Cold Mountain

by: Charles Frazier

Themes

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Isolation in the Search for Meaning

The loneliness that many of the characters in the novel experience informs their search for meaning in a world torn by war and hardship. For example, Ada and Inman bury their feelings of isolation, just as they internalize their grief, regret, and hope for the future. Ada grows to feel content and secure at Black Cove but recalls the alienation she felt both on first arriving and immediately after her father’s funeral. She also recollects her sense of estrangement from Charleston society. Similarly, Inman feels a sense of profound loneliness and growing misidentification with the human world because of his war experiences. His spiritual desolation is suggested when he listens to many people’s tales of hardship but rarely shares details of his own past. Through his loneliness Inman cultivates an otherworldly spirituality, similar in many ways to the goat-woman’s, that encourages people to talk. Frazier shows how Inman’s solitude is not simply a physical state—it is a psychic introspection born from a need to find meaning in what appears to be a senseless existence.

However separated Inman feels from the human world, his character is not alienated from society. Even while he searches nature for some overarching spiritual truth, Inman recognizes that he seeks the solace of Ada’s company. His journey becomes a solitary spiritual quest for communion with a greater power.

Knowledge and Intuition

The novel examines the area where intuition and knowledge overlap, particularly as this intersection touches on peoples’ religious beliefs. The intellectual dictates of Christian society are seen as haughty and somewhat artificial in comparison to the oral traditions and cultural wisdom of more ancient civilizations and those with a connection to the land. Although he is not conventionally religious, Inman follows the Cherokee belief in a spiritual world. Inman uses these tales to intuit truths from nature—as demonstrated by his identification with the crow and the mountains of his homeland. Thus, Frazier shows Inman shaping his own conception of personal faith with reference to both received wisdom and intuition.

Ada re-evaluates both her intellectual and religious life in order to understand the relationship between objective knowledge and spirituality. Initially, she questions the merits of intellectualism in light of knowledge gleaned from sensory understanding. As the novel progresses, Ada embraces all that the land offers. She renounces the absolute authority of books in favor of intuition. Ultimately, she starts questioning her father’s religious beliefs, concluding that the world around her is all that there is.

Generally, the characters balance an awareness and appreciation of received wisdom with intuition. They share a belief in their land and express this belief with reference to Christian doctrine, Cherokee tales, or their own personal creeds.