Places: The Pioneers

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1823

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1793

Places DiscussedTempleton

Templeton. Pioneers, TheFictional New York frontier town in and around which all the events of the novel take place. It is modeled on Cooperstown, New York, which was founded in the 1780’s by James Fenimore Cooper’s father William and is the town in which James was reared. In his introduction to the novel, Cooper locates Templeton in the real county of Otsego which lies in “those low spurs of the Alleghenies, which cover the midland counties of New York.” Templeton is on the southern edge of Otsego Lake (as is Cooperstown), one of the sources of the Susquehanna River, and was founded by Marmaduke Temple, the town’s judge and patriarch. Clearly in the early stages of development, the town itself consists of only about fifty buildings, most of them unfinished. Through these buildings, Cooper reveals a society struggling to put into practice democratic principles. On one hand, the buildings exemplify the “composite order,” a mixture of seemingly incongruous parts built on principles of utility rather than beauty. In a fledgling community consisting of people from a variety of backgrounds and under threat from nature, the settlers must base their lives, politically, legally, morally, and physically, on what works rather than on tradition and what has worked in the past. The “composite order,” then, is at the heart of democratic egalitarianism and individualism and is reflected in such buildings as the Bold Dragoon and the church. These buildings serve different needs, but both are necessary to town life and both accommodate a variety of social classes, religions, and political stances, coexisting with minimal conflict. However, the superior quality of three or four of the buildings, the dwellings of Templeton’s most prestigious citizens, reveals the residues of a class structure not entirely eliminated by the inception of democracy.

Judge Temple’s house

Judge Temple’s house. Home of Marmaduke Temple; the grandest building in Templeton. Marmaduke’s house stands on several acres, on which grow fruit trees, lending a sense of advanced cultivation to the dwelling and to Marmaduke himself. Adding to this sense of superiority is a line of Lombardy poplars which had to have been imported because they are not native to America. If the grounds on which the house is located suggest the elite status of Marmaduke, the architectural structure of the house reflects those democratic principles of the “composite order.” Furthermore, the house stands in stark contrast with Natty’s humble hut, wherein dwell, at one time or another, a variety of characters, each having his own claim to the land now owned by Marmaduke. It becomes apparent, then, that Marmaduke, the principal occupant of the grandest house in Templeton, the legal authority in town, and the owner of ten thousand acres in and around the town, must learn to provide justice for the “composite order” rather than succumb to motivations of self-interest. Scenes related to this issue of democratic justice as opposed to self-interest occur in the courtroom during Natty’s trial.

Mount Vision

Mount Vision. Tallest mountain among those surrounding Templeton. This is the site from which Marmaduke first views the valley wherein Templeton will be located. This is also the location of Indian John’s death and the place in which a compromise, in the form of marriage, between the former British owners of the land and new American owners, is reached. Thus the land becomes the possession of those who will further the cause of democracy.

BibliographyClark, Robert, ed. James Fenimore Cooper: New Critical Essays. London: Vision, 1985. Three essays on The Pioneers, addressing Cooper’s representation of Native American languages as elements of the “frontier,” the importance of game laws in defining American democracy, and issues of ownership and property. Somewhat dense, but illuminating.Darnell, Donald. “Manners on a Frontier: The Pioneers, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer.” In James Fenimore Cooper: Novelist of Manners. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993. Describes the variety of social classes presented in the novel and how the classes coexist without overt conflict. Against this backdrop, it is natural that the gentleman Oliver Edwards should emerge as leader.Franklin, Wayne. The New World of James Fenimore Cooper. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Proposes Cooper as a major and undervalued artist who used striking imaginative energy to address important issues. Examines Cooper’s comment that The Pioneers was written to show as false the idea that American society was unpolished.Philbrick, Thomas. “Cooper’s The Pioneers: Origins and Structure.” In James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Wayne Fields. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. Demonstrates how Cooper was inspired by descriptive poetry, specifically by James Thomson’s The Seasons (1730). This influence leads to Cooper’s images of natural change and to the corresponding themes of social change.Rans, Geoffrey. Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Novels: A Secular Reading. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Somewhat difficult. The introduction explains why interest in Cooper has lasted so long. The chapter “Interrupted Prelude” explores the ideologized landscape and characterization important to an understanding of all the Leatherstocking tales.
Categories: Places