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American Literature 101: New American Hero Natty Bumppo, The Pioneers by James Cooper


The main aim of the American Literature 101 series is to offer readers prominent authors and their impacts on their time. With their distinctive powers and values, American Literature brought a new impact to world literature. Consisting of different races and identities from all around the world, the United States of America both culturally and literarily has an important place in the world. Key elements are individuality and uniqueness, hence the reader can understand the hidden part of human nature. The huge divergent identical background of the United States of America shows the exceptional nation’s culture and literature. With the corresponding texts, the reader can understand the core of the American culture better. Writers of the United States of America have been gathering striking issues throughout centuries.

American Literature series consist of five main articles:

2. American Literature 101: New American Hero Natty Bumppo, The Pioneers by James Cooper

3. American Literature 101: Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

4. American Literature 101: Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville

5. American Literature 101: Moral Dilemma between Europe and America, Daisy Miller by Henry James

American Literature 101: New American Hero Natty Bumppo, The Pioneers by James Cooper

Born in New Jersey in 1789 James Fenimore Cooper was the first pioneer novelist in American literature. When he was a child, Cooper and his brother spent most of their time in the thick woods of New York, and he observed pure nature. D.H. Lawrence states, "Cooper was a rich American of good family. His father founded Coopers-Town, by Lake Champlain.’’ As he expanded his vision with the help of nature, Cooper became more acquainted and aware of its importance. These strolls into the woods brought a great impact on Cooper's imagination. Around the Hudson River and certain New York regions, Cooper had the chance to meet the Native Americans, the group of people indigenous to the continent. These adventures paved the way the piquant ideas for Cooper’s writing. As A.W. Watson mentions, "The Pioneers is close in many aspects to the situation in Cooperstown in which James grew up.’’ Also in his writings, Cooper examined American history and aimed to create traditions that only belonged to the new American nation.

John Wesley Jarvis: Portrait of Fenimore Cooper

The Leatherstocking Tales consists of five-volume of romantic epics, which are about Natty Bumppo -- a white pioneer frontier from New York state and lives in harmony with Native Americans. Cooper’s saga focuses on the friendship between Natty Bumppo and his Native American friend Chingachgook. Natty portrays a splendid example of a friendly white frontier, and his character reflects a detached example of the adventure of the hunter and explores the wilderness throughout the five novels. Cooper tries to create American myth by adding reminiscent features into The Leatherstocking Tales, but the difference is he dispatches every attribution only to the American nation. D.H. Lawrence mentions, "They form a sort of American Odyssey, with Natty Bumppo for Odysseus.’’ The deficiency of an indigenously American literary tradition triggered Cooper for composing a new myth for a new country. As D. H. Lawrence expresses, "The Leatherstocking novels create the myth of this new relation. And they go backwards, from old age to golden youth. That is the true myth of America. She starts old, old, wrinkled and writhing in an old skin. And there is a gradual sloughing of the old skin, towards a new youth. It is the myth of America.’’ The ideas of the books consist of the hidden meaning of independence of United States, the presence of the whites by Native Americans, a conflict between civilization versus nature and most importantly, the wasteful and improper behaviors of the settlers to nature. The five Leatherstocking novels consist of the life of Nathaniel "Natty" Bumppo, who lives on the frontier at the intertwining of European and Native American culture. Bumppo is a mixture of both, and these books are an apparent and elucidative story of what came between the two cultures, from the point of perspective of a man who copes with living in both cultures. Counted as one of the most important series in American Literature, The Leatherstocking Tales consist of the following novels: The Pioneers: The Sources of the Susquehanna, A Descriptive Take (1823); The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (1826); The Prairie: A Tale (1827); The Pathfinder: The Inland Sea (1840); and The Deerslayer: The First War Path (1841).

Painting of the Delaware Indians signing the Treaty of Penn with Benjamin West

The Pioneers starts in Templeton, a fictional frontier town that is part of New York near Lake Otsego. The story begins ten years after the end of the American Revolution, which is an indicator of townspeople and frontiers constructing their independence away from the British Empire. Cooper narrates in detail Christmas Eve and Christmas day in Templeton, then the story switches to Judge Marmaduke Temple of Templeton and his daughter Elizabeth returning from her school in New York. By using toboggan, they manage through the huge snow of the mountains and reached Templeton. In the prelude, Judge Temple and Elizabeth come across the frontiersman Natty Bumppo with the assistant Oliver Edwards, who is uncertain about his origins but believe to have a blood relative of Native Americans. While they are hunting, Judge takes his gun and thinks that he shot a deer, however accidentally Judge shot Oliver. Horrified at his own ineptitude, the judge offers the young man a ride into the little settlement and medical care from the local treater. Even if first Oliver refuses the offer, he accepts with insists from Elizabeth. Inn this way, the sparkle of love between Oliver and Elizabeth has begun.

