Discuss why, after all the battlefield carnage that Inman has witnessed, Inman seems to endorse violence on his journey home.
The slaughter of the battlefield has inured Inman to death, and he has had to draw on his own warrior instincts to survive. Inman thus recognizes that violence is in his blood, but he tries to control when and how he uses it. In addition to biological instincts and concern for survival, both of which emphasize his animalistic side, many different motives compel Inman to fight. Often, as with the incidents involving the three men at the crossroad town, the bear, and the Home Guard at the end of the novel, Inman resorts to violence as a means of self-defense. However, in addition, he sometimes lashes out in righteous anger over other people’s culpability. For example, he kills Junior because of his crimes and the three Federal soldiers who stole Sara’s hog. Yet Inman endorses more than violence. Inman’s decision not to kill Veasey, but to leave him to face the punishment of his own community, shows that Inman is more than just a gun-toting vigilante. Morality is thus not an outdated principle for Inman, even after all the meaningless carnage that he has witnessed. However, he recognizes that war is a feature of the landscape as much as the battlefield. If he has to fight to return home, Inman is willing to do so.
Tales and memories feature prominently in the novel as characters frequently call to mind their past lives. Discuss why what has previously occurred plays such an important role in shaping the novel’s plot structure and development.
The novel presents a view of time that is quite abstracted and less direct then we expect from a work written in the immediate past. The characters’ visions, dreams, memories and folktales cloud over their present actions, making time seem more of a circular than a linear progression. This ties in with the novel’s themes about the cyclical patterns of nature and man’s links with the natural world. Ada and Inman see convergence in the future; the past and present are simply means of attaining that ultimate goal. Thus, the novel nets together past and present events to suggest the interweaving of human lives through time. This theme is made more poignant because the novel is set in wartime, when memories are often all that remains of loved ones killed in battle. The ghosts of the past are recalled so that lost ones are preserved in people’s consciousnesses. Ada and Inman keep each other’s pasts alive in their memories to preserve their hope for the future.
Most of the novel’s most dramatic moments turn on the theme of freedom and capture. People are trapped, hunted, and attacked like animals. Discuss what kind of comparison the author is drawing between death in nature and killing in the human world.
Frazier suggests that all men and women are subject to nature’s cycles, and that death is a certainty for every living being. He introduces this theme at the beginning of the novel by quoting Darwin. The novel suggests that, for one creature to survive, another must die in order to preserving nature’s equilibrium. This equilibrium encompasses the human world, and so Frazier juxtaposes the conflicts in nature with the war between men. Many scenes show characters struggling to gain control over death and to elude the grasp of its agents, such as the Home Guard, who have the power to decide who lives and who dies. The author suggests that, in order to live, men must be free to make their own choices. Inman’s freedom of movement is highly restricted; in many ways he is a hunted man. Similarly, the many slaves within the novel are also leading oppressed lives. Thus, on different levels, the novel examines man’s fight for liberation and life against the forces of capture, death, and oppression.
1. What parallels, if any, does Frazier draw between Ruby and Stobrod’s, and Ada and Monroe’s relationships? Why are father-daughter relationships so important in the novel?
2. Inman’s experiences at Junior’s house are among the novel’s most mysterious and unsettling. Why does Frazier present such a savage picture of mountain-dwellers? Doesn’t this view of mountain folk seem to support the judgmental views of Charleston society about those who live close to the land?
3. Despite his distasteful moral code, Solomon Veasey’s animation and humorousness make him a particularly human character with whom it is hard not to identify. Why does the author present the preacher in this way, and how does this presentation affect the novel’s moral tone?
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