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Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

the ground beneath her hands

the shadow of a crow

the color of despair; verbs, all of them tiring

All of their Charleston friends had expressed the opinion that the mountain region was a heathenish part of creation. . . .

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Summary

Ada sits on her porch writing a letter to Inman. She discards this letter and surveys her farm. She is hungry and concerned about managing the farm following her father’s death. Ada looks for eggs and finds a hollow in a bush near a boxwood. Ada thinks back on her childhood in Charleston and regrets that the fine education she received is of no practical use. A rooster chases a hen into the hollow. The vicious rooster attacks Ada, and she leaves, nursing a cut wrist. She changes her clothes in the house and reads a book by an open window. Ada enjoys the view of Cold Mountain, but hunger soon forces her to look for food. After she fails at baking bread, Ada eats an unsatisfying meal of tomatoes and cucumbers. Then she walks to the church and puts flowers on the grave of her father, Monroe.

Ada thinks about her father’s death in May. She remembers leaving him in the garden while she went to paint watercolors and finding him dead on her return. He was buried two days later. At the funeral, Ada decided to delay her return to Charleston. She stayed with her neighbors, the Swangers, for three days but was still afraid to return to the house in which she lived with her father.

Ada heads towards the post office. She meets three people, including a man who is ferociously “beating the shells off beans” as three crows watch impassively. She picks up a letter and goes to visit the Swangers, Esco and Sally. The two Swanger boys are off fighting in the war, but their parents do not support either side. Esco recounts a tale about a man named Teague and his band of Home Guard. Teague had tried to bully a family into handing over their valuables since the family was suspected of being in league with the Federals (the Union army). The husband had refused even as a guard tortured his wife. At the end of his tale, Esco talks about the “bad signs” he has heard of, including a talking owl and a sheep without a heart. The old man thinks these omens predict the war’s encroaching path into the mountains. Also during this visit, Ada surprises Sally by saying that she is not yet ready to return to Charleston. Esco suggests that Ada look backward with a mirror into his well to divine her future. Ada sees a person walking but does not know whether this means she should stay and wait or follow the figure. The hymn “Wayfaring Stranger” comes into her head. Sally gives Ada some blackberry preserves when she leaves.

Ada walks back to the farm and climbs the ridge overlooking Black Cove. She remembers coming to Black Cove six years ago. She and Monroe (her father) had gotten lost and were forced to seek shelter in a church. The church turned out to be the new chapel where Monroe was supposed to begin preaching. Monroe was zealous in encouraging people to join, but many were “touchy and distant” and skeptical of the new arrivals. In fact, Monroe had caused offense by trying to convert the highly religious Swangers, thinking they were ignorant of the Gospel. He later apologized.

Ada pauses on a rocky outcrop on the ridge to read a letter from her father’s solicitor informing her that his investments are worthless. Afterward, she heads down to the upper pasture and sits by a wall. Ada reads a book, falls asleep, and dreams that her father is a corpse in a train depot. He tries to tell her something, but she cannot hear him through the glass case. She awakens, watches the sunrise, and thinks about the future. She decides not to return to Charleston because the people there dislike her, and she would have to marry for convenience. Later that morning, a girl arrives at the farm, sent by Sally Swanger. She introduces herself as Ruby, and offers to help Ada on the condition that she is treated like an equal and “everybody empties their own night jar.” Ruby decapitates a rooster and soon has broth simmering on the stove.

Analysis

The point of view in the second chapter shifts from Inman’s to Ada’s. Ada’s perspective is notably calmer than Inman’s. She ponders commanding mountainous scenery instead of the horrors of battle. However, like Inman, Ada must fight off despair. Although highly educated and literate, she is not used to manual labor and lacks the practical skills necessary to run a farm. In addition, the acute physical hunger Ada feels corresponds with her psychological yearning for the solace of human company.

Ada is filled with a desire to return home, or at least to discover where home might be. Like Inman, Ada is setting out on a journey, although she has little sense of identity or purpose. Ada surveys her land three times in this chapter, suggesting a budding relationship between her and the landscape. She recognizes that there is something rooting her to the farm. Her friendship with the Swangers, the memories of her father’s happiness at Cold Mountain, and her own sense of security on the farm (which she feels when she hides within the boxwood and reads beside the wall in the upper pasture) make a strong impact on Ada. Frazier suggests that his female protagonist has a special connection to “her woods, her ridges, her creek.”

Ada’s vision in the well also encourages her to stay at the farm; it suggests she is awaiting someone’s arrival. Although she dreams of Monroe calling to her, Ada seems more affected by the vision she sees in the well. This visualization foreshadows Inman’s return. However, it also represents journeying or pilgrimage, an idea to which characters in the novel frequently return. This idea is reinforced by the hymn “Wayfaring Stranger” that haunts Ada’s mind. Just as Inman sets out on his journey back home, so Ada tentatively takes her first steps towards living an independent life at the farm.

Ruby acts a foil for Ada. She is knowledgeable about nature and has an innate understanding of the way things work, while Ada is “filled with opinions on art and politics.” Ruby, meanwhile, displays an outward authority that equals Ada’s, though she is illiterate and plainspoken. Frazier shows throughout the novel how Ada and Ruby’s relationship is based on terms of mutual respect and understanding, despite their obvious differences.

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