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Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

freewill savages; bride bed full of blood

in place of the truth; the doing of it

a satisfied mind; a vow to bear

Summary: freewill savages

Ruby finds a man caught in the corncrib trap. She recognizes her father, Stobrod Thewes, and deduces that he has been stealing grain to brew liquor. Ruby makes him breakfast, but she draws the line at inviting him into the house. Stobrod tells Ada and Ruby that he is living in a mountain cave with a group of outliers. He leaves, and the women walk to the barn to check on the tobacco leaves. Ruby insists that the tobacco leaves are thriving because they have been grown and harvested in accordance with “the signs.” Ada and Ruby then sit in the hayloft, and Ada fails Ruby’s test to see whether she can identify different trees by the sounds of their leaves.

The women have supper outside, and Strobod reappears. He shows the women an unusual fiddle he made himself. Instead of a scroll, it has the head of a snake. Stobrod explains how he hunted a rattlesnake and put its rattle into the body of the fiddle, so that his music would have the “dire keen of snake warning.” Ruby remains skeptical, and Stobrod tries to convince her by playing some tunes. He says that he began to compose his own music after a dying fifteen year-old girl asked him to play her a tune of his own. The tune Stobrod came up with is now so ingrained in -Stobrod’s mind that it has become a force of habit. Stobrod finishes by talking about the satisfaction he receives from the formation of harmonies. He plays a song called “Green-Eyed Girl,” which is mainly about yearning. Ruby says it is surprising that Stobrod has found the only “tool” he is good at this late in life, and she explains how he got his nickname after being beaten with a “stob” for stealing. Ada thinks that Stobrod’s change of character is miraculous.

Summary: bride bed full of blood

Inman wanders in the woods without any guidance from the sun or the night skies. His wounds heal, but he becomes ravenous with hunger. Inman wishes he could grow wings and escape from human society altogether, although he imagines men would come to his hermitage to convince him otherwise. While he is walking by a creek, Inman meets a strange little man who identifies himself as sympathetic to the Federals. Inman states that he has no affinity for either side, and the man admits that he has none either since his son was killed in battle. The man’s name is Potts, and he directs Inman to a nearby house where he can get a meal.

Inman arrives at the house and meets a young brown-haired woman who cooks him a meal. This woman, Sara, is eighteen and explains how her husband died fighting in Virginia before he got to see their baby. Inman is depressed as he realizes the depth of her despair. Sara gives Inman her husband’s clothes in return for his offer to slaughter her hog. That night, she asks Inman to sleep in her bed and tells him her sad story. Inman’s sleep is fretful and troubled by dreams that the creatures on the quilt are chasing him.

The next day, three Federal soldiers appear, and Sara tells Inman to leave. He hides in the woods and watches as the soldiers threaten the young woman and demand money. When she explains that she doesn’t have any, the soldiers take her hog and some chickens. Inman watches them leave, tells Sara to boil water and follows the men as they continue on their journey. He listens to the soldiers talk about their homes in New York and Philadelphia. He shoots all three after discovering that the man who threatened Sara is called Eben. Inman thinks about what he has done and concludes that he has committed worse acts. He returns to Sara’s home with the hog and three chickens.

Inman and Sara eat the chickens for lunch and slaughter the hog. Sara makes supper, and Inman shaves. That night, Inman watches as Sara nurses her sick baby and sings a lullaby that includes the words “bride bed full of blood.” He thinks about the young woman’s bravery, and the two fall asleep together. Inman leaves the next day.

Analysis: freewill savages; bride bed full of blood

Stobrod’s return and his connection with a community of outliers both disrupts the calm continuity of the women’s lives and shows the novel’s thematic opposition between the natural and man-made worlds. His sudden appearance at the fodder crib reminds Ada and Ruby that not all events may be explained by reference to the natural world—they had assumed that a small creature had been stealing their corn—but instead that men can manipulate, change, and sometimes threaten. Although Ruby is wary of helping her father, Ada’s generosity in sharing food with Stobrod shows her new openness of character and interest in her friend’s family.

One way that the novel follows through on its exploration of the differences between man-made and natural phenomena is by focusing on music, which plays an important role in these chapters. Stobrod’s repertoire of 900 fiddle tunes foregrounds the motif of sound and harmony that runs through the text. Ruby’s father talks about the tune he played to the dying girl, a melody that has now become a “habit” and that serves to give “order and meaning to a day’s end.” Ada finds it remarkable that music has redeemed Stobrod, even if this is only a partial redemption, and remains optimistic that everyone can make something of his or her life. Frazier shows how Stobrod has found something to give his life meaning, a thing for which both Ada and Inman are searching. Music also appears as a backdrop to Ada and Ruby’s natural environment. The dry scratching of the leaves in the trees is much like the snake rattle in Stobrod’s fiddle, although it does not carry the same sense of alarm or warning.

Music is similarly important in the “bride bed full of blood” chapter. Sara’s singing holds Inman’s attention because the words of her lullabies are full of pain and horror. Frazier suggests that, because tragedy is all Sara has known, it is all that she can sing about. Inman interprets her singing as a sign of her bravery. He identifies in it a touch of the “specter world,” a comment that calls to mind his belief in an invisible world. The routine that Inman and Sara develop—of lying beside each other in Sara’s bed like husband and wife—is both powerful and pathetic. It symbolizes a comfortable and content domesticity that Sara never again will know. Once again, Inman’s journey draws him into a world of pain in which he bears witness to the sadness and hopelessness of other people’s lives.

However, Inman is prepared to act as well as to listen. Inman realizes that he has to kill the three Federal soldiers so that Sara and her baby won’t starve. Although this act troubles Inman, he recognizes that he has suffered and seen worse acts committed in the name of war. Just as Inman killed the immoral Junior in “to live like a gamecock,” here he brings retribution to the Federal soldiers. Frazier casts his protagonist in the light of an avenger concerned with equalizing some of life’s inequalities. Inman’s acts prove that he has not lost the warrior instinct that preserved him in battle and that now fires his determination to return home.

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