Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Florence Marsal / Jennifer Terni

Field of Study

Literatures, Cultures & Languages


Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


The Indian Between History and Fiction.

This thesis represents a comparative study between two works of fiction, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (1826) and The Orenda by Joseph Boyden (2013) and questions their use of history in the literary representation of the Indian.

The two stories take place during the 7-year war between the Hurons, allies of the French and the Iroquois, allies of the English. Both authors place the Indian world in the center of their novels, thus responding to a western fascination for the American-Indian.

The Last of the Mohicans, despite its historical accents, seem more intensely born out of the Cooper’s imagination, than out of his desire to talk about history. On the other hand, the Orenda offers a more realistic view of the interaction between whites and Indians. Then, comparing these two novels means confronting fiction and reality, fiction and history, myth and reality. It is the myth behind the image of the Indian that the thesis seeks to deconstruct to better undo its ethnocentric tendency perpetuated by and through literature.

Boyden’s Huron origins make him sensitive to the history of the Indians by the Indians and those who were in direct contact with them. He tries to adopt an Indian perspective by offering a style that uses actual voices borrowed from a report made by a missionary in the XVIIth-Century. His characters live through a degree of reality that does not exist in Cooper’s work. Thus, we see that for Boyden, Indian voices seem more realistic than Cooper. They resonate louder for readers of the XXIst-century. However, despite its attempt to make the Indian speak for himself The Orenda remains gated in the same ethnocentric illusion that in the end offers the same romantic image of the Indian that we find in Cooper’s novel.

The work of each book, be it an historical-fictional novel for Cooper or a biographical novel based on memories collected in three testimonies for Boyden, still bear a nostalgic view of the Indian, as it flows freely between two forms, two opposite direction, between fiction and history.

The thesis is divided into 3 questions:

- First, how do these novels whose action takes place in the past take an historical perspective while staying modern and contemporary fiction? Two centuries after the work of Cooper, Boyden's novel confirms that the genocidal past of the Indians still haunts the Western mind.

- Secondly, we consider the concept of acculturation and how it works in the two novels. Namely, how have Europeans used this process to erase Indian culture, to conquer and take over their territory. We see that this process of acculturation is tracked differently in the two novels.

- Thirdly, how novels such as these by James Fenimore Cooper and Joseph Boyden contributed anyway and at different degrees, to the firmly implanted romantic image of Native Americans?

To attempt to answer these questions is to acknowledge the constantly moving frontier between history and fiction, a place of uncertainty where we find the Indian from these two novels.

Major Advisor

Eliane DalMolin