Monday, January 12, 2009

Natty Bumppo's "natur": The anxiety of bearing no cross

Illustration depicting the aged Natty Bumppo's first appearance, silhouetted against an enormous setting sun, in Cooper's The Prairie (1827). Image found here.

I know, I know: I said I was reading Cooper so you didn't have to. But no one said anything about shielding you from reading about Cooper.

Over at Domestic Issue there's a long post that meditates on the word and phrase you see in its title. What follows is the core of the post:

At the beginning of this post, I wondered whether, by rendering Bumppo’s pronunciation of the word as “natur,” Cooper might want to suggest something more existential about his protagonist: that he at some level feels some lack in his nature that puts him at risk of being alienated from the people with whom he claims a racial kinship. It’s here that I would like to engage in a bit more speculation: that the key to Bumppo’s anxiety is suggested by a pun, which may or may not be intentional on Cooper’s part, in Bumppo’s saying that his “blood bears no cross”: that is, that while Bumppo believes in God and “Providence,” it would be a mistake to identify him as a Christian–at least, as that term is understood by the other whites in the novel. At a time when religious affiliation, a community’s being held together and affirming its members via a shared faith in God–and, more precisely, a shared expression of that faith via theology and doctrine–was an accepted part of communal life and was fully embraced by almost everyone, it is not too excessive to suggest the possibility that Bumppo’s spiritual estrangement from his fellows compels him to affirm his kinship via his consanguinity–his “natur”–all the while fearing that even consanguinity might not be sufficient.
There's also a brief guest appearance by a naked and emaciated Cabeza de Vaca. Really now: How can you resist that teaser?

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