Hunting and Animal Deaths in “The Pioneers”

Characters’ identities with “The Pioneer,” particularly their sex and class, are very important in relation to the hunting and animal deaths within the story.

Cooper incorporates stereotypical views of women to indicate how a young woman would react during a hunt. The first buck that is hunted shows the sexist depiction of women as emotional, passive creatures as opposed to strong, independent men. When the buck gets away unharmed, Elizabeth’s view of the scene is completely different from that of her father. The narrator states that “the whole scene had passed with a rapidity that confused the female, who was unconsciously rejoicing in the escape of the buck” (Cooper 7), yet her father remained calm and unfazed by shooting at the deer. In this, the idea that women are closer to nature and more empathetic, not only to other people but also to other creatures, is seen. In each other hunting scene, the men and boys who are killing the animals have no qualms about the death, even to the point of killing them in excess for fun.

More obviously within this text is the juxtaposition of the views of the rich and poor when it comes to the deaths of animals. Hunting is depicted as a necessity for the poor and as a sport for the wealthy. The sole exception to the men being uncaring about the excess killing of animals for sport is the character or Leather Stocking, though this is due not to his sex but to his class. He is offended by all the boys killing large amounts of pigeons while “none pretended to collect the game, which lay scattered over the fields in such profusion as to cover the very ground with the fluttering victims” (Cooper 250). Yet all of the richer characters within the story see hunting as primarily a sport, and only secondarily a source of food. Like women, the poor are depicted as being closer to nature and less brutal. While this plays on a sexist stereotype for women, it actually serves to show the poor of this story in a positive light as opposed to the brutish behaviors or the richer men.

Sex and class are both represented as being relevant factors in the characters’ views of animal deaths as well as nature as a whole.



Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1958. 1-255. Print.



6 responses to this post.

  1. The class distinction is an interesting lense through which to view the characters association with the killing of animals. Its almost as to say that simpler people, whether it be women, who are thought at this time to lack the ability to reason, or poor people who are assumed to have little education, can connect with animals and are closer to nature. This theory gets some holes in it when the young man with Natty speaks eloquently and when Judge has a hard time (on several occasions) to understand Natty’s connection with nature. Seeming that maybe it is not Natty and women that are simple, but it is actually the upper class character, Judge.

  2. Posted by bharta1 on September 13, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    The animal death really does juxtapose the view of the classes and gender, and as the rich excessively kill the birds Leather-stocking not only sees waste but the negligence almost turning of nature against itself. The rich are so blind to their destructive slaughter that they don’t even notice that they pollute their own field with dead and dying birds, and have no idea of nature having an aesthetic components. Leather-stocking can’t partake in the killing or ‘sport’ even though he may benefit greatly or even more than the townspeople. The food to him is contaminated, like some kind of Greek miasma or bloodguilt that poisons whoever is involved in a killing. Also, Garrard talks about “settler cultures” (in this case most likely Europe and England) arrived in America with their old world views, and it was mentioned that in Europe, at this juncture, hunting was mainly for sport, not sustenance, probably restricted to the land owning aristocracy (Garrard 60). So there is another level of old and new wilderness contrasted in America while it is juxtaposes gender and class. The epithets that are given also create a divide between hunter and civil cultivator. Natty Bummpo’s nickname is Leather-stocking, something that conjures a moving hide or animal, and the towns people have names of propriety, “Sheriff”, “Captain”, “Judge” and one rather on-the-nose nickname the “wood chopper” all have these manufactured culturally symbolic names of power and domination. Leather-stocking represents confluence in nature and the urban cultivator represents order, dominion and a social hierarchy.


    Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004.

  3. Cooper does give a sexists view of women in this story and it is obvious in the girl’s reaction to the buck hunted in the beginning. She could have been detached and tough like the men, I agree that class positions are defined by the style of wilderness hunting by the men. Leather-Stocking hunts out of necessity while Judge hunts for food and fun. Women and the poor are assumed to be closer to nature because they are both subjected to a higher group, such as men, just like nature is subjected to humans,

  4. Posted by kbudd on September 14, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    I think it is also important to note how Cooper portrays the female character beside the “alpha-male” role. Cooper shows the sexist viewpoint when he discusses how he would not bring her into the wilderness until she was ready (5). This is also a contributing factor for her emotion towards the buck. Since her father has this innate desire to protect his daughter, he automatically skews her viewpoints. Even though Natty is a “rugged outdoors-man” I feel, subconsciously, he wants better things for his daughter. He does not want her to fight over “who killed the deer”, but the sexist agenda occurs when he does not let her speak her mind.

  5. While I believe you make a really interesting point in considering class distinctions when it comes to how characters view animal deaths. I have to say that I do not believe that the women are depicted as closer to nature, although they are more sensible to the suffering of animals. Elizabeth while unconsciously celebrating the escape of the buck in the first scenes is really surprised by the idea of people suffering from famine and her father being alone settling “the land of abundance” (236), which she can only imagine as even more “dreary” at the time (235). Like everyone else she seems to expect nature to work in their favor, and becomes more so distressed at finding out it has made people suffer then at what people have done to it.

  6. Posted by lmc908 on September 15, 2011 at 12:40 am

    I think you make a valid point. I did see the correlation between the sexes and nature. It can also be seen in the way the men treat the buck– it is not a female, but it is part of nature which is feminine. The men are debating over who it belongs to. It is just a piece of property like women. To men, women are just something they win or hunt for based on their attributes. The best man takes the win. Here we have two men of different classes arguing over a beautiful buck. The rich man is offering money for it– a general quality looked for in suitors. He keeps offering more and more for it, as if that is all it is worth; he completely ignores the intrinsic value of the whole situation.
    The class distinction is there as well. The spot where the buck was shot seems to be the borderline between the two worlds– the wilderness (low class) and the town (rich). The old hunter does not want to go into town, and recedes back into the wilderness on foot– he gradually disappears. The old judge goes back to town in his sleigh and never ventures further into the woods. The young man, however, has the possibility to change his social status. That is why we see him debating whether he should stay or go, and finally ends up going into town. The part where he stares back and sees the old man disappear is like his way of saying goodbye to his old life.

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