Cold Mountain . . . soared in his mind as a place where all his scattered forces might gather. Inman did not consider himself to be a superstitious person, but he did believe that there is a world invisible to us. He no longer thought of that world as heaven, nor did he still think that we get to go there when we die. Those teachings had been burned away. But he could not abide by a universe composed only of what he could see, especially when it was so frequently foul.
These lines come from the first chapter of the novel, “the shadow of a crow,” in which Inman convalesces in an army hospital before setting out on his epic journey home to Cold Mountain. They suggest that Inman sees Cold Mountain as a healing place, a spiritual sanctuary where he can retreat from the sufferings of the world. Frazier shows that Inman has to believe in a world other than the one he inhabits since his existence itself seems pointless. All that surrounds Inman is misery, putrefaction, and partition. His sentiments propose that the only way to accept that there is no order to this world is to know that harmony exists elsewhere. Inman’s philosophy is made more poignant by the fact that his yearning for spiritual understanding overlaps with his longing to return home. In the novel, Cold Mountain is both a physical and spiritual place. It is simultaneously Inman’s home and a refuge for his soul.
[W]e have against all odds arrived at home, Monroe had said. At the time, it was a sentiment Ada took with a great deal of skepticism. All of their Charleston friends had expressed the opinion that the mountain region was a heathenish part of creation . . . Ada’s informants had claimed the mountaineers to be but one step more advanced in their manner of living than tribes of vagrant savages.
This passage is from the second chapter of the book, “the ground beneath her hands,” and it depicts Ada recalling what her father, Monroe, said the night they first arrived in Cold Mountain. This quote displays the closed mentality of Charleston society—its prejudice, snobbery, and sanctimoniousness. It also shows Ada’s initial wariness of the mountain community, a wariness that she later turns towards the “civilized” traits of urban society. It is ironic that the citizens of Charleston, who are presented elsewhere in the novel as proponents of the war, talk about the mountain inhabitants as being “gaunt and brutal,” since many of these mountain folk emerge as deeply humane people fighting to survive war’s deprivations. However, this quotation shows how a grain of truth may be exaggerated to produce a distorted representation of a group of people—a stereotype. We see the grain of truth in that Inman does meet monstrous people on his journey home, most notably Junior’s family; however, we also see the distortion involved in stereotypes in that Inman also meets men and women of great courage and humanity, such as the goat-woman and Sara. This passage displays the ignorance manifest in a closed society, and it suggests the fear inherent in human nature that leads one group of people to demonize another—a tendency that was particularly reflected in North-South hostilities during the Civil War.
He had grown so used to seeing death . . . that it seemed no longer dark and mysterious. He feared his heart had been touched by the fire so often he might never make a civilian again.
These lines come in the middle of the novel, from the chapter “to live like a gamecock,” in which Inman barely survives execution at the hands of Confederate soldiers. For Inman and other soldiers in the war, death has been demystified because of the war experience, both on the battlefield and during arduous journeys home. As such, it stands as a stark indicator of the emptiness of human existence—suggesting that life is simply a preamble to death—and is a cause for great despair. This quotation indicates the sheer volume of soldiers killed in the conflict and how they grow to form a veritable army of dead men in Inman’s mind. This passage follows Inman’s resurrection after being shot by the Home Guard, a time when he is most affected by war’s utter wastefulness. Inman’s yearning to return home and resume a normal existence is intensified by his estrangement from the idea of civilian life.
[Ada] believed she would erect towers on the ridge marking the south and north points of the sun’s annual swing. . . . Keeping track of such a thing would place a person, would be a way of saying, You are here, in this one station, now. It would be an answer to the question, Where am I?
As Ada and Ruby lay down roots at Black Cove in the chapter “a satisfied mind,” Ada’s identification with the natural environment intensifies. Although Inman has yet to return, this quote shows Ada locating herself in nature’s cycles, continuing a process of self-realization that provides her with answers to some of life’s existential questions. The notion of temporality is key here—Ada begins to think of charting the events of her life as a process in tune with some greater cyclical force. At the end of the novel, we see how this process will frame the events of Ada’s life and ultimately ease her sufferings, particularly in the aftermath of Inman’s death. Here, Frazier displays his acute sensitivity towards time and place and his characters as beings actively shaped by the forces of nature.
But what the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on. And those old ones knew a thing or two and had some truth to tell. . . . You’re left with only your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not. But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you.
This passage comes from the chapter “the far side of trouble,” when Inman and Ada have been reunited and are hiding out with Ruby and the injured Stobrod at the old “Indian” village. In it, we see a return to the idea of wasted time and of the soul deadened by the evil it has witnessed. Inman admits to feeling ravaged by the war but suggests that his only choice is to move forward in life and to hope to distance himself from its barbarity. Inman recognizes that he has been marked by events but hopes that time will bring a measure of respite. Inman concludes that the most important thing that suffering people can do is to accept the changes they see in themselves, acknowledge the voids within them, and forge ahead. Inman’s reference to “those old ones” signifies his identification with the spiritual wisdom of older cultures, particularly the Cherokee.