Imagery and Metaphor
The most striking imagery is contained in the descriptions of the wilderness of eighteenth century upper New York. It forms a constant background for the novel, and is introduced on the very first page as “the toils and dangers of the wilderness.” The colonists must sometimes struggle for months through the wilderness of forest, rapids, and mountains, before they can engage one another in battle. So the conflict is as much with this wilderness as with each other.
The many descriptions of nature and wilderness are detailed and varied. Often Cooper applies poetic imagery to the descriptions, using the kind of diction associated with the poetry of the period: the tree tops, for example, are “dimly painted against the starry zenith” (Chapter V).
There is a fine description of the wilderness in its benevolent aspects at the beginning of Chapter XXXII, in which “it seemed as if the foot of man had never trodden, so breathing and deep was the silence in which it lay.” Everything is in harmony with everything else, “nowhere was any object to be seen that did not properly belong to the peaceful and slumbering scenery.” Here the wilderness is presented as an image of primal innocence and perfection, the work of God untouched by human hand. It is only humans who bring to the wilderness things that do not “properly belong.”
Another scene in which nature is vividly evoked is in the Glenn’s Falls chapters, beginning with Chapter V. In Chapter VI, Hawkeye gives an elaborate description of the falls themselves, in which he compares their turbulent passage to a “headstrong man.” For a while, such a man may act in a willful way (like the wild falls), but then the hand of God intervenes, and the water (and by metaphoric implication the man too) can be seen “flowing on steadily towards the sea, as was foreordained from the first foundation of the ’arth!” Thus a phenomenon of nature is compared metaphorically to the passage of human life—the river that flows to the sea is like the life of a man that eventually finds its way into the ocean of God.
Imagery and Metaphor