Cold Mountain

by: Charles Frazier

to live like a gamecock

The novel’s motif of darkness and light continues as Inman and Veasey are introduced to a world of darkness and depravity in which people are killed and eaten. In one of the novel’s strongest parallels with the Odyssey, Lila appears in the same role as Homer’s witch, Circe, a seductress who attempts to drug that epic’s protagonist, Odysseus. Within this sinister environment, Inman seems preoccupied with light. In his drug-induced, hypnotic state, he can focus only on the fire and light in the forest. After murdering Junior, Inman asks himself whether people’s natures are all the same, with “little true variance.” Although his motives for killing Junior are sound, Inman is clearly troubled by his act and feels numbed by it. Frazier suggests that Inman has returned to the same state of spiritual paralysis he felt after the battle of Petersburg. Inman’s journey again turns back on itself, as he finds himself confronting deep psychological wounds that have not healed.

This chapter shows Inman searching for understanding in an increasingly chaotic world, as he struggles to leave the horrors of battle behind him. For Inman, the human world has begun to “scorn understanding”—even the patterns of the heavens no longer make sense. Frazier shows how close Inman’s mind comes to breaking as his experiences run counter to reason. Seeking some sense of order, Inman turns to an augury for help—rather than to conventional religion—and tries to divine his future in the patterns made by melon juice. This continues the novel’s theme of looking inward to one’s own spirituality rather than outside to some higher power. Frazier reiterates that Inman is undergoing an internal spiritual journey as well as a physical geographical one.

The crow takes on a new symbolic significance for Inman as he identifies it as a spirit of autonomy, a creature that has the freedom to defy and mock its enemies. This new understanding of the crow is important because, throughout the novel, Inman is held at the mercy of his enemies, although he tries to reassert his will against fate. Significantly, the chapter ends with a complete blackout. This ending suggests that Inman’s journey has become liminal: it has reached the threshold beyond which sensory perception fails. (Liminal means on the threshold of something, usually of some physical or physiological response.) The theme of liminality runs throughout the novel, reaching its apex in the chapter “spirits of crows, dancing,” in which sensory perception fails Inman altogether for the final time.