Cold Mountain

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Editor: Anne Marie Hacht
Date: 2006
Literary Themes for Students: War and Peace
Publisher: Gale
Series: Literary Themes for Students
Document Type: Brief biography; Work overview
Pages: 15
Content Level: (Level 5)

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About this Person
Born: November 04, 1950 in Asheville, North Carolina, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Novelist
Other Names: Frazier, Charles Robinson; Frazier, Charles R.
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Page 154

Cold Mountain


Charles Frazier's first novel, Cold Mountain, met with substantial critical and popular acclaim immediately upon its publication in 1997. Inspired by family stories about W. P. Inman, Frazier's great-great-uncle, Cold Mountain combines fact and fiction to tell a tale of love and hope against the backdrop of the American Civil War, which took place between 1861 and 1865. Frazier's Inman is a wounded Confederate soldier who deserts from the army and walks across North Carolina to Cold Mountain, his childhood home, where he hopes to find his beloved Ada Monroe, a minister's daughter, waiting for him. Along the way, Inman endures many harsh experiences while trying to avoid the Home Guard, local troops charged with capturing and returning deserters—also known as "outliers"—using whatever brutal means necessary. Meanwhile, Ada, a sheltered city girl, must learn to manage her farm after her father's death. Ada's trials and tribulations are made somewhat easier to bear by Ruby, an illiterate mountain girl who offers to help Ada in exchange for a place to stay.

Frazier's novel is set during the Civil War, but the author focuses on the obscure soldiers and civilians who struggle to survive the violence and social disorder, rather than on the major battles and famous leaders generally encountered in history books. Frazier depicts the war's grim consequences on people who are far removed from the great issues that led to the Page 155  |  Top of ArticleCivil War, giving his readers some idea of the devastation visited upon the average people who bore most of the burdens of the conflict. In doing so, Frazier illustrates the theme that the horrors of warfare can be survived if people are motivated by the healing powers of love, optimism, and faith.

One element of Cold Mountain that makes the book unique is the way the author focuses on relatively unknown aspects of the Civil War. While many novels have dealt with major battles, few have depicted the violence and terror experienced behind the lines. The Home Guard is supposed to be a supporting unit of the Confederate army, yet it essentially wages war on civilians, most of whom are at least nominally loyal to the Confederacy. Members of the Home Guard include some of the roughest characters in the region, and they use their membership in the organization as a pretext to rob their neighbors and settle personal grievances while simultaneously avoiding regular military service. At times Union soldiers are a threat to Inman on his journey home, but most of the fighting and killing is committed by and against Inman's fellow Southerners.

Although the novel achieves much of its effectiveness through its association with actual historical events, Cold Mountain is interesting for reasons other than its intriguing plotline. Frazier's unique style of writing proves another factor in the book's success. The author adopts the unusual style of omitting quotation marks around dialogue, and he frequently uses sentence fragments to convey information. Yet such grammatically incorrect techniques do not interfere with the story, and the author's ability to evoke intense emotions and events is strengthened by his vivid use of sensory imagery.

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Charles Frazier

Born in North Carolina in 1950, Charles Frazier grew up in the vicinity of where the novel takes place. He heard stories about W. P. Inman from his own father, who carried on a tradition of handing down the family's oral history. After earning degrees from the University of North Carolina and Appalachian State University, Frazier completed his Ph.D. in English at the University of South Carolina in 1986. Frazier taught at colleges in Colorado and North Carolina before deciding to devote himself to writing full-time when he was about forty years old.

Inspired by stories about his ancestor and encouraged by his friend Kaye Gibbons, herself a successful Southern writer, Frazier spent nearly seven years crafting his first novel, Cold Mountain. Previously the author had published a few short stories and some nonfiction books, none of which brought him any great degree of success. Cold Mountain won the National Book Award in 1997.

As of 2005, Frazier lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his wife, Catherine, and their daughter. When not writing, Frazier raises horses with his family.


Chapter 1: The Shadow of a Crow

Cold Mountain opens in a Confederate army hospital. W. P. Inman, the novel's protagonist, is recovering from a painful neck wound. He chats with a blind man who sells peanuts to the Page 156  |  Top of Article
Charles Frazier Charles Frazier AP/Wide World Photos recovering soldiers, and he reads from a book by naturalist William Bartram to pass the time. He recalls the Battle of Fredericksburg and other incidents of the war. He writes a letter to Ada, the girl he loves back home, telling her he intends to come back to Cold Mountain, their home in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Following the death of another wounded soldier in the hospital who spends his time trying to translate passages of ancient Greek, Inman decides the time has come to go home.

Chapter 2: The Ground Beneath her Hands

Ada Monroe is introduced trying to write a letter. Her father, a minister, has died, and she is trying without success to maintain their farm in Black Cove, which is in the shadow of Cold Mountain. Raised as her father's companion, Ada has no idea how to perform the practical work of running a farm, and all the hired help has abandoned her. Ada spends her days listlessly, depressed at her solitude and frustrated that her considerable education includes no useful skills. From time to time, she visits her father's grave and her neighbors, Esco and Sally Swanger. On one of these visits, Esco tells Ada that she can see her future if she leans backwards over a well and uses a mirror to reflect the water. Ada skeptically tries the stunt, and she is shocked when she catches a brief glimpse of a dark figure against a light background.

Later, Ada recalls the circumstances that brought her to Cold Mountain from her birthplace in Charleston, South Carolina. Monroe, her father, suffered from tuberculosis and needed the fresh mountain air for his health. Ada is surprised by a visit from Ruby, an illiterate mountain girl who offers to help Ada run the farm. Ruby demonstrates her practical skills by effortlessly killing a rooster that has been annoying Ada. They eat the troublesome bird for dinner.

