The American Abraham: James Fenimore Cooper and the Frontier Patriarch

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In this book Warren Motley offers an original interpretation of James Fenimore Cooper's career. Whereas most studies of Cooper have centered on the figure of the Leatherstocking - that solitary model of the self-sufficient American hero untrammeled by civilization - this book examines Cooper's interest in the pioneer patriarchs who built new societies in the wilderness. Throughout his career Cooper explored an essential American problem: how to achieve the right balance between freedom and authority. He did this by retelling the story of the frontier settlement and thereby assessing its successes and failures. Like other writers in the decades before the Civil War, Cooper struggled with the legacy of the Revolutionary fathers - a legacy made more personal in Cooper's case by his father's role as a frontier land developer, judge, and Federalist politician. This book breaks new ground by relating Cooper's artistic development, and his ideas about authority in society, to his efforts to become independent of his father.