Inman’s character reflects a conflict between moral precepts and the horrific realities of life. When the novel opens, Inman is wounded and psychologically scarred by memories of war. The ghosts of dead soldiers haunt his dreams at night and thoughts of Ada fill his days. Despite his crippled psyche, Inman remains an honorable and heroic man. Throughout the novel, Inman’s conscience guides his actions. Although he is troubled by the deaths he has witnessed and doesn’t wish to add to them, Inman is willing to resort to violence if necessary. Frazier characterizes his protagonist as a warrior equipped to fight moral and physical battles.
As a figure assaulted by evil