Chapter 3: The Color of Despair

Inman walks in the direction of Cold Mountain, making slow and painful progress. At a small crossroads village, three roughnecks start a fight with him, but Inman escapes. A girl agrees to ferry Inman across the Cape Fear River, but during the crossing, the men Inman fought against earlier arrive and start shooting. Inman and the girl eventually escape, and the fugitive soldier spends the night in the woods.

Chapter 4: Verbs, All of them Tiring

Ruby and Ada make an inventory of things to do around the farm. In need of cash, Ada decides to sell her piano. She recollects being drawn to Inman at a Christmas party her father hosted just before the war. Ruby tells Ada how she grew up in utter poverty. Her only family was her shiftless father Stobrod, a drunk who frequently abandoned her for long periods of time. Having largely raised herself, Ruby is not upset that her father joined the Confederate army as a fiddler, then disappeared entirely.

Chapter 5: Like Any Other Thing, a Gift

During a dark night, Inman comes across a weeping man trying to throw a bundle into a river. Inman realizes the bundle is a young girl. The man is a preacher named Veasey, and he intends to drown the girl because she is pregnant with his baby, even though he is engaged to another woman. Inman ties the preacher to a tree with wire, and leaves a note explaining the situation for whoever finds him there. Inman takes the girl, Laura, back to her home. The next day he comes across a party of gypsies and Page 157  |  Top of Articleperformers, with whom he spends the night. He dreams of Ada.

Chapter 6: Ashes of Roses

Ada and Ruby are planting their winter garden when a wagon approaches the farm. It is a party of women and children, accompanied by a pair of slaves, who have left Tennessee in order to reach relatives in South Carolina. Union soldiers have burned their home and stolen their valuables, so Ada and Ruby give the refugees food, shelter, and directions. Later Ruby and Ada have a picnic in the apple orchard. Ruby teaches Ada about nature, while Ada reads Homer's Odyssey to Ruby. Ada tells Ruby about her last visit to Charleston, where she met a young man named Blount who admitted he was afraid of dying in the war. His fears were valid, as Ada later learns Blount was killed in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Chapter 7: Exile and Brute Wandering

Inman again encounters the preacher, Veasey, who tells how he was beaten, stripped, and run out of town by his former neighbors after they discovered Inman's note. Veasey accompanies Inman, and they eat honey from beehives they discover at an abandoned house. Later they spot a large catfish trapped in a shallow creek, and after Veasey fails to catch it with his bare hands, Inman shoots the fish in the head. Over dinner, Inman relates the Battle of the Crater, near Petersburg, Virginia.

The next day the travelers stop at a country store, which Veasey tries to rob. Inman interrupts the crime, and they spend the night in a shabby roadside inn. Veasey is nearly killed in a fight over a black prostitute named Big Tildy, and Inman stays in a hayloft with Odell, a peddler. Odell claims he was born into a wealthy family, but he was disowned when he fell in love with a beautiful slave girl. As a punishment, his father sold the slave away from their home. Prematurely aged and impoverished, Odell now wanders the South trying to find his lost love.

Chapter 8: Source and Root

Ada and Ruby walk into town. They eat ice cream with Monroe's friend Mrs. McKennet, and then listen to a prisoner's tale of being hunted down by the Home Guard. Teague, the leader of the Home Guard, and his men killed the prisoner's father and two other outliers. On the way home, the women spot a blue heron. Ruby reveals that, according to Stobrod, Ruby's mother claimed a heron was Ruby's actual father. Ada tells how Monroe courted her mother, Claire. Monroe had wanted to marry Claire when they were young, but she chose another man to be her husband. The marriage was unhappy and childless. Nearly twenty years later, Claire's husband died and she finally married Monroe. The couple were together only two years when Claire died giving birth to Ada, inspiring Monroe to devote all his spare time to his daughter.

Chapter 9: To Live Like a Gamecock

Inman and Veasey come across a woodsman's saw, which Veasey takes despite Inman's insistence that the owner will soon return. They encounter a man trying to move a dead bull out of a creek, so they help him with the grotesque project. The grateful man, Junior, thanks them by inviting them to stay at the bizarrely crooked shack he shares with his wife, her sisters, and several wild children. When Junior leaves to check on a horse, Inman drinks homemade liquor with the women. The liquor is apparently drugged, and in his delirium, Inman listens while Lila, one of the women, tells about a man and his dog that Junior once killed. According to Lila, their ghosts are the source of a strange yellow light that appears in the woods. Lila and her sisters try to seduce Inman, but Junior bursts in on the scene and threatens to kill the dazed Inman unless he marries Lila. Junior orders Lila to wake Veasey, who has passed out from excessive drinking. He then reveals that he captures outliers for the Home Guard, who pay five dollars per man, and that a patrol is waiting for them.

Inman and Veasy are tied to a line of prisoners, and wait while the patrolmen and the sisters engage in a nightmarish orgy by firelight. Junior forces Veasey to conduct a wedding service between Inman and Lila. Finally Inman and Veasey, along with the other prisoners, are escorted away by the Home Guard.

For several days the captives are marched east. Eventually the patrol decides it is not worth the trouble to complete the journey, so they decide to execute the prisoners. Inman suffers a head wound, but he survives both the massacre and the rooting of wild hogs, which arrive to feed on the poorly buried corpses in a shallow grave. A friendly slave takes in the wounded outlier, Page 158  |  Top of Articlegiving Inman an accurately drawn map to help him find his way home. Before heading toward home, however, Inman returns to the crooked shack and beats Junior to death.

