Posts Tagged ‘The Pioneers’

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.


Wilderness in The Pioneers

Wilderness in The Pioneers

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers provides a lengthy, highly descriptive depiction of early American wilderness. In particular, Cooper characterizes the wilderness as an overwhelmingly male entity, and a place for males to explore. In chapter four (“Wilderness”) of Garrard’s Ecocriticism, he explains that “feminist critics have shown that the qualities associated with the sublime and beautiful are gendered…as the feminine and beautiful is denigrated by comparison with the masculine sublime…so women are excluded from encounters with the wild,” (Garrard 64).

We see this in The Pioneers right from the start, where the first characters introduced are Judge Temple and his daughter Elizabeth, or Bess. A father/daughter relationship is the quintessential example of male dominance, especially as described here. “But still he had enough of real regard for his child, not to bring her into the comparative wilderness in which he dwelt, until the full period had expired, to which he had limited her juvenile labors,” (Cooper 5). He protected Bess from the wilderness until he deemed she was old enough to handle it, whereas a son would likely have been brought along for hunting from an early age. The first we hear of Bess’ feelings are on page 9, where Cooper describes her interest in the young hunter they have encountered: his foxskin cap, his leather stockings, his deerskin coat—all evidence of his dominance of the wilderness, and of his robust manly power. Bess essentially stays in the sleigh for this entire section of the book, until she stands and speaks on page 13, much to the surprise (it seems) of the men. The young hunter in particular is taken aback by her beautiful, delicate features as she throws off the hood that has been hiding her face, “regardless of the cold air,” (Cooper 13), as if it is a surprise she can handle the cold. In the story, Bess’ only roles are daughter and object of beauty, never an active role as a doer of anything worthwhile. As Garrard mentioned, there is little place for women in wilderness.

Furthermore, the wilderness itself is frequently characterized as male, as Cooper describes it in primarily masculine terms. A “rugged country,” “jutted with rocks” and filled with “fine bucks” seems to be a very manly place. The idea of conquering the wilderness by hunting is also made into a competition of masculinity, as Judge Temple mentions Dick Jones, who has embarrassingly “only brought in one woodchuck and a few gray squirrels,” (Cooper 9). Repeatedly, Cooper characterizes the wilderness as male, making it a place for men to explore and conquer, and maybe for women to see sometimes if their husband or father brings them along.


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

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004. 64. Print.

2. The Death of Animals in Cooper’s “Pioneers”

The passage which jumped out the most was the killing of the pigeons.  The author had a very clear opinion of the attack on the pigeons. Cooper denounces the acts of the pioneers and portrays them as savage and base individuals who are overcome with “exultation and delight” with the act of the pigeons slaughter (230). Cooper refers to the birds as “victims” and asserts that they are “harmless as a garter-snake” (250-251). The pioneers justify themselves by claiming that the birds are a nuisance to their wheat fields and they are thereby doing a service. Even though the reader can understand the plight of farmers, you find yourself feeling sorry for the defenseless birds and revolted by the brutality of the pioneers. Cooper uses the character of Leather-Stocking to be the voice of Mother Nature. He recognizes the waste and implores the settlers to stop their killing. These different standpoints create a distinct divide to the reader between the settlers and the natives. The settlers look wasteful and selfish, capitalizing on their agricultural endeavors, whereas the Native American seems sagacious and has found a way of life which does not intrude upon the land and its original inhabitants. The journal also brings the reader’s attention to the pioneer’s effect on the animal population as a whole. Judge Temple retells his struggle with the famine and inadvertently highlights the damage the settlers have exacted on the environment. He refers to the settlers as a “swarm of locusts” who “swept away the means of subsistence”. (237).  Not five years prior, whence Judge Temple first endeavored across the unsettled land, he encountered numerous populations of animals. After the land began to be inhabited, the “enormous shoals of herrings” (238) and “myriad of the wild-fowl” (249) cease to be mentioned.  Overall, Cooper’s Pioneers arouses a sense of injustice for the Native inhabitants of the land and depicts the settlers as wasteful, cruel, and uncompromising.

Analysis of Wilderness in The Pioneers

In James Fenimore Coopers’s The Pioneers, wilderness is seen in a contrasting light as both an  awe-inspiring spectacle and as a simple, disposable tool to achieve personal gain. The author juxtaposes these two viewpoints throughout the text leaving the reader to wonder what the true purpose of wilderness was to the early settlers. Was it simply a means of getting what they wanted out of this unsettled land or was it more akin to the “romantic and picturesque” country we are introduced to at the beginning of the passage (Cooper 1)?

I was struck by the power and might of wilderness when Judge is explaining to Elizabeth how the pioneers struggled to gain footing in the “[rough] uninhabited mountains” while fraught with famine and failure (Cooper 236). He described the turning point in which “something like a miracle” occurred and “shoals of herring” flew through the territory enabling the settlers to survive (Cooper 238). This struck me as what Garrard would characterize as a sublime view of the wilderness because it seems that Judge is sincerely struck by the “overwhelming power” (Garrard 64) nature had and was in disbelief by the wonder of the “miracle” birds (Cooper 238). Taken alone, this solitary take on the passage would be well received. However, when paired with the careless slaughter of the pigeons we see later on in the text, the pioneers’ values about wilderness can be called into question. Although these birds were shown to be a nuisance to growing crops, forcing some settler to “sow [their] wheat twice, and three times” the spectacle of aimlessly shooting birds from the sky sharply opposes the respect for nature we see earlier in the text when Judge is describing the sheer miracle it was to have a few birds to eat (Cooper 251). Leather-Stocking put it best as a pure “waste of [God’s] creatures” (Cooper 251). The contrast of Judge’s description of the wondrous gift the wilderness provided when people were in need and the eventual manipulation and waste of such wilderness by killing these birds for game is hypocritical and puzzling.

