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MonkeyNotes-The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
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Chapter 23

Summary

Duncan and David find themselves surrounded by Huron children from the village. The cry of the children alerts the warriors, who come out of their houses. Duncan and David move towards the main building where meetings are held. They are at first ignored by the elders and warriors there, then treated with suspicion, until Duncan manages to convince them that he is a doctor sent by the French to assist them.

At this moment, a group of hunters return with several human scalps. They also have two prisoners. One is supposed to compete in a race to a pole. Although he is agile, the others overtake him. He manages to reach the pole on time only because Duncan slyly trips the man closest to him. Duncan suddenly notices the prisoner to be Uncas. The women of the village deride Uncas but he remains calm. Everyone enters the council room. Uncas, it seems, is condemned to die, but he answers the Huron chief bravely, insisting that the men who set out after Hawkeye will never return alive. It turns out that Uncas has only been captured because he was chasing the other prisoner, who turns out to be a cowardly Huron. The attention now turns to this man. This is the Huron's third act of cowardice, and he is executed in a formal ceremony.


Notes

This chapter focuses on the Indian culture, which is tolerant of harmless and saintly men like David Gamut, but is quick to punish cowards. The justice is final and quick--death! Uncas is brave and cool throughout, ignoring the mocking of the women and responding to the challenges of the chief. Duncan too displays heroic levels of courage when he walks into the enemy camp absolutely unarmed and unguarded. He is also learning to survive. The Indians ask him why he has come to their village with paint on his body. He tells them that just as they don the clothes of the white man on entering a white camp, in the same way he has put the paint on in order to obey the customs of the Indians. The Indians are impressed with this answer.

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