Chapter 10: In Place of the Truth

After the women work on a fence, Ruby sets a trap to catch whatever has been stealing corn from their corncrib. Ruby goes to trade apples for vegetables with Esco Swanger, and Ada builds a scarecrow. Ada finally receives Inman's letter. She stares at his picture and remembers the last time she saw him. Inman had come to bid her farewell when he went off to war, and he told her a story related to him by an old Cherokee woman. In the story, the Indians had a chance to pass into paradise, but a doubter among their people ruined the opportunity for everyone. After an awkward goodbye, Inman departed. Following a sleepless night fretting about the incident, Ada went to town and sent Inman off with a proper kiss.

Chapter 11: The Doing of It

Inman travels through a valley, making slow progress while avoiding the Home Guard. He encounters an old woman baiting a bird trap in the woods. She offers to feed him dinner, killing one of her many goats for food when they arrive at the camp she has fashioned from her old wagon. The goat woman is a sort of gypsy who lives on her own and makes medicine from wild roots and herbs. She also sells religious tracts and has become something of a naturalist, filling many volumes with sketches and descriptions of local plants and animals. She questions Inman about his reasons for fighting, and figures out he is a deserter. While she tends his wounds, Inman tells her about Ada. Inman leaves after a few days of rest, taking with him a picture of a flower drawn by the goat woman.

Chapter 12: Freewill Savages

Ruby gets up to fix breakfast and notices a strange man caught in the corncrib trap. It turns out to be her father, Stobrod, who has deserted the Confederate army. The women give him breakfast and Stobrod leaves, but he returns that night for dinner and shows them his homemade fiddle. Stobrod explains that his experiences in the war have changed him, especially an incident in which he was asked to play his fiddle for a dying girl. Knowing only six tunes, Stobrod ran out of material before the young girl passed, so he had to make up his own music on the spot. Inspired to take his music seriously, Stobrod spent most of his time learning new songs and composing some of his own. Ruby does not believe her father, so he plays one of his tunes, which greatly impresses Ada. Although Ruby does not think he has changed his ways, Ada believes Stobrod is a changed man.

Chapter 13: Bride Bed Full of Blood

While wandering through the mountains, Inman finds himself being followed by a strange little man. Eventually Inman confronts the man, who introduces himself as Potts and says there is a woman nearby who might be of assistance to him. Inman makes his way to the lonely cabin and meets Sara, a beautiful young woman who is barely eighteen and has a newborn baby. Sara feeds Inman and cleans his clothes. Her husband John has been killed in the war. Alone and with no family left to help her, Sara is fighting a losing battle against hunger and hardship. Inman beds down in the corncrib for the night, but Sara invites him to stay in her bed, provided he does not try to touch her. As they lie together, Sara tells Inman her story. She falls soundly asleep, but Inman rests uneasily.

The next morning Sara quickly ushers him out of the cabin when she hears someone approaching on horseback. Three Union soldiers confront Sara. When she tells them she has no money or valuables, they tie her up and lay her baby on the freezing ground. Horrified by Sara's screams and the baby's cries, Inman tries to find a position from which he can shoot the soldiers, but he can find no way to help his hostess. Finally, the soldiers untie Sara and take her few chickens and one hog, essentially condemning her and her baby to starvation. Inman trails the soldiers to their camp, kills them, and brings the animals back to Sara's cabin. Together Inman and Sara slaughter and dress the hog, and that night Sara sings sad songs to comfort her sickly baby.

Chapter 14: A Satisfied Mind

The fourteenth chapter of the novel opens with Ada and Ruby harvesting apples and putting them to various uses. Ada starts to write a letter to her cousin in Charleston, but she decides not to send it. She builds a fire outside to burn off scrap wood, and Stobrod and another man stop by for a visit. The younger man is Pangle, Page 159  |  Top of Articlea banjo player. Although he is mentally impaired, Pangle is an innately talented musician. Stobrod decides they would make a fine duo of professional musicians. Ruby returns from a trading errand, and they cook meat and listen to the musicians play.

After dinner, Stobrod asks the women for shelter, explaining that the outlier band that Pangle and he have taken up with has become dangerous. Ruby prefers not to help, but Ada sends them away with a promise to figure something out. After watching a lunar eclipse, Ada is inspired to write Inman a note consisting of a line from one of Stobrod's songs: "Come back to me is my request." She later sends the note to the hospital, not knowing that Inman is already on his way home.

Chapter 15: A Vow to Bear

Inman encounters a woman crying for her dead daughter. He builds a tiny coffin for the child and buries her in a small family plot. The grateful woman cooks him a meal. Some days later, Inman comes across three skeletons hanging near a spring. While spending the night on a rocky ledge, Inman encounters a mother bear and her cub. A series of dreams in which he becomes a bear himself has convinced Inman never to harm bears, so he tries to leave quietly. Unfortunately, the mother bear lunges at him, and when he ducks out of her way, she falls to her death on the rocks below. Having no way to prevent the orphaned cub from starving to death, Inman shoots it and eats it for dinner. He becomes depressed after the incident, but Inman's spirits rise when he spots Cold Mountain in the distance and realizes he is almost home.

