Date of Award

5-18-2002

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

This thesis deals with James Fenimore Cooper's beliefs regarding the strengths and weaknesses of American democracy as expressed through his fiction. While many critics feel Cooper's belief in the American system soured in his later years, this thesis seeks to prove he not only remained consistent in his views, but that those views, while at times critical of American politics, were largely optimistic.

This thesis will focus on two early novels, The Pioneers (1823), and The Last of the Mohicans (1826), as well as one of Cooper’s last novels, The Crater (1847). In both the early novels as well as in The Crater, Cooper seeks to display the weaknesses in the American systems of democracy and capitalism through discussions centering on the land and the law. In both The Pioneers, and Mohicans, Cooper focuses on the ownership of the land and its resources as well as on the right to make laws and govern one's own destiny. In The Crater, Cooper endorses his belief in America's governmental and economic systems, as well as clarifies his fears if those systems go unchecked. As well, Cooper offers in The Crater a unique solution of faith as a way to check potential abuses while protecting the integrity of liberty.

Cooper's optimism is shown through his belief that his criticism of capitalism and demagoguery, while not always understood or well-received, were necessary in order to preserve a nation he felt had great strength and potential.

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