Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier

Charles Frazier has spent most of his life living in North Carolina. The story, Cold Mountain is based on the same mountains where the author spent his childhood. The story borrows some details from the life of his great-great uncle W.P. Inman who like the author was a Confederate soldier. Inman was twice wounded and later, completely disillusioned with the war, deserted his regiment and tried to walk home to be reunited with his love, Ada.

Relevance of the Title

Cold Mountain is central to the story. It is the place to which Inman travels and it is the place where Ada believes her destiny lies. When Inman escapes from the field hospital where he is being treated for his war wounds, his aim is to reach Cold Mountain and be reunited with Ada, the woman he loves. The journey is neither simple nor straightforward. He meets some who help and some who harm. Nevertheless, it is the land which confronts him. Armed with a tattered copy of naturalist William Bartram’s Travels, he plods on trying to understand the land’s enormity, its freshness and its soul. Inman’s story intertwines with that of Ada’s. While he travels to wards Cold Mountain, she travels too though her journey is on a higher plane.

Main Themes

Alienation and Isolation

All the main characters face alienation and isolation in their quest to find meaning in life. Inman is alienated by the cruelty and hardships that is part of an army; he escapes from it only to find it among other people. But it does not destroy his hope for the future when he will be reunited with Ada. Ada too has her share of troubles. She is not happy in Charleston society with its artifices and pretences. But when she comes to manage her father’s farm, she feels alienated there too. Her friendship with Ruby also has its rough patches as they are very different by nature.

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Intuition and Knowledge

The principal characters, Inman and Ada have a personal philosophy that is based on intuition rather than formal dogmas that religion provides. For people living in close communion with nature, formal Christianity seems artificial and arrogant. The wisdom provided by ancient civilizations seems to provide better answers. As they live in the wild, Ada and Inman shape their own religion. For Ada as the daughter of a preacher, this is a remarkable break from the tenets that have been part of her ethos.

Characters

Inman

Inman is the male protagonist of the novel. The story follows Inman’s journey as he escapes the violence and killing that have been part of his days as a Confederate soldier. He has spent many troubled days in past, but in close contact with nature, he finds solace. He hopes that somewhere humanity is still capable of better things than war and hatred. His journey is towards that better world; Ada is part of that pure world.

Ada

Ada Monroe is the female protagonist and it is her perspective that informs our knowledge of Cold Mountain. Ada is educated, intelligent and very private as a person. She had felt restricted by the artificial Charleston society. When she comes to Cold Mountain with her father, she does not quite know what to expect. She has to face the death of her father which leaves her penniless and a farm that she has manage with no previous skills. In Cold Mountain also society leaves her dissatisfied as she resents its restrictive nature.

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Ruby Thewes

Ruby is a foil to Ada in many ways. Ruby is very knowledgeable about nature; she learned to survive in the wild as her father was a habitual drinker who used to leave her to her devices for weeks while out drinking. Ruby is not in awe of Ada but demands that she be treated as an equal by Ada. When her father comes back broken, she takes care of him.

Summary

Traumatized by the war and recovering from wounds sustained during it, Inman, a Confederate soldier lies in a field hospital. He now considers the war pointless and wants to escape from it. All he desires is to be reunited with Ada, the woman he loves. Ada lives in the Cold Mountain, a remote area in North Carolina. He writes her a letter telling that he will be soon returning home. One day when he perceives an opportunity, he escapes from the hospital and sets out to reach home.

The novel now takes up Ada’s story. There is no place where she feels at home. Having left Charleston behind, she is now in the Black Cove Farm where she faces a bleak future. She has just lost her father and is penniless. There is the farm to manage but she has no idea how or where to begin. She once looks into a foretelling well which throws up an image of a man travelling through thick woods but she does not understand its significance. Kind neighbors send her a local girl, Ruby who can help her in running the farm. Ada and Ruby slowly find common ground and become friends.

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During his journey home, Inman encounters danger at every turn. There are Confederate soldiers pursuing him. He also runs into a dissolute preacher who is prevented from murdering his pregnant girlfriend in the nick of time by Inman. But wherever he goes, Veasey, the preacher causes trouble for Inman; at the same time, he is stuck with him. One day, they help a local remove a dead bull from a stream which runs through his land. Supposedly as a thankful gesture, he, Junior, invites them home. But he turns out to be a weird man. He drugs Inman and forces him to marry his wife in a concocted ceremony. The woman, it is suggested by the author, could have been a cannibal. In the morning, Junior tips off the Confederate soldiers about the presence of Inman and Veasey in his house. They are arrested and made to march back to the camp from where Inman had escaped. Half way, they decide to kill them instead. While Veasey dies, Inman only takes a head wound.

Ada and Ruby do good work at the farm but Ada is disturbed by the lack of news from Inman. Once when on a trip to the town of Cold Mountain, Stobrod, Ruby’s father appears. He is a drunkard who leads a nomadic life. During his wanderings, Inman meets several people who help him. During their time there, Ada and Ruby hear stories of the escaped soldier who they think is Inman. Finally Ada and Inman meet and live in a cave for four days. But soon after, they are attacked by the Confederates who shoot and kill Inman.

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