Chapter 16: Naught and Grief

Stobrod, Pangle, and a young deserter from Georgia become violently sick from eating a deer carcass they found frozen in the woods. Ada and Ruby have agreed to hide food for them sometimes, but it is too dangerous for the men to visit the farm. The Georgia boy wanders off to relieve himself, and while he is gone Teague and the Home Guard arrive. Stobrod tries to bluff Teague about the location of the other outliers, but Pangle innocently reveals the truth. After making Stobrod and Pangle play some tunes, Teague lines the musicians up against a tree and prepares to execute them. Teague's men are unnerved by Pangle's constant grinning, so they make him hold his hat in front of his face before they start shooting.

Chapter 17: Black Bark in Winter

The Georgia boy runs to the farm, where he tells Ada and Ruby what has happened. The women decide to find and bury Stobrod and Pangle, but the deserter refuses to accompany them. After spending a snowy night among some large boulders with their horse Ralph, the women find Pangle's body. However, Stobrod is nowhere to be found. The women bury Pangle, and then Ada notices Stobrod nearby, seriously injured but still alive. The women move Stobrod to an abandoned Cherokee village, where they make camp and try to save his life. Fresh snow starts to fall on Cold Mountain, and it will not let up for several days.

Chapter 18: Footsteps in the Snow

Inman arrives at Pangle's grave. He has already been by Ada's farm, and the Georgia boy who is holed up there has explained recent events. Meanwhile, Ada shoots a gun for the first time, successfully using it to bring down a pair of wild turkeys. The gunfire attracts Inman's attention. He makes his way to the spot where Ruby and Ada are studying the turkeys. At first Ada does not recognize the ragged and weary outlier, but as he turns to go, Ada finally realizes that it is Inman. As they go to the Cherokee village together, Ada talks to Inman in a calming voice that assures him everything is going to be fine.

Chapter 19: The Far Side of Trouble

The group eats breakfast in the hut. Stobrod is feverish and delirious. The women prepare a second hut, where they clean the turkeys and discuss future plans. After a long nap Inman awakens, gives Stobrod some water, and then makes his way to the second hut. Ruby leaves Ada and Inman alone, and Inman shows Ada his volume of Bartram—one of the comforts that sustained him during his time away from her. Still nervous and awkward in each other's company, the couple discusses many subjects except their feelings for each other. Finally, Inman says that time has been wasted but they must move on. He gently kisses the back of Ada's neck in a subtle declaration of love.

The next day Inman and Ada go hunting, and Ada tells him that she wants Ruby to stay on at Black Cove. The couple discovers an ancient Page 160  |  Top of Articlearrowhead lodged in a poplar tree, and they promise to visit the spot from time to time to track the progress of the tree growing over the intrusive object. That night Ada and Inman make love, spending the night together in the second hut. Afterward, they discuss their plans and contemplate their future together.

Chapter 20: Spirits of Crows, Dancing

Three days have passed, and the snow is finally letting up. Inman and Ada decide that his best course of action is to rest up, then cross the mountains into Tennessee, where he will sign the oath of allegiance to the United States. Two days later, Stobrod is well enough to travel, so the group decides to return to Black Cove. Ruby and Ada go first. Inman and Stobrod, whose injuries require him to ride Ralph, follow not far behind. Soon after the men pass Pangle's grave, Teague and the Home Guard accost them. Inman slaps Ralph's rump and the horse flees, carrying Stobrod to safety. A gunfight ensues. Inman manages to kill Teague and most of his men, but one young blonde boy manages to escape into the nearby trees. Inman tries to reason with the blonde youth, but to no avail. The two pursue each other through the woods. Eventually, the blonde boy manages to shoot Inman. Hearing the shots, Ada runs back, passing Stobrod on the way. She finds Inman lying mortally wounded. As he dies in her arms, he dreams of a peaceful home and farm.


It is October of 1874, nearly ten years later. Ruby has married the Georgia boy, whose name is Reid, and they have three children together. Ada has a child of her own, a little girl conceived during Ada's brief time with Inman. The farm at Black Cove is prosperous, and as the residents sit down to an autumn picnic, Stobrod entertains them with songs from his fiddle.


The Odyssey

The structure of Cold Mountain recalls the organization of the Odyssey, the classic Greek epic attributed to the poet Homer. Like Homer's Odysseus, Charles Frazier's Inman finds the journey home from war as strange and dangerous as the war itself. Each protagonist encounters many difficulties on his journey home, including monsters (literal or figurative) and uncooperative natural phenomena. Both Odysseus and Inman are motivated by the love they feel for their partners, and both are weary of war's destructive toll.

By associating Inman with Odysseus, Frazier ties his protagonist into the epic tradition, a kind of storytelling in which heroic figures must overcome tremendous adversity in order to achieve their goals. Like Homer's epic, Frazier's novel considers the terrible cost of war—not only for the soldiers who fight, but also for the loved ones who wait, often in vain, for the soldiers to return. Odysseus and Inman are on quests for the peace and happiness warfare has denied them, and both experience events that indicate the gods themselves are determined to hamper their progress.

War and the Soul

Throughout the book, Frazier introduces characters whose souls have been shattered, scarred, or otherwise compromised by the tragic developments of the Civil War. Although Inman suffers from physical wounds, it is the damage to his spirit that most endangers him. Four years of brutal warfare, of fighting and killing, have scarred Inman's soul. He understands that only Ada's healing love will restore his ability to function after the war is over. Inman fears he will never recover the peace of mind of his younger self; so terrible are the things he has witnessed that "when he thought into the future, all he could vision was a world from which everything he counted important had been banished or willingly fled." Inman realizes that "You could become so lost in bitterness and anger that you could not find your way back," and he counts on Ada's love to be his guide back to something like normal living.

