Plot Summary With Analysis
Each of these 32 chapters is introduced with an epigraph from a range of literary texts including works by Shakespeare and Byron.
Summary – Chapter One
The novel begins with the explanation that it is only two centuries since the Dutch began settling in New York and ‘rescuing the region from the savage state’. This ‘tale’ is concerned with the years between 1740 and 1745 and the focus then moves to two men who have lost their way in the forest.
One is referred to as ‘the liberated forester’ (Hurry Harry) and he calls out to the other, Deerslayer (Natty Bumppo), that he is in an opening. They stop to eat and the third-person narrator intrudes to describe the men as such: ‘Each of whom is destined to enact no insignificant part in our legend.’
Hurry Harry’s real name is Henry March and is also referred to as Hurry Skurry. He is six foot four and described as ‘good-humoured and handsome’. Deerslayer differs in stature and character. He is six feet ‘in his moccasins’, but light and slender, and has integrity. Both men are young, as Hurry is 26 or 28 and Deerslayer is some years younger. The latter’s ‘arms and accoutrements’ are in good condition and well-arranged, whereas Hurry is more slovenly in his appearance.
Their conversation turns to the Delawares and how Deerslayer has lived with these Native Americans for 10 years. Hurry then asks if he has ever shot a human and Deerslayer admits he has not. He says how the Delawares have been peaceable while he has been with them and has not had to do this.
He tells Hurry that he is meeting his friend soon and they discuss who owns the area around the lake. Hurry tells him that floating Tom Hutter has a claim to it as he has lived there for 15 years. He adds that there is a rumor that Hutter used to be a companion of Kidd (the pirate) in his youth and also informs Deerslayer that he witnessed Hutter laying his dead wife Judith to rest in the lake.
Hutter has a daughter who is also called Judith, and she is aged about 20 years old. Deerslayer says the Delawares have spoken of her and he tells Hurry that he does not think she would please his fancy. Hurry replies that he thinks he is too young for her anyway.
Hurry admits that he would have married her but for two points: her ‘lightmindedness’ and the thought that she might not want him. He has also seen the ‘airs’ she gives herself in front of some of the officers. Deerslayer advises him to not think of her anymore and Hurry says this is easier said than done.
He also reveals that she has a sister, Hetty, who is much more dutiful but ‘ignorant’. Deerslayer says how God has such as her in his special care: ‘The Redskins honor and respect them who are so gifted, knowing that the Evil Spirit delights more to dwell in an artful body, than in one that has no cunning to work on.’
The conversation returns to Judith and Hurry says how he has not seen her for six months and hopes she has not married someone else. He claims he will kill him if she has. He also says that if he did so, nobody would know it was him, but Deerslayer disagrees: ‘I would dare to speak truth, Hurry, consarning you, or any man that ever lived.’ Hurry looks at him in amazement and then grabs him around the throat and shakes him. Deerslayer is not intimidated, though, and tells him he will shake nothing but truth from him. Hurry is astonished and says he thought they were friends and will not tell him another of his secrets.
Deerslayer reminds him they are not beyond ‘human laws’ even though they live in the woods. Hurry accuses him of being ‘a Moravian’ and not the ‘fair-minded, plain-dealing hunter’ he pretended to be. Deerslayer defends himself and says his (Hurry’s) show of anger ‘proves how little’ he has ‘sojourned with the red man’. He then offers Hurry his hand and says they will not say or think of it anymore. Hurry is surprised again and laughs and accepts his hand. As they talk, Deerslayer says how he is interested in Hetty. After their meal, they set off again to see these sisters.
Analysis – Chapter One
As this first chapter progresses, the differences between Hurry and Deerslayer are established. Hurry is seen to be quick-tempered and a law unto himself, whereas Deerslayer is relatively more pious and concerned with morality. It is also strongly suggested that he has been influenced by both Native American traditions and Christian missionaries (who are referred to as Moravians).
The Hutter family is also introduced at this early stage and both men are seen to judge the morality of Judith in varying degrees. Hetty, however, is regarded by Deerslayer as one that is of more interest as according to the codes he has been raised with her ignorance means that she is more distanced from evil.
This novel’s references to the ‘savage’ are also introduced here as is the idea of rescuing the land from the so-called savage. As one reads this novel, it is possible to see an equivocation between the rights of Native Americans and an unquestioning racism that sets white people above others. This inconsistency should be critiqued by the reader.