The 1992 classic movie The Last of the Mohicans relates the tale of set in the 1757 French and Indian War when the British and the French are battling for control over North America. The Mohicans, as history holds, have a past intermingled with war, influxes of other tribes and cultures, and migration (Mohican, 2008). The film is an epitome of metaphor and symbolism through the characterization that the director portrays. The director of the movie depicts the idea of convergence and divergence and the outcome of both paths. This essay discusses the metaphor and symbolism as portrayed in the film.
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The first symbolism comes out from the White romance story, which superimposes any other plot in the movie. The romance between Hawkeye and Cora shows an amalgamation of the Indian-Americana and the Euro-American which is symbolic of the culture and history of American acceptance and cultural convergence. And above all the romance and emotional crescendo between the two pairs show that survival is the key element even in love and an opposite of “savage war”.
When the Mohicans and the Munros join with Duncan and conceal themselves behind a waterfall, but are soon found by Magua’s band, the party realizes that their only chance of survival is for Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook to leap down the waterfall, leave Cora, Alice, and Duncan behind, and avoid a hopeless battle. As they prepare to part, Hawkeye and Cora’s passion for one another surfaces and Hawkeye exhorts Cora as follows:
You stay alive. If they don’t kill you they’ll take you north up to Huron land. Submit do you hear? Be strong. You survive. You stay alive no matter what occurs. I will find you. No matter how long it takes. No matter how far, I will find you. (Mann, 1992)
The film situates the waterfall romance dialogue in the context of racial survival or extinction: Hawkeye has just informed Cora that Magua killed her father when the Huron attacked the English, and Magua now pursues Cora and Alice in order to eliminate all of the Munros.
The movie also symbolically shows the gender stereotype of Cora being instructed by Hawkeye to assume the passive, enduring feminine role of the frontier captivity while the male characters often actively “struggle” in bloody combat which partially explains the linking of submission and survival.
An important suggestion to opt for the way of peace, and embrace survival is illustrated in the dialogue o Hawkeye when the Mohicans, Munros, and Duncan are captured by Magua. In this scene Magua and Hawkeye, debate before an elder Sachem of the Huron in order to negotiate Cora and Alice’s freedom. When Magua declares that the Huron will become traders as powerful as the whites are, and Hawkeye responds as follows:
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Would the Huron make his Algonquin brothers foolish with brandy and steal his lands to sell them for gold to the white man? Would Huron have greed for more land than a man can use? Would Huron fool Senecans to take in all the furs of all the animals in the forest for beads and strong whiskey? Would the Huron kill every man, woman, and child of their enemy? Those are the ways of the Yankees and the Français traders and their masters in Europe infected with the sickness of greed. Magua’s heart is twisted. He would make himself into what twisted him. (Mann, 1992)
Though apparently, the dialogue portrays that “any degree of assimilation or accommodation is now defined by the film’s hero as being tantamount to total corruption” (Edgerton, 1994, p. 11). But if the metaphor inside the dialogue is properly traced, the statement enumerates that the path of racial conflict is one that leads to divergence and consequently extinction, whereas that of convergence will lead to the alternative to physical conflict which stresses education, dialogue, and discovery.
This is furthered symbolized in the film. Themes of education, dialogue, and discovery surface occasionally in the film: Chingachgook sent Uncas and Hawkeye to a white school as children so they could learn English and the culture of the Europeans; the three Mohicans often hunker down together to discuss their options; Cora speaks of her thrilling discovery of America and the wilderness; the colonials debate among themselves whether to join the English against the French; Hawkeye and the colonial militia hold council concerning whether to desert the fort or not; and Magua learned the ways of the Mohawk in order to survive and wants to learn and master the ways of the Europeans.
Survival and extinction are metaphorically symbolized in the movie which is now discussed. Mohicans abandons “savage war” in favor of a more harmonious myth. A “savage war” myth “struggle” and “conflict” are inherent to both “survival” and “extinction”; the winners of the struggle or conflict survive, and the losers perish. Mohicans, in contrast, denies the necessity of “conflict” and “struggle” in race relations.
The film metaphorically demonstrates the modern mythic version of race relations, one that places “convergence equals survival” against “conflict equals extinction.” To “struggle” with and to “fool” another race leads to “conflict” and mutual “extinction.” Conversely, to “submit” to and to “inform and educate” another race – to recognize the other race’s right to exist and to promote peaceful interaction and interchange between races – leads to “convergence” and mutual “survival.” The film’s opposition of “convergence equals survival” against “conflict equals extinction” is a reflection of the current dominant ideology regarding race relations in the United States.
The American vision brews a “cultural stew” where all races work together to overcome racist ignorance with tolerance, understanding, and education. While the idea of a society without racism is a real goal that real people believe in and work towards in modern America, violent racial conflict is equally real. This real, immediate opposition surfaces in Mohicans as the “convergence equals survival” versus “conflict equals extinction.”
Edgerton, G. (1994). ‘A Breed Apart’: Hollywood, Racial Stereotyping, and the Promise of Revisionism in The Last of the Mohicans. Journal of American Culture 17(2) , 1-20.
Mann, M. (Director). (1992). The Last of The Mohicans.
Mohican. (2008). Encyclopædia Britannica. Web.