LITR 4232 American Renaissance

Sample Student Research Project 2010

Jonathan Nguyen

The Forbidden Love of Uncas and Cora

          Forbidden love is a theme that is commonly seen throughout many stories told around the world. The general flow of each of these stories is always the same: two people from opposite ends of the social or economic spectrum find ways to triumph over the adversities set by their cultures, peers, families, or laws of their lands and they live happily ever after. The idea of love happening whenever, wherever, and with whomever is one that inspires all people for it indeed is a very true ideal. Although it is accurate to say love has no bounds, sometimes the outside pressure from society, family, the government, or whatever can keep people from really acting on their love and desire so they can’t really express it with the one they wish to. In James Fenimore Cooper‘s The Last of the Mohicans,  two characters have a mutual attraction that they never get to act upon. These two characters are Cora Munro, a mulatto female and daughter of a respected British Colonel, and Uncas who was son to wise Indian Chingachgook and the last pure blood member of the Indian tribe known as The Mohicans. Both Uncas and Cora are tragically slain near the finale of the book, ending any chance these two ever had of forming a real relationship. It is for this reason that it is necessary to try and determine how the possible relationship of these two vastly different individuals would have developed had both parties lived at the end of the story.

          Uncas and Cora met on the American frontier on what would become New York State in 1757. Though they have limited dialogue together, Cooper writes their actions around each other with enough emotion to imply a mutual attraction. Although some say Cooper writes favorably about interracial mingling among friends using Hawkeye and Chingachgook as examples, they also say that Cooper writes interracial romantic relationships as “undesirable and unfavorable” (Phillips 13). Hawkeye and Chingachgook overcome the trials of society and their racial divides to find mutual respect and friendship yet Uncas and Cora are doomed without ever getting a chance to get their relationship started. The title of Cooper’s book The Last of the Mohicans further suggests Cooper was not open to the idea of interracial romance. By referring to Uncas as the last of the Mohicans and writing the character Hawkeye with very strong pureblood beliefs (Hawkeye commonly refers to himself as “a man without a cross”), Cooper may be implying that biracial identities are less important than pureblood identities. In 2000, the United States Census Bureau reported that only 2.4% of the US population claimed to be biracial. This means that seeing a biracial person today is a seemingly uncommon occurrence and it must have been an exponentially rarer occurrence in 1757.  Although Cooper does separate the characters of the story by categories other than race, such as Hawkeye and Heyward being very different in how they interact with people and the surroundings despite being the same race, these differences aren’t as prominent throughout the story especially when it comes to determining the possible futures of Cora and Uncas . One of the most powerful interactions that take place between Cora and Uncas happens when Uncas doesn’t want to leave Cora and her companions when they were surrounded by enemies. Cora instructs the trio of Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas to leave and retrieve help from her father and although Hawkeye and Chingachgook do opt to leave, Uncas tries to stay with Cora. However, Cora uses all of her “womanly powers” to persuade him to leave (Dolata).

"Uncas will stay," the young Mohican calmly answered, in English.

"To increase the horror of our capture, and to diminish the chances of our release! Go, generous young man," Cora continued, lowering her eyes under the gaze of the Mohican, and, perhaps, with an intuitive consciousness of her power; "go to my father, as I have said, and be the most confidential of my messengers. Tell him to trust you with the means to buy the freedom of his daughters. Go; 'tis my wish, 'tis my prayer, that you will go!"(Cooper 561)


This shows how Uncas can’t deny Cora’s wishes because he cares for her (Dolata). Cora displays her own affection by not taking her eyes off of Uncas until he is completely out of sight and is indeed following her command. This interaction introduces the reader to the possibility of the two having a romantic relationship but this possibility is dismissed without much of a chance for working out. The possibility of Uncas and Cora being together and its apparent doomed status do a good job of illustrating Coopers true thoughts on the subject of interracial romance.

          . Since we don’t live in a perfectly open world, we must acknowledge that relationships of any type between two people of different races always involves hurdles to jump while maintaining that relationship. It wasn’t long ago that families discouraged interracial interaction between young children and marrying someone who was a difference race was illegal. The United States legalized interracial marriage a mere 43 years ago when the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia went all the way to the Supreme Court. The case involved Mr. Richard Loving , who was a white man, and Ms. Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman. Mr. Loving and Ms. Jeter were both residents of Virginia who were married in the District of Columbia.(Patria) Upon returning to Virginia, both were arrested for violating interracial marriage laws in the state of Virginia and were sentenced to one year in jail after both parties had pleaded guilty to the charges. The judge over the trial delayed their sentence for 25 years on the condition that they leave the state of Virginia and not return for 25 years. The judge also stated his opinion on the matter of interracial marriage :

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

This was a statement reflective of the ideas of American Society in the 1960’s meaning there are many Americans alive today who can vividly remember this case and the times of illegal interracial marriage. If the Loving’s had a hard time getting married 40 years ago, a possible relationship between Coras and Uncas from The Last of the Mohicans ( which takes place in 1757 Europe) seems like a near impossibility. Though no fault of their own, they would have tried to defy odds that no one had even thought about attempting at that point. People were weary of interracial marriage because it was seen as strange. Unifying two people of different races was essentially unifying their cultures as well and in a time period where the mentality was “We are separate from them” doing this could make a person an outcast.

