Killing of Animals in “The Pioneers”

In Cooper’s “The Pioneers”, the act of killing animals is discussed between the characters from two different perspectives. The first perspective is from Judge Temple who is a wealthy man and owns the area of land that has been settled by the characters in the story. Judge Temple thinks of hunting firstly as a sport. He doesn’t care whether he shot the meat he brings home for dinner or he bought it off another hunter. What he does care about though is being able to boast about his kills as is evident when he says “but what will requite me for the lost honor of a buck’s tail in my cap? Think, Natty how I should triumph over that quizzing dog, Dick Jones,” (Cooper, 9). Another instance where Judge Temple and the other villagers reveal how they see hunting only as a past time and a way to express their superiority over other living creatures is the pigeon hunting passage. They bring out the old cannon and load it with “several handfuls of duck-shot” (Cooper, 250) and shoot the cannon into one of the enormous flocks of pigeons that flew over the field and kill a very large number of birds, which they have no intention of eating.
The other perspective of killing animals is revealed through the character of Natty, the solitary hunter. Natty thinks of hunting as a way to feed himself and nothing more. He prides himself on his shooting ability and how he only kills what he intends to eat. Natty embodies the idealistic view of Native American hunters many people today hold because he uses the animals he kills for food and to make clothing and other necessities out of their hides and he doesn’t waste the animal’s body. He condemns the pigeon hunting and describes the townspeople’s actions as a “wasty manner” (Cooper, 251). Natty’s character reveals a very conservationist mindset which was unusual for the time period.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I totally agree with you that Judge and Natty have totally different perspectives on hunting and the killing of animals. Judge is about profit and pride from the kill, while Natty is about sustenance and conservation, not wanting to waste one unecessary animal life. where i have to disagree with you is on the statement that Natty’s position if unusual for the time period. The poetry we read in the first week of class shows that other people in the time period shared similar conservationist sentiment. Wiliam Cullen Bryant idolizes the waterfowl and sees the waterfowl as a symbol for freedom and the connection between heaven and earth. In the Forest Hymn Bryant thinks of the forest as a sanctuary and almost holy like place. I think Bryant could be considered as conservationist as well and im sure he and Cooper were not alone in their time.

  2. Posted by teagueoreagan on September 15, 2011 at 3:42 am

    I would like to add that these different perspectives are reflective of the difference in philosophies between the two men. Judge is a settler and therefore takes on the philosophy of a conqueror as exemplified by the passage “It was with a view to people the land that I visited the lake” (Cooper, 240). This may seem a simple statement but it is in fact a loaded declaration as inherent in his intention is his philosophy. Although he reflects upon the natural beauty of the land it is apparent that underneath his marveling at the sublimity of the scene is the consideration of use; the practical number of people that could be supported with such an abundance of game and timber. In saying “people the land” he intends to chop down trees to build lodgings and hunt and trap game for the purpose of sale to the small market economy he intends to create in building a settlement. He reveals himself to be a conqueror most clearly in the statement “…he who hears of the settlement of a country knows but little of the toil and suffering by which it is accomplished” (Cooper, 238). He is of course talking about the hacking, breaking, burning, and slaughtering necessary to carve an enclave of “civilization” out of the wild. Consequently, he would regard the civilized over all other life with the inherent belief that in his superiority lies the right of use in whatever manner he chooses to define it which would of course include pleasure.
    Natty’s philosophy is that of a subsisting woodsman. He has a very low ecological impact and essentially exists as another part of the ecosystem (another part of nature). This is of course a bit too neatly packaged to be without objection, but as a generalization I feel it holds sufficient water. A good example of his philosophy of subsistence is the passage in which he makes a declaration about the pigeon hunt that reads “‘This comes of settling a country!’ he said; ‘here have i known the pigeons to fly for forty long years, and, till you made your clearings, there was nobody to skear or to hurt them…they were company to a body; hurting nothing…” (Cooper, 250). This makes clear the differences in philosophy between the two men. Settlers want to shape the land to suit their needs while Natty adapts to the land to survive–he feels it was fine just the way it was.

  3. Interesting post, the killing of the pigeons also struck me as a highly emotional set piece (to borrow a filmic term) for the novel. One additional item I wanted to bring up that I feel you touched on here is Cooper’s implicit usage of class differences in his book. The Sheriff calls the killing of the pigeons a “princely sport” (255) in rebuff to Judge Temple’s calling off of the killing, inspired by Natty Bumppo’s words. The use of the word “princely” carries some connotations, notably that the Sheriff is comparing the hunters to royalty while denigrating Natty to a second-class citizen. The implicit meaning here is that because Natty Bumppo is a frontiersman who has adapted the ways of the Native Americans, this lessens him.

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