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Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

in place of the truth; the doing of it

to live like a gamecock

freewill savages; bride bed full of blood

Summary: in place of the truth

Ada and Ruby lay fencerows with Ada’s horse, Ralph. The horse is nervous, so Ruby blows into his nose to calm him down. Ada and Ruby find an old trap and set it to catch whomever has been stealing corn from the crib. Ruby leaves to trade goods with Esco, while Ada makes a scarecrow. She fashions its clothing out of the mauve dress she wore at her last Charleston party and uses a hat from France that Monroe gave her. Ada recognizes a group of crows and nicknames their leader “Notchwing.” She eats lunch and sketches the scarecrow. Ruby returns with cabbages and hands a letter to Ada. The women bury the cabbages behind the smokehouse before they hold a contest to see who can braid the other’s hair most intricately. Ada wins the contest and reads A Midsummer Night’s Dream aloud before Ruby turns in for the night.

Ada reads the letter, which is from Inman. In it, he asks her not to look at his picture anymore because he has changed. Ada gets the photograph and decides it does not look like him anyway. She remembers nearly every soldier having his picture taken before he went off to war in 1861. Next, Ada thinks back on the last day she saw Inman, when they went walking by the creek. Inman told her an old Cherokee tale about an invisible world hidden in the mountains, a world free from pain that could only be entered on faith by those who had fasted for seven days.

Ada recollects the awkwardness of their goodbye and how she regretted not answering Inman’s questions about what would happen if he died. Ada remembers she went to bed troubled and took the “easement” of “lomalakne love.” She recalls how, the next day, she visited Inman in town and apologized for her behavior the previous day. The two kissed and parted at Inman’s doorway.

Summary: the doing of it

Inman follows the slave’s map through hills to the mountain range drawn at its edges. He passes through “Happy Valley,” which is actually miserable, and avoids patrols of the Home Guard. Inman follows a track through the forest and meets an old woman who offers him a meal. Inman follows her to her camp, realizing that he’s climbed a river gorge, and looks at the mountains spread out in the distance. The lady’s camp is a caravan surrounded by goats. The woman slaughters a goat and cooks the meat for Inman.

Over several days, Inman eats various meals made from goat meat and talks with the goat-woman. He pretends that he’s been “furloughed” from the army on account of his wound, although the lady does not believe him. She tells the story of how she came alive alone in the woods after leaving her cruel husband.

Inman and the goat-woman discuss the war. The woman argues that the Southern army is fighting a godless war to protect slavery. She describes it as a “curse laid on the land.” Inman talks further about his war experiences and states that men are drawn to fight by boredom rather than by an instinct of self-preservation. The woman gives Inman herbal remedies to heal his wounds. He and the goat-woman drink bowls of laudanum, and Inman surprises himself by talking about Ada. Inman considers living a hermetic existence like the goat-woman’s but concludes that it would be too lonely. The old woman explains that she keeps a record of her life by writing and painting but does not say who taught her to read and write. The characters talk about dying alone, and the woman explains that she does not want to after she cannot fend for herself.

The next day, the goat-woman tells Inman a tale about a deal she struck with a man in town who refused to let her keep the bells on the goats that she was giving him. Inman falls asleep and awakens at night surrounded by goats. He searches in the woman’s journals and finds many drawings of goats. The goat-woman returns, warns Inman to be careful, and gives him a drawing of a carrion flower before he sets off.

Analysis: in place of the truth; the doing of it

The chapter “in place of the truth” highlights Ada’s increasing awareness of her environment, as she starts nicknaming crows she sees around the farm. The female protagonist’s decision to dress a scarecrow in her mauve dress and fancy hat shows her distance from the concerns of society. Frazier indicates how close Ada and Ruby have become as they braid their hair and compliment each other. The author juxtaposes Ada’s memories about the last days she spent with Inman against this background of friendly intimacy. Her memories of Inman indicate the deep current of longing that passed between the lovers and which continues to hold them together.

Both “in place of the truth” and “the doing of it” develop the novel’s commentary on spirituality by exploring the possible existence of an invisible world lying parallel to the visible one. The Cherokee woman’s tale that Inman recalls echoes Swimmer’s ideas about mountains as gateways to a celestial world (ideas that Inman recollects in the chapter “the shadow of a crow”). This tale is, as Ada rightly interprets, about Inman’s “fears and desires,” particularly as he fears losing something he values (Ada) through his own misdeeds. Just as the people in the tale desire an existence free from the ills and strife of their world, so the story hints at Inman’s need to find spiritual peace and sanctuary.

This search for a better existence is developed in “the doing of it,” in which the goat-woman appears as a kindred spirit to Inman. Because of his harrowing experiences in “to live like a gamecock,” Inman shows resolve to distance himself from the evils of mankind. Although Inman wonders whether he is capable of living alone like the old woman, he clearly respects her resilience and survival instincts. The anonymous goat-woman is spiritual in the sense that she knows the secrets of nature. She heals Inman with herbs and feeds him with meat raised by the land. The woman, like the “yellow slave” who gave Inman his map in the preceding chapter, possesses wisdom and intuition. She is literate and has opinions about events in the world (such as the war), but she is driven to live outside of human company. Frazier suggests that the goat-woman acts as a bridge between the natural world and the world of man.

In many ways, Inman also is bridging both worlds. He is searching for a convergence between the horrors of his past and the hope of a better future. Perhaps this search leads him to confide in the goat-woman about his love for Ada and his vision of their eventual marriage. Inman uses the analogy of paired lines to describe his hope for this union, which will draw them together to form “one line” instead of two. This is the first time that Inman discloses his feelings about Ada and his hopes for the future to another person. It is significant that he should share this information with a woman who herself longs for an absent lover, a “yellow-haired” boy whom she abandoned to marry her cruel husband. Ironically, the goat-woman has decided upon a life of isolation in order to forget about her loneliness. In contrast, Inman believes that only living with Ada will console his spirit.

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