Other characters in the novel, such as the Union soldiers who raid Sara's humble cabin, also illustrate the way war corrodes the soul. These men do not hesitate to take the few provisions a young widow and orphan depend on for survival. At the same time, their conversations about missing their homes in Philadelphia and New York City indicate they still possess strong feelings of longing for their own families and friends.

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Women and War

The roles of women in a society often change during wartime, and this idea forms an important part of Cold Mountain. Ada Monroe is intelligent and well educated for a woman of the nineteenth century. She was raised by her father to be his constant companion and a proper young lady of the period. Yet her father's death reveals Ada's complete inability to manage a farm. Soon she finds herself working in the fields, a fate that befell many well-heeled Southern women while their men were off fighting the Civil War. Many Southern women found it necessary to perform intense physical labor once considered unladylike in order to feed themselves and their families. Many women worked in the fields, often alongside their children, and some took jobs in factories to keep the Confederate economy from collapsing.

Ada eventually learns many useful talents by working alongside Ruby, and even grows to appreciate the satisfaction that comes from successfully completed manual labor. However, not all women function so well in the absence of men. Sara's doomed efforts to keep herself and her child fed and sheltered make up the novel's most tragic sequence. Nevertheless, the majority of Frazier's female characters learn to survive and thrive in an environment where men are either absent or hostile.

Violence and Brutality

Frazier's novel contains many examples of violence and brutality, such as the massacre of Veasey and other fugitives by one band of the Home Guard. Teague's patrol is equally violent, killing one prisoner's father and two other outliers, then shooting Pangle and Stobrod (though Stobrod survives). That war dehumanizes people is clearly indicated through the activities of the various Home Guard patrols, for these men use their loose military affiliation as a pretext for killing and robbing their local enemies as well as army deserters.

Inman himself commits many acts of violence, although he repeatedly claims to be sick of it. The difference is that most of his actions are taken in self-defense, as when he kills Teague and most of his band. Yet Inman is not above acting out of revenge or his own sense of justice. He goes back to find Junior and "struck him across the ear with the barrel of the LeMat's [pistol] and then clubbed at him with the butt until he lay flat on his back."

Interestingly, Frazier depicts few scenes of actual combat. Several major battles are mentioned, such as the battles of Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, and the Crater at Petersburg, but the only extended description of formal military action takes place early in the novel, where Inman tells the blind man about the fighting at Fredericksburg in 1862. Here Frazier illustrates the terrible results of fighting as witnessed by one soldier. Inman recounts the Union charge against the Confederate line, which was well protected behind a stone wall along a sunken road. At first Inman was thrilled to fight from such an advantageous position, but when the Union soldiers continued to attack long after their hope of victory was gone, he "just got to hating them for their clodpated determination to die."

In actuality, most of the violence depicted in the novel involves animals; it is usually presented without sentiment, and is shown to be a simple matter of survival. There are notable exceptions, however. While reclaiming Sara's animals, Inman shoots horses belonging to Union soldiers simply because they may alert someone to the dead soldiers. When he approaches Junior's shack, Inman kicks an approaching dog for fear that it might attack. While Inman states afterward that he is happy he did not kill the dog, incidents like this illustrate how Inman has become hardened during the war. Life, human or not, has lost at least some of its value and reverence.


Throughout the novel Frazier provides examples of the actions his characters take in order to survive the war. Inman and other soldiers struggle to survive during battle, but later Inman resorts to desperate measures to survive off the battlefield. The wounds he suffered during the siege of Petersburg are nearly fatal, and when Inman realizes he will recover from his neck wound and be sent back to the front, he decides to desert in order to increase his chances of survival. As his journey progresses, Inman finds himself eating whatever he can and taking shelter wherever he can, all with the goal of living another day. Inman even survives being buried in a shallow grave with Veasey and the other murdered fugitives. Indeed, much of the tragedy Page 162  |  Top of Article
Illustration of the battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia Illustration of the battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia © Bettmann/Corbis of Frazier's novel stems from the fact that Inman avoids apparently certain death repeatedly, only to meet his end soon after reaching his home and Ada.

As for Ada, she must literally learn to survive on the farm—a hopeless task if not for Ruby's intervention. The women become self-sufficient, raising their own foodstuffs and trading with their neighbors for items they cannot make or grow themselves. Ada learns her survival skills from Ruby, who has somehow managed to reach adulthood with virtually no help from her father. A true child of nature, Ruby has learned from trial and error the skills necessary to live in the woods. She can identify every kind of plant and animal found in the area, and she knows which ones can be eaten and which should be avoided. Along the way, she has learned to cook, clean, and farm, rivaling anybody in the area when it comes to living off the land. That these characters endure warfare, poverty, violence, and natural threats is a testament to their will to live.


The Civil War: 1861–1865

Cold Mountain is set during the American Civil War, and it touches on some of the cultural and economic conflicts that led to the war. Although many issues divided the North and South, the most divisive issue was slavery. Since colonial days, the Southern states had depended on slavery to maintain their largely agrarian, or agricultural, way of life. Slavery had quickly died out in the Northern states because it was economically unfeasible in a largely industrialized region. Four million black Americans were held in bondage in the South, a situation that horrified and outraged many people in the North.

For decades, various compromises were offered to balance the political power between the "slave" and "free" states. However, growing antagonism eventually led several Southern states to secede, or leave the Union, and form the Confederate States of America. President Abraham Lincoln never acknowledged the right Page 163  |  Top of Articleof states to secede, and following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay, Lincoln called on the remaining states for troops to help put an end to the rebellion.

