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Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

a satisfied mind; a vow to bear

freewill savages; bride bed full of blood

naught and grief; black bark in winter

Summary: a satisfied mind

Keeping track of [the sun] 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?

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Ada is contented with the relatively easy work of harvesting apples. Ruby leaves to trade cider for beef, leaving her friend to split logs and make a bonfire with dead brush. Ada tires herself chopping the logs, and she decides to write to her cousin Lucy. She explains how much she has changed physically and emotionally—she can now appreciate nature without one idea passing through her head. Ada realizes that she has not mentioned Ruby at all in her letter and puts it aside. She returns to her fire, milks the cow Waldo, and reads Adam Bede. Ada thinks about clearing a space in the trees along the ridge to mark the sun’s highest and lowest setting points during the year.

Stobrod and a young man walk up to Ada. The three sit around the fire drinking, and Stobrod introduces his friend Pangle, a fellow outlier. Ruby’s father describes how he stole a banjo, which he gave to Pangle, during a raid on a man’s house. Since the young man displayed a natural talent for playing the instrument, the two became a duo. Ruby returns and puts the beef joint she has with her into the fire to cook. Stobrod and Pangle play and sing in unison. Ada is moved by the strange music and by Stobrod’s obvious pleasure in performing it. Afterward, everyone eats dinner, and Stobrod asks his daughter to give him provisions and let him hide out occasionally at the farm. He says he fears that Teague will hunt down the outliers because of their raiding. Ruby says that it’s not her place to agree to his request and looks to Ada to answer. She is dismayed when Ada agrees. Ruby explains how Stobrod abandoned her for three months when she was a child to start a business distilling liquor on Cold Mountain. Ruby concedes that he never hurt her but qualifies this by saying he never touched her in kindness either.

The men leave, and Ada looks up at the night sky. She retrieves Monroe’s spyglass and observes a lunar eclipse. Ada wishes she could express what is in her heart honestly and directly. This inspires her to write Inman a one-line letter, which reads, “Come back to me is my request.”

Summary: a vow to bear

Inman meets a woman whose daughter has just died. He helps the lady bury her child and eats a meal she prepares. He looks at a picture—described as an “artifact”—of the woman’s large family, of which she is now sole survivor. Inman continues walking and spends a night in an old chicken house. When he awakes, he reads a passage from Bartram’s Travels describing the topography surrounding Cold Mountain. The next day, Inman finds three skeletons hanging from a tree and listens to the musical “tock and click” of their bones.

Later, Inman walks along a ridge in the mountains near home. He sets up camp atop a “rocky scarp” and is awakened in the night by an angry bear and her cub. Inman is reluctant to shoot the creature, recalling a vow he had made when he was younger. Inman puts aside his pistol and tries talking to the bear, but she lunges nevertheless. Inman deftly steps aside, and the bear plunges down to the rocks below. Because he feels that there is nothing else he can do, Inman shoots the bear-cub in the head and eats it. Guilt-stricken by his act, Inman describes the meat as tasting “like sin.” Since he cannot decide which of the seven deadly sins he has committed, he creates an eighth, “Regret,” to describe how he feels about his act.

analysis: a satisfied mind; a vow to bear

Death features prominently in both of these chapters. As the seasons turn towards winter and the days are “snuffed out” earlier, Ada thinks about the changes that have occurred within herself and in the natural world. She burns dried grasses and acknowledges that she has changed beyond recognition. As Ada watches the sunset and the lunar eclipse, the author suggests that even the movements of celestial bodies seem prophetic of death or change. Ada’s contemplation of the “looping” of the years, and her decision to clear the trees along the ridge to mark the sun’s highest and lowest setting points suggest that Ada is beginning to think about a long-term future at Black Cove. Her thoughts have turned toward continuation and repetition, in keeping with the cycles of nature. She finds a peaceful certainty in the thought of tracking the progress of the years by these cycles, so that they cease to be an “awful linear progress” and instead become something whole, complete, and consistent. Indeed, Ada’s focus on natural cycles will intensify, and it will help her to deal with her life’s uncertainties. In the novel’s final chapter, “epilogue. October of 1874,” Ada will hold on to nature’s habitual and pre-determined variations in consolation for the changes of a capricious and unpredictable world.

Ada’s appreciation of natural rhythms extends to an enjoyment of Stobrod and Pangle’s strange yet harmonious music. When they play, the two musicians achieve a kind of unity that has an almost mystical power over Ada. However, the “deep place of concord” that they find while performing only highlights the discord that they have encountered in the mountains. Stobrod’s stories about the outliers’ raids show how conflict has encroached on the peaceful solitude of mountain life. Once again, the war forms a stark backdrop to human relationships in the novel—Stobrod contacts Ruby because he needs her help, not because of any patriarchal concern. Nevertheless, their reunion marks the beginning of reconciliation between the two that Frazier develops in later chapters. Frazier shows how Ada is eager to aid the growth of Ruby’s relationship with her father—she states that it is a daughter’s “duty” to help her father—in part because she no longer has a father of her own to whom she can turn.

As he journeys home, Inman continues to face the reality of death at every turn. Inman sleeps among chicken droppings that smell like the “dusty remainders of ancient deadmen.” He encounters skeletons, kills two bears, and buries a young girl who leaves her mother all alone in the world. As Frazier shows throughout the novel, death pervades Inman’s world. However, it still retains its power to shock him; Inman experiences a moral quandary when he kills the bear-cub. Something spiritual in Inman dies alongside the bear. Inman’s overwhelming feeling of “regret” points to a deeper sense of culpability about his past actions. It appears that Inman cannot forget what he has done even as he nears Cold Mountain. Rather ominously, death and killing seem to be following him home.

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