The Myth of American Ability: Cooper’s Leatherstocking, the Frontier Tradition, and the Making of the American Canon

Thomas Jordan

Abstract


Key Words: Disability; Able-bodiedness; Frontier; Myth

James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales have achieved canonical literary status in the US academy and provide a representative example of the frontier tradition in American writing.  Through a close reading of Cooper’s first romance, I argue that America’s longstanding frontier narrative is predicated on the cultural projection of the able-bodied hero.  In The Pioneers, Cooper relies on dueling constructions of disability and able-bodiedness to distinguish his white hero from his friend and Native American counterpart, Chingachgook.  While Chingachgook’s disability provides the logic for his eventual suicide and removal from the narrative, Natty Bumppo’s strength of character becomes registered through the physical perfection of his body.  In celebrating Natty Bumppo’s passage from old age in The Pioneers to new youth in The Deerslayer, the critical tradition surrounding the Leatherstocking series has tacitly endorsed Cooper’s corporeal hierarchy, suggesting that the myth of the American frontier relies upon a much deeper myth of American ability.


Keywords


Disability; Able-bodiedness; Frontier; Myth

Full Text:

HTML


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v32i4.1739

Copyright (c) 2012 Thomas Jordan



Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact the web manager, Maureen Walsh. Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

ISSN: 2159-8371