Date of Award

11-22-2004

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

This thesis deals with the role Cooper's female characters play in his novels of manners and social class. Though Cooper is best known for his Leatherstocking Tales and other novels of romantic adventure, he was also a critic of American society. Through his novels Cooper clearly illustrated what he believed were the proper gender roles for men and women. He also used his novels to show his frustration about changes in societal order. His writing was his way of coping with America's shift of power from the landed genteel class to the urban factory owner class. This thesis incorporates four of Cooper's lesser studied novels: The Pathfinder. Homeward Bound, Home as Found, and The Ways of the Hours. In each of these novels Cooper uses gender roles and social class to express his views of the ideal American society. The gender roles Cooper establishes are clear. Female characters are only allowed to wield power in small, enclosed spaces, or in life or death situations. Occasionally Cooper may grant female characters more power, but only if they are away from society, in the wilderness for example, or when there is no chance of them usurping power from men. Male characters, on the other hand, control all social spaces and political power. Although many scholars either attack Cooper's novels of social criticism, calling them the rants of a bitter man, or ignore them altogether, this is a gross injustice. Cooper was not a bitter man. He was a man living through a time of social change. Unfortunately he was not ready or able to cope with those changes. His novels are his attempt to cope with social change as best he could.

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