Of the major battles Frazier mentions, the Battles of Fredericksburg and the Crater get the most attention. The Battle of Fredericksburg took place on December 13, 1862. Union General Ambrose E. Burnside ordered his Army of the Potomac, which greatly outnumbered Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, to attack the Southern army, which was entrenched just above the town along a ridge called Marye's Heights. In spite of their numerical advantage, the Union troops failed to dislodge the Confederates, suffering terrible casualties but doing comparatively little damage to the Southerners. During the night, many wounded Union soldiers froze to death. The aurora borealis (also known as northern lights), rarely seen as far south as Virginia, lit up the winter night, and many Confederates took this as a sign of God's favor. Eventually, General Burnside withdrew his battered army.

The Battle of the Crater took place on July 30, 1864. By this point in the war, General Ulysses S. Grant had assumed command of all Union armies. He personally directed efforts to destroy Lee's Confederate force, which was located around Petersburg, Virginia. General Burnside, now one of Grant's subordinate commanders, approved a plan to dig a tunnel under the Confederate defenses, which would then be mined with explosives. After weeks of preparation, Union engineers successfully exploded the mine, creating a huge crater in the midst of Lee's lines. However, a miscommunication of orders resulted in chaos for the Union army. Troops charged into the crater but could not reach the other side. Soon the Confederates counterattacked killing or capturing many Northern troops who were trapped in the crater. What should have been a major Union victory became one of its worst defeats, prolonging the war by another eight months according to some historians.

Divided Allegiances in North Carolina

Lincoln's call to arms led other Southern states to join the Confederacy, which ultimately grew to eleven states. Tennessee and North Carolina both lay claim to being the last state to leave the Union, and both states suffered considerable internal strife because so many loyal Unionists lived in close proximity to Confederate sympathizers. Both states had regions straddled by the Appalachian Mountains, which contained few slaveholders and consequently were largely pro-Union. These areas were fairly remote from most of the fighting. Still, Home Guards and other partisan organizations were very active, often using their status as quasi-military units to settle personal scores that predated the war by many years.

To fully appreciate Frazier's novel, readers must understand the confusion and disorder rampant in the vicinity of Cold Mountain late in the war. The exhausted Confederacy could do little to maintain order, and the frustrations and anxieties that had built up among the residents of western North Carolina frequently boiled over into violence.

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Cold Mountain (2003) was adapted as a film by Anthony Minghella. It stars Jude Law as Inman, Nicole Kidman as Ada, and Renée Zellweger as Ruby. Zellweger won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role. The film is available on DVD from Miramax Home Entertainment.

Cold Mountain was released as an audio book in both abridged and unabridged editions. The unabridged edition is read by author Charles Frazier, and the abridged edition is read by actor Dylan Baker.

W. P. Inman

The characters and actions depicted in Cold Mountain are loosely based on actual people and events, but Frazier never intended for readers to treat his book as anything but a work of fiction. Frazier did have an ancestor, W. P. Inman, who deserted the Confederate army and walked back to Cold Mountain. He, like the fictional Inman, was gunned down by Page 164  |  Top of Article
Landscape after the Battle of Fredericksburg Landscape after the Battle of Fredericksburg © Medford Historical Society Collection/Corbis Home Guards shortly before reaching home. Frazier's ancestor participated in many of the great battles in Virginia, and he was wounded in the Battle of the Crater.

Apparently, the wounded soldier signed the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in Tennessee shortly before his death, a course of action the fictional Inman considers but does not live long enough to take. There are no known likenesses of the real Inman, and the details of his adventures are limited and impossible to validate.

The Home Guard

The Home Guard were legally sanctioned groups of men charged with collecting taxes, rounding up deserters, and keeping the peace during the war. When the Confederacy instituted a draft in 1862, the Home Guard was responsible for enforcing it. Home Guards were found in many Confederate communities, and some Union ones as well.

Frazier's research uncovered actual atrocities committed by the Home Guard, and some of these stories are incorporated into the novel. A massacre of outliers in East Tennessee was the basis for the slaughter of the deserters, including Veasey, which takes place in the ninth chapter. Eyewitness accounts of the real massacre suggest that some Home Guards refused to execute old men and young boys, a detail incorporated into Frazier's fictional version. A Home Guard patrol also shot two musicians similar to Stobrod and Pangle, killing both men and burying them together in one grave.


For a debut novel, Cold Mountain met with enthusiastic acclaim. The book spent forty-five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and won the National Book Award in 1997. In a review in Booklist, Mary Carroll calls the novel "a satisfying read," and in "American Odyssey," James Polk referred to it as "a Whitmanesque foray into America: into its hugeness, its freshness, its scope and its soul."

Many critics have debated whether the book should be classified simply as popular fiction, or whether it exhibits qualities that justify its categorization as literature. In the National Review, James Gardner's review of the novel states that Page 165  |  Top of Articlethe book is "self-consciously literary without being opaque." Malcolm Jones Jr.'s review in Newsweek splits the difference by referring to the book as "a page turner that attains the status of literature."

Frazier received almost universal praise for his ability to recreate the era through diction and dialogue. Jones calls Frazier's language "forceful and perfectly cadenced to capture the flavor of a long-gone era," while John B. Breslin's review in America applauds Frazier's ability to "convey the authentic mind and speech of the Civil War era without resorting to pastiche." Still, Gardner notes that sometimes the author's "zeal" for the language "is taken almost to the point of parody." Gardner also states that Frazier's "characters are infused with a faux complexity" that makes some of their actions implausible.


Bill McCarron

In the following excerpt, McCarron and Knoke explore how Frazier compares and contrasts characters, events, and symbols in Cold Mountain.

