Uncas possesses a weapon of substantial length, he still comes up a bit short when compared with the scout. Next on the list of length is Duncan Heyward, who begins the novel carrying a mere pistol, grows in generative power as the story progresses-near the end of the novel he shows he can handle a hunting rifle almost as well as the scout. When the group first leaves Fort Edward, he is unable to protect the women, but as he grows accustomed to the ways of the woods, generative power increases. Last is David Gamut, the least manly of the bunch. Instead of carrying a weapon, he has a terribly small pitch pipe, symbolically slating him as unmanly, and unable to protect women. Continuing the phallic imagery, the women have no weapons and no power, and must look to men for protection.
As the man with the biggest and most deadly gun, the scout serves as the main patriarchal protector in the story. All is well in the story when the scout has 'Kill-deer' in his hands. When he and his Mohican compatriots help to save Heyward's party from an Iroquois ambush, their safety is never in question until the scout runs out of powder for his gun. Then all is lost, and Hawk-eye, disappointed, drops "...the useless piece in utter disappointment" (89). Once 'Kill-deer' is gone, the whites are at the mercy of the savages. Without his gun, the scout can not even protect himself, and so he and the Mohicans must escape while Heyward's party is left to be captured by the Indians.