Eventually, the story continues with an incident in which Natty has killed a deer out of season, however for Natty it is not counted as illegal to hunting a deer in this season. Regardless, he is still charged for breaking Templeton's laws. When the law attendants try to arrest Natty, he opposes them and resists the charges towards his free will. Furthermore, he is not only accused of illicit hunting but also of illegally digging in the caves to reach silver. Natty denies all of the accusations and objects to the search warrant; to further protest this decision he decides to burn his hut. With the accumulation of all these incidents, Natty has imposed time in jail for one month. However, with the help of Elizabeth and Oliver, Natty flees from jail. As the day passes overdried by sun, the air turns harsh and smells of burning, and smoke appears. A forest fire has begun. Elizabeth calls Natty for help, and even though he tried to rescue Chingachgook from the fire, the storm rages. Chingachgook dies. Natty's last tie with his native friend has been cut. He decides to move far from Templeton, and as a desperate man, Natty leaves behind his past. As D.H Lawrance says, "The old hunter disappears, lonely and severed into the forest, away, away from his race.’’ Natty’s abandonment from Templeton represents mobility, which each American’s spirituality matches, sooner or later, to their endeavors; prone to move on to another place to discover new experiences apart from their past. As a solitary man, Natty ventures to start down an unknown road in order to find peace in a different kind of nature side. Even though he deserts Templeton, he never abandons his curiosity to reach new expanses that offer him a new sight of life.

A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning by Thomas Cole

The novel’s protagonist is Nathaniel “Natty” Bumpo or knows as "Leatherstocking" who is described as a seventy-year-old man in the first volume of The Leatherstocking Tales. He was raised by the Delaware Indians and is member of the Moravian sect. Cooper lays out Natty Bumpo as a handyman, hunter, respectful to nature, consumes only his need from nature, and counts himself responsible for the balance between nature and humanity. Natty gets along compatibly with Native Americans. 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." Just like Native Americans, he has esteem for mother nature, and the destruction of nature makes him grieve. For him, nature is a tool for keeping the ends tight in an appropriate way, and he wouldn’t want much more from the animals, plants, and trees. As soon as he observes destruction, he clashes with the Templeton people to protect the valuable forests. Natty maintains prudence and is not destructive. When he realizes the actions of Billy Kirby who cuts any trees on the mountains merely to demonstrate he is the most powerful man in the Templeton, Natty is greatly bothered.

Illustration of Natty Bumppo

However, he encounters a problem with the wealthy landowner Judge Marmaduke Temple. He intends to prosper his farming by cutting trees, planting and harvesting the land, animal husbandry, and hunting the local wildlife: buffalo, pigeons, and fishes. A contrast between Templeton villagers and Leatherstocking's lifestyle is explicit in the story. When one perceives their residence, Judge Temple has constructed a large building equipped with quite luxurious household devices, while Leatherstocking is the possessor of only a very small hut in the forest. For dining in the celebration of special days like Christmas, Natty needs a small bird, while Judge Temple and his companions kill five deer. This action shows to the reader the huge gap between Judge Temple and Natty. Their understanding of consuming is so different and the mutability of both personalities is ultimately elucidative of how Natty and Judge Temple have evaluated nature. To protect the order, Judge Temple brings certain laws into the town. Because for Judge Temple, ‘’Society cannot exist without wholesome restraints.’’ As he has an old American mindset, Natty, on the other hand, opposes rules and asserts that the only rule is to behave towards nature in a manner of temperate. His free spirit resists decisive laws, and Natty becomes a body of a frontier who is in a quarrel with the civilization and the law. As Thomas Jorden emphasizes, “While Bumppo represents a profoundly ethical relationship to the natural landscape and personal freedom from the strictures of institutional law, Cooper ultimately positions Judge Temple as the ideal for the future of the American republic.’’ Cooper elevates the actions of Temple and portrays a kind of person who is a protector of the laws. From that point, one can conclude that Cooper unrolls central themes as certain economic change and the law.

In conclusion, James Fenimore Cooper depicts his ideal white settlers to the readers. Also, he gets attention to the problem of wastage and gives specific details of American individuals at the end of the 18th century. Cooper gives a warning against unnecessary using natural resources and dangerous wildlife. He gives a sense about Native American; they have a value respecting to the nature. Americans can learn a lot of lessons; knowing their attentiveness to nature as the delicateness of the topic is so crucial to next-generation, and Cooper is quite ideal in this awareness as few Americans are worried about the long-term sustainability of their surroundings. Consuming unrenewable energy until extinct leads to irrevocable results in the future, and Cooper alerts people with creating characters like irresponsible townspeople. In this way he not only accredits himself becoming pioneer novelist but also underlines the issue of using natural resources by exemplifying Indians.

James Fenimore Cooper statue in Cooperstown, NY.


Lawrance, D.H, The Cambridge Edition Of The Letters And Works Of D. H. Lawrence, Cambridge University Press, 2004

Watson, A.W, The Leatherstocking Tales: An Anlysis Of The Development Of Cooper's Mythic Hero, McMaster University, October 1968

Dekker, George G, James Fenimore Cooper, Britannica, retrieved (3 October 2021)

‘’Who is Natty Bumppo?’’, Virginiaedu, retrieved (5 October 2021)

Cooper, James Fenimore, The Pioneers Paperback – January 1, 1964, Signet Classics (January 1, 1964)

Jordan, Thomas, The Myth of American Ability: Cooper's Leatherstocking, the Frontier Tradition, and the Making of the American Canon, Binghamton University, 2012

Image Resources

John Wesley Jarvis: Portrait of Fenimore Cooper [Portrait]

Natty Bumppo [Illustiration]

James Fenimore Cooper statue in Cooperstown, NY [Photography]

A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning by Thomas Cole [Painting]


Author Photo

Aylin Usta

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