One of the themes in James Fenimore Cooper's Pioneers is that of violence. The presence of John Mohegan reminds the reader that this new civilization of America was built on the blood of its native inhabitants. The people of Templeton revel in waging war on the nature around them, mercilessly slaughtering birds and fish. But violence is not only man-made; it permeates nature as well. The transition from winter into spring is likened to a war between the seasons. Using warlike imagery when discussing the passing of seasons, Cooper develops the theme of violence in The Pioneers.
Cooper begins the passage with a series of words often associated with clandestine activity to describe the actions of the spring airs. The spring airs do not merely blow; they are "stealing along the valley," and are acting "covertly." The spring airs are trying to hide their actions from someone or something. The word "covert" conjures up images of spies and other secret operations often associated with war and wartime. The spring airs are portrayed as secretive messengers silently rallying troops for a war.
Indeed, the spring is attempting to raise troops for a fight: "the airs of spring seemed . . . to rouse the dormant powers of the vegetable world." By referring to the "dormant powers of the vegetable world," Cooper elicits images of superpowers preparing for war. The spring airs are therefore attempting to incite these powers to wage war on winter. An ally is even called upon: the spring airs are "in unison with an invigorating sun." The language of the passage describes a scene where the spring airs and the sun are allied to depose winter. These images describe an impending war, adding to the violent tension in the novel.
Winter, however, is not sitting idly by, capitulating to spring. It attacks with "surly blasts from the north wind." The word "blasts" connotes the usage of firepower, like blasts from a cannon or guns. These blasts overpower the spring airs by "eras[ing] every impression left by their gentle adversaries." The north wind is destroying the invasion of the spring airs much like one side of a war destroys another. A violent struggle for supremacy is taking place between spring and winter.
Spring, however, scores a victory by driving away the snow. But the disappearing snows reveal a landscape "spotted with the dark and charred stumps that had, the preceding season, supported some of the proudest trees of the forest." These tree stumps are like tombstones sticking out of the ground marking where the warrios of the "vegetable world" have fallen. This image of the field also resembles images of a battlefield strewn with the bodies of dead soldiers. The fact that these stumps have become a monument to the "proudest trees of the forest" mirrors the common American idea of the fallen war hero: dying in the battlefield makes you an honorable and distinguished person. Spring's victory reveals the heavy losses that spring has endured.
Cooper uses language more commonly associated with war and battle to describe the transition from spring to winter. Winter and spring are adversaries vying for control of the world. Both sides suffer casualties, although spring is apparently losing the war at this point in time. By using such violent terms to describe such a natural event, Cooper highlights the theme of violence in The Pioneers.