Interestingly, Judge tells Elizabeth that “[those who hear about the settling of a country know] but little of the toil and suffering” that went into founding it (Cooper 238). Thinking back on the passage, it seems that all of the settlers should take Judges’s sentiment to heart regarding their views on the wilderness they inhabit. Perhaps they too have lost sight of the power and terror the wilderness once had over them and would be well off to keep this in mind before disposing of the wilderness around them for no purpose.

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

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


An analysis of animal deaths in The Pioneers.

In James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, there are two specific scenes involving the death of animals the significance of these animal’s death is that it demonstrates the difference between hunters and those who kill for sport.  The first scene involves Natty, Edwards, and Judge Temple all firing shots at a buck that runs across the path they are traveling.  After the deer is shot and killed an argument occurs among the men who fired as to who is responsible for the kill shot.  This scene enlightens the reader of the difference in opinions of hunters and sportsmen through Natty and Judge Temple.  The huntsman Natty is very outspoken about only killing for use of the animal for food as stated, “I suppose the creature is to be eaten…although I am a poor man, I can live without venison” (8).  Natty is assuming that the deer was shot for food and since he has no use for the meat he did not shot.  However, Judge Temple is more concerned about claiming the kill shot stating, “Think Natty, how should I triumph over that quizzing dog, Dick Jones, who has failed seven times already this season, and has only brought in one woodchuck and a few gray squirrels” (9). Judge Temple has no intention of using the deer’s meat but to use the kill as bragging rights over a less successful sportsman.

The second scene revolves around the vast numbers of pigeons in the area with the settlers planning to shoot as many as possible mainly for sport rather than processing them into goods.  Again Natty appears as the huntsman that promotes killing out of necessity not for waste of sport, “it’s wicked to be shooting into flocks in this wasty manner; and none do it, who know how to knock over a single bird.  If a body has a craving for pigeon’s flesh, why, it’s made the same as all other creature’s for man’s eating; but not to kill twenty and eat one” (251).  This is contrasted by the settler’s who are too overwhelmed with greed to acknowledge their waste of a resource.  Although they plan to process their kills the amount of dead pigeons would result in an over-supply leaving time for the meat to spoil.


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

2. Animal death depicted in The Pioneers

The purpose of animal death at the end of The Pioneers does not have any purpose besides killing pigeons so they don’t eat the wheat crops. The white settlers consider them pests and find it to be an exhilarating sport to senselessly shoot the pigeons. I think the emotions this act of slaughter evokes in the reader is reflected in the reaction of Leather-Stocking when he says, “It’s wicked to be shooting into flocks in this wasty manner” (251). The text refers to the pigeons as “victims” (250, 251) and the white settlers as “persecutors” of the pigeons (254), setting the stage for evoking compassion for the pigeons from the reader. Benjamin gravely relates at the end of the text that “he thought they killed nearly as many pigeons on that day, as there were Frenchmen destroyed on the memorable occasion of Rodney’s victory” (255). The field of dead pigeons here is being depicted as a battlefield which evokes emotions of war, and for anyone who has truly experienced war, the experience is truly traumatizing. The attitudes represented by the depiction of the pigeons’ deaths in the text are attitudes of excitement and victory from many of the men that took part in the slaughter such as Richard. Judge Temple and Benjamin showed a sense of remorse for the slaughter, feeling that it was wrong to find joy in even a pigeon’s misery. This event is used to reveal the human quality of savage cruelty, but it is also condemned by the hunter, Leather-Stocking, who sees that it is not right to senselessly kill so many pigeons. I’m not so sure that the text is promoting this behavior in any way, but rather trying to show the reader that heartless actions such as this one are wrong and can eat away at the conscience of those who partake in such actions as we see with Judge Temple and Benjamin.

The death of these animals is related to issues of identity. The animal deaths are related to the identity issue of “class” because the white settlers think that a person is of a higher social class if they are farmers, and these white settlers find justice in killing these birds because they don’t want to replant the wheat crops that the birds eat. The hunter is considered to be in a lower social class and he thinks it’s wrong to kill more birds than is necessary for your survival and cut down the trees that they live in. The identity issue of “gender” in regards to killing animals is also explored in the text. The Judge’s daughter is depicted as “unconsciously rejoicing in the escape of the buck,” portraying women as against killing animals (7). Men, on the other hand, are mostly depicted as rejoicing in the death of animals. Depending on a man’s “social class,” however, he may have different views on what is a justified killing of an animal. Although a person’s social class affects how they will react to an animal’s death, the deaths of the pigeons, and the remorseful reactions of many of those involved, validates the commonality of experience shared by humans and nonhuman entities alike. Their remorseful reaction validates that no matter what species you are, every living creature deserves the chance to live and not be slaughtered for the selfish reasons of any one species.

Cooper, James F. “Ch. 1, 21, 22.” The Pioneers. Dodd, Mead &, 1958. 1-16, 234-255. Print.