Charles Frazier's civil war novel of a man's desertion from the Confederate army and his violence-packed odyssey across the state of North Carolina is, at the literal level, a novel of war an defeat. After all, the Civil War shadows Inman wherever he goes, even into his beloved mountains, and physically destroys him just as he has reached his homeland and been reunited with Ada, his lover and co-protagonist. But Frazier is far more interested in exploring Inman's and Ada's emotional and spiritual efforts to conquer their fear, self-despair, loneliness. And because it is on this more significant battleground that both are clearly victorious, Cold Mountain ultimately transforms itself into a novel of peace and triumph in the best romantic literary tradition. Frazier achieves this transformation through a masterful combination of parallelism (where characters, scenes, and symbols "double," prefigure, and are reduplicated by other characters, scenes, and symbols) and antithesis (where events and symbols demand dual, antithetical interpretation). The most important of these nearly classically balanced elements occur in the novel's opening and closing pages, where Frazier weaves a complex and dynamic mosaic and memory and dream, character totemism and animal imagery, even literary allusion and musical motif, which coalesce to frame and illuminate Inman and Ada's mutual and spiritual salvations.

Cold Mountain is certainly a novel of war, or in this case anti-war. In the very first chapter, in fact, it incorporates what Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory calls the literary "primal scene," a survivor's recollection of a specific battle experience so "undeniably horrible" that it becomes the focal point of recurring nightmare and psychological trauma. Fussell cites, for example, Yossarian's tortured and repetitive memory of Snowden's death in Joseph Heller's Catch-22. For Inman, the nightmare is his flashback to the Battle of Fredericksburg while he is lying in an eastern North Carolina hospital bed. For him, Fredericksburg is the ghoulish horror of recalling "the slap of balls into [the] meat" of charging Federals and a comrade dispatching wounded foes by hitting them with "hammer" blows to their skulls, all punctuated by that dream of the "scattered bloody pieces—arms, heads, legs, trunks" reconfiguring in "mismatched" order. It is a nightmare which continually revisits Inman and which, combined with the spiral of violence that he finds himself continuously and ironically mired in throughout his journey back home, almost convinces him that "His spirit … had been blasted away so that he had become lonesome and estranged from all around him," that his spirit is "ruined beyond repair", that "[y]ou could become so lost in bitterness and anger that you could not find your way back." It is a nightmare, too, which certainly foreshadows Inman's physical destruction and which is ironically doubled in the novel's last chapter, where he is forced to re-enact his own version of Fredericksburg, this time vulnerably charging a superior enemy in his own right. But meaning in that second scene is the antithesis of the first: instead of being the victim of a senseless politically motivated slaughter, Inman is shot to death only after successfully defending his home territory and his loved ones from Teague's Home Guard, and thus sacrifices himself for the worthiest of human, apolitical causes. Frazier, in short, has transformed horror into heroism and mindless violence into moral victory.

Frazier's symbolic versatility with parallelism and antithesis is just as effectively Page 166  |  Top of Article
Jude Law as Inman and Nicole Kidman as Ada Monroe in the 2003 film version of Cold Mountain Jude Law as Inman and Nicole Kidman as Ada Monroe in the 2003 film version of Cold Mountain Miramax/The Kobal Collection underscored by his pattern of alternating points of view, wherein in every other chapter the reader sees war and peace on the homefront—namely in the character of Ada. Indeed Frazier's structure here becomes more than just an efficient way of underscoring Inman's and Ada's separation in space, or suggesting mere dichotomy between civilization and nature, between the war outside Cold Mountain and the relative peace within. As a matter of fact, in Ada's first chapter (the novel's second), we are introduced to an Inman kindred spirit—another Inman double, if you will—who has her own private battle to wage, a woman who is still a stranger to Cold Mountain and who has "discovered herself to be frighteningly ill-prepared in the craft of subsistence, living alone on a farm that her father had run rather as an idea than a livelihood." Paralyzed by both grieving for and resenting a father whose death has left her helpless and isolated, Ada's own spirit has been "blasted away" by loneliness, indecision, impotent self-pity, and a loss of "will to do." Nor is she immune from her own private nightmare, one which parallels Inman's horrific recollection of Fredericksburg. It's a dream in which she is standing in a "train depot" watching the bones of the dead Monroe "[reclothe] themselves with flesh" within a "glass case," whereupon his "animated corpse" tries desperately and unsuccessfully to communicate with her and disappears onto a waiting train which departs, bound back in time, for "Charleston" and "her girlhood, with the clock turned back twenty years," leaving her "[standing] alone on the siding." Yet that nightmare, like Inman's, helps Ada to "shape" her own past experience "into significance," to begin forging a future by permanently fleeing, not the meaningless violence of war but the meaningless superficialities of Charleston society.

Frazier also transforms his animals into symbols which carry dual, antithetical meanings. Consider, again, the ice-ringed pond. For the reader, if not for Ada and Ruby, the three ducks are the two women and Inman, their color and their "fear" and their cold and "dead" environment menacingly emblematic. Two days or so later Inman passes the same "black pool," but only a "lone drake" remains, and he worries that the drake will be drowned by the "world [of ice] constricting about it." This time, in other words, though his companions have "flown" to safety, we are being warned that Inman is still in dire danger. Later, as Inman and Stobrod retreat Page 167  |  Top of Articleinto the mountains so that Inman can make his way to Tennessee to surrender, and just prior to the fateful encounter with Teague, Inman once again passes the "round pool, and notes that it was frozen over and the ice was unmarked by a drake or even the carcass of one. It had drowned … or flown away. There was no telling which …" The omen of doom is unmistakable here because that duck, appropriately black in color, is missing. But so is the symbolic possibility of "liberation." In fact, Frazier goes to great lengths to provide the color black itself with positive as well as negative symbolic connotation—as evidenced by other animal scenes which frame the novel and provide parallelism and foreshadowing—for example, those scenes involving Inman's bear.