          Beverly Daniel Tatum, PH.D wrote about the stereotype of “the Tragic Mulatto” in her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?. This stereotype, which talked about how a mulatto person wouldn’t be accepted by anyone and would have a hard time fitting in anywhere, most likely plagued the mulatto Cora at some point in her life. Evidence of this comes from Cora’s stern demeanor when race issues arise during the story such as when she said, “Should we distrust this man because his manners are not our manners and that his skin is dark?” An interesting point to make note of is that in this quote, James Fenimore Cooper wrote that Cora asked it “coldly”. This leads one to believe that she has had experience with people distrusting or dismissing her because of her skin color. The years of being treated differently and as an outsider may have hardened her and sharpened her sensitivity toward racial issues. In contrast, Major Heyward  and Cora’s sister Alice feel awkward when racial issues are raised. Cooper writes that an “embarrassed silence” occurred when Cora brings up race differences as natural. Heyward and Alice’s embarrassments are representative of the thoughts of the society in their native home of England. Heyward and Alice are well-adjusted and respected in England and they both feel comfortable and very at ease around their all-white natives. Thrust into the unknown wilderness with unfamiliar races and their unease and insecurities are shown. This is not a personality flaw on Heyward or Alice’s part it is just how the things were. If some of the most respected people felt uneasy about race relations and interracial relationships, how did the rest of the country feel? Most likely, the people of the time treated Cora with respect despite her biracial identity but that may have just been because of who her father was. This doesn’t mean Cora herself couldn’t be the victim of some less explicit forms of discrimination. If Cora was able to start a relationship with the Indian Uncas, her mixed race identity coupled with the fact that she would be further mixing races would cause discomfort among everyone they would encounter.

          The title The Last of the Mohicans is a reference to Uncas’ and his “pure-blood” Indian heritage. Hawkeye, a father-figure to young Uncas, stresses racial purity and expresses a sort of sorrow in how Uncas has no full blooded female Mohicans to mate with. Hawkeye sees Uncas as the last of a dying breed dismissing the idea of any mixed race child of Uncas’ being considered a true Mohican. Paul Spickard, a scholar who studies the histories of racial categories, states that:

“If races were pure (or had once been), and if one were a member of the race at the top, then it was essential to maintain the boundaries that defined one’s superiority, to keep people from the lower categories from slipping surreptitiously upward.” (Qtd. In Tatum,169)

This is perhaps Hawkeye’s view on the matter and it could be shared among most people of that time period. Hawkeye may have thought of Uncas and Chingachgook as more noble and respectable than the British because of their wisdom and sensibilities toward nature. The British citizens might have thought of themselves too high class and sophisticated to marry the lower class blacks or Indians. This could have caused the belief in people that racial mixing is against nature. People today still believe in staying with your “like kind”. Categorizing oneself is one of the most basic human instincts. For example, if one were to take a look around any large grouping of people, it would be easy to notice smaller groupings of  people who have similarities in that larger group. In football stadiums, the sides are split for the opposing teams. In high schools, different cliques hang around each other using criteria such as what sport you play, what club you belong to, what classes you take, and even what gender or race you are. This is a more subconscious occurrence today but in 1757, it was more of a rule and an expectation. The class system was very prominent to the point where same race people didn’t hang out if they were on a different economical standing. Cora was not a pure-blooded person and therefore didn’t see a reason or need for racial purity the way someone like Hawkeye or Uncas could. Staying pure in all forms of life and with your own kind was the norm so Uncas and Cora would have been defying one of the oldest traditions of both the Indian culture and the British culture.

          With their vast differences and the time and place they lived in, it is unlikely that Cora and Uncas could have had a successful relationship in their respective societies. England wouldn’t have been fully accepting nor would the other Indian tribes or Uncas’ friend, Hawkeye. People had different ideas in this time period and the beliefs of racial purity and a lack of understanding between different races toward each other kept interracial romance very taboo in all different societies. This leaves one other option and a new look on the title The Last of the Mohicans. With Uncas literally being the last of his kind, he would have no choice but to make his own home and life away from the roots of his ancestors on the American Frontier. This frees himself to start a new “tribe” since the Mohicans are no more. Cora, if she so chose, could stay with Uncas and start this new life with him. Although this requires her to leave her family and life in England, it is not an improbable assumption to believe that this is a possible outcome. Uncas has shown that he has abilities to speak English and fully interact with Cora so language barriers would not be much a problem to this couple. In this given scenario, the only obvious problem would be the difficulties both people would have in starting this new life together. Throughout the story they had to evade enemies using nature as their protection. This would be a constant in their new life. Cora would also have to adapt to living life in the wilderness as opposed to her pampered British life. Despite these hurdles, it would be worth it for the forbidden love between these two to actually blossom in the way it was meant to.


Works Cited

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. Europe: Carey and Lea of Philadelphia,1826.

Phillips, Brian. The Last of the Mohicans: Sparknotes. New York: Spark Publishing, 2002

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?. New York: Basic Books, 1997

Dolata, April. Child and Cooper: Competing Perspectives on Race in Early American Fiction.

          James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art . The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York: Cooper Seminar, 2005. Placed online 2007.


Patria, Melia. Groundbreaking Interracial Marriage. 14 June 2007.

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