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Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

exile and brute wandering

like any other thing, a gift; ashes of roses

source and root

Summary

Inman continues his journey. He asks a woman sitting on a porch in the fork of a road for directions to Salisbury. He steals lunch from a laundrywoman but leaves some money behind. Inman meets the preacher, who reveals his name to be Solomon Veasey, striding along the road. The preacher thanks Inman for saving him from sin, stating that he was thrown out of the community on account of his crimes. Veasey tells Inman of his plan to claim land in Texas and start up a cattle ranch. The two walk on together, although Inman does not want the preacher to accompany him. Veasey explains that he stole his revolver from an elderly neighbor.

The two pilgrims find an abandoned house where Inman forages for honey. They talk about sating their hunger, finding contentment, and God before they leave and follow the course of a stream. Veasey spies a catfish and insists on killing it. After Veasey dams the stream and unsuccessfully wrestles with the catfish, Inman shoots it in the head. The men camp for the evening and eat the fish. Veasey tries to draw out Inman’s story, so Inman tells Veasey about a “blowup” at Petersburg. The Federals had successfully exploded a trench but were so shocked at what they had done that they found themselves routed by Inman’s regiment.

It rains hard the next day. Inman and Veasey go into a store to buy supplies, but Veasey pulls his gun on the shopkeeper. Inman hits Veasey over the head and takes his pistol, and the men leave. A slave woman directs them to an inn where they can lodge for the night. A big “black whore” appears and identifies herself as Big Tildy. Veasey begins a quarrel with a customer over the whore. Inman and Big Tildy intervene to prevent him from getting shot. Veasey leaves to spend the night with Big Tildy, and Inman pays for dinner and a bed. He finds he is sharing the loft with a peddler called Odell. The man shares a flask of liquor with Inman and explains that he is heir to a plantation in Georgia.

Odell relates the unhappy story of how he fell in love with a slave, Lucinda, whom he wished to wed even though he was already married. Odell’s father rented Lucinda to a farm when he confessed that he was in love with her. Nevertheless, Odell and Lucinda began an affair. When he discovered she was pregnant, Odell offered to buy the slave from his father, who asks cruelly whether he is buying her for the “fieldwork or the pussy.” Odell punched him, and his father sent Lucinda to Mississippi. Odell was devastated and left home forever to look for the girl. He became a peddler in order to earn money to continue his search.

Odell and Inman drink more liquor. Odell describes some of the things he has seen on his travels, including a woman locked in a cage getting eaten alive by buzzards. After Odell determined that she wasn’t Lucinda, the woman died on the ground in front of him.

The next morning Inman leaves the inn and meets Veasey. The preacher has a cut under his eye from Big Tildy but insists that the night has been worth it. He admits to being “stunned” by the sight of the naked prostitute.

Analysis

As Inman’s journey progresses, numbers and patterns arise with increasingly frequency within the text, and take on a mysterious significance. For example, an important pattern becomes evident as Inman finds himself noting the “pool of shadow” in a woman’s lap above her splayed legs, revealed as she sits in the fork of a road. The junction of the road is echoed by the woman’s posture, and both underscore the sense of partition and direction that guides Inman’s journey. He knows that he cannot stay where he is, in a shady no-man’s land, but must venture ahead one way or the other.

The crow motif reappears when a bird drops dead out of the sky in front of Inman, and a second time when three crows wait for catfish remains. Just as Inman’s conscience weighs heavily with him, images of birds also overshadow the text. The crows echo the buzzards that feed off the caged and helpless slave girl in Odell’s tale. The presence of the crows helps develop a theme of predation and threat as Inman becomes increasingly unsure of what to do in the face of cryptic and foreboding natural signs.

Inman’s new insecurity is connected in part with the reckless preacher, who adds to the burdens Inman seems destined to bear. Veasey’s reintroduction from the chapter “like any other thing, a gift” bridges Inman’s past and present, suggesting that Inman distances himself from his past. Inman is obliged to intervene twice—at the store and at the inn—to save the preacher’s life. Until Veasey’s death, Frazier develops Veasey as a foil to Inman. For example, Veasey is someone who professes to have faith but really lusts after his own ends, while Inman consults his conscience before committing an immoral act. While the preacher is a self-serving individualist, Inman’s conscience troubles him enough that he leaves money to pay for the laundry-woman’s lunch. Also, Inman’s alert but dispassionate response to violence is contrasted with the preacher’s foolhardy, gun-toting bravado. In every respect, the travelers stand as a pair of opposites, echoing Ada and Ruby’s contrasting relationship.

However, the author shows that Inman and Veasey share a similar hunger for spiritual salvation and contentment. This chapter strengthens the link between spiritual succor and physical nourishment. Both Inman and Veasey seek a more profound sustenance than that which food can provide. Hunger represents their need for absolution from past sins, and even the food they eat seems tainted. Their foraged honey is “toughened up” and black in color, and they find a blackbird and a hammer in the catfish’s belly. Also, both characters desire to escape the hardship of their lives. While Inman becomes introspective and internalizes his fears, Veasey talks “on and on” by the river and sates his sexual desires with Big Tildy.

Frazier begins to explore the motif of narration, or the telling of tales, which weaves itself throughout this episodic novel. The author uses Odell’s story to reinforce the fact that tragedies occur and lives go on independently of the Civil War, even if Inman personally has been shattered by his military experience. Frazier sets his characters against the backdrop of the Civil War, but ultimately Cold Mountain is a novel about people and landscape, rather than war or one historical event.

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