Animal parallelism and antithesis are even better exemplified by Frazier's crow, whose symbolism as "shadow" (beginning) and "dancing" (ending) frames the novel and who is linked continually to Inman, as witnessed by Inman's personal solitariness, the color of his clothes, his often bleak state of mind. In the first chapter titled "the shadow of a crow," for instance, the wounded Inman awakes in his hospital bed "in a mood as dark as the blackest crow that ever flew," thus, it seems obvious that this bird symbolizes evil and death in the most traditional of ways, or as Ada recalls her father putting it, symbolizes "a type of the dark forces that wait to overtake man's soul."

In addition to animal typology, the motif of literary allusion which frames the novel provides equally compelling parallelism and antithesis. Whereas Inman totes his lyrical book of Bartram's Travels everywhere he goes, Ada finds solace in the snatches of her late father Monroe's poetical repertoire. At one point during their journey to western North Carolina, Ada recalls Monroe's quotation of some lines from Wordsworth. Although she does not specify a title, what she recites are the opening three lines of Wordsworth's 1802 sonnet "Composed upon Westminster Bridge," where, upon viewing London in the early morning, the poet marvels "Earth has not any thing so show more fair." The allusion is appropriate because Monroe is admiring the "pale vista of the flat country they had left behind" from the elevated heights of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Then, at the end of the novel, Frazier once again links the tempest of war with the tranquility of peace in his allusions to Shakespeare and Keats. When Ada and Inman are spending their sparse few days of reunion in the shadow of Cold Mountain during a December snow, Ada rejects her native Charleston as "some made-up place" and embraces the world she now lives in, comparing it to "Arcady or the Isle of Prospero." This dual literary allusion yokes together the romantic world of John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" ("In Tempe or the dales of Arcady," 1.7) and the classical world of Shakespeare's The Tempest, not to mention its relevance to the critical terminology of Fussell. A few moments later Inman even draws forth his faithful Bartram and quotes a passage about Cherokee virgins "wantonly chasing their companions" which neatly echoes the urn's depiction of lovers in pursuit of each other. It's true that, unlike Keats's lovers who never kiss because their attitude is frozen in paint and clay, Frazier's lovers do enjoy physical embrace; and that, unlike Shakespeare's Miranda and Ferdinand, the union is only temporary and will not last because Ada's "brave new world" will be shattered by Inman's death. But these parallelisms again invite antithetical interpretation: the allusions additionally suggest that the two lovers, in a spiritual sense, will continue to eternally pursue their love in a forever blissful Arcady of their own.

Finally, in addition to the parallel and antithetical dramatic tension associated with character, animal, and literary allusion, the novel's opening and end are framed by a multi-thematic motif of music. Just after reminiscing about Swimmer and just before he decides to flee the hospital, Inman hears a fiddler playing "Aura Lee" and thinks "how painfully young it sounded, as if the pattern of its notes allowed no room to imagine a future clouded and tangled and diminished." How appropriate that the lines of this song (though not quoted in Frazier's novel) suggest his relationship with Ada: "As the blackbird in the spring, 'neath the willow tree, sat and piped, I heard him sing, sing of Aura Lee … Maid of golden hair, sunshine came along with thee, and swallows in the air." For her part, after her epiphany-like experience at the well and as she walks home to Black Cove thinking of the absent Inman, Ada's mind is filled with "lines from the hymn Wayfaring Stranger." Those lines include: "[I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger,] Traveling through this world below. No toil, no sick nor danger, in that fair land to which I go." The actual hymn, Page 168  |  Top of Articleincidentally, continues with "I'm going there to see my father, I'm going there no more to roam. I'm just a-going over Jordan, I'm just a-going over home" (italics ours). In short, this hymn is appropriately about both death and life after death. These antithetical motifs are echoed, moreover, by Stobrod's fiddle playing, his own "path to redemption." His concluding musical piece in the novel's 1874 epilogue is particularly apropos. Stobrod plays a variant of "Bonnie George Campbell," the irony of which is so poignant since Inman has already died of his wounds. Frazier leaves it to the reader to recall the tragic and haunting theme of the famous ballad and its application to Inman: "home came his horse, but never came he." At the same time, however, Stobrod has transformed it into a "dance jig," and Ada's and Ruby's children begin "running to the music" in glee. For Inman's survivors, in other words, life goes vigorously on.

Source: Bill McCarron and Paul Knoke, "Images of War and Peace: Parallelism and Antithesis in the Beginning and Ending of Cold Mountain," in Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 2, Spring 1999, p. 273.


Breslin, John B., Review of Cold Mountain, in America, Vol. 178, No. 3, January 31, 1998, pp. 33-34.

Carroll, Mary, Review of Cold Mountain, in Booklist, June 15, 1997, p. 1656.

Frazier, Charles, Cold Mountain, Vintage Books, 1997.

Gardner, James, Review of Cold Mountain, in National Review, Vol. 49, No. 25, December 31, 1997, pp. 54-55.

Jones, Malcolm, Jr., Review of Cold Mountain, in Newsweek, Vol. 129, No. 25, June 23, 1997, p. 73.

Polk, James, "American Odyssey," in the New York Times Review of Books, July 13, 1997, p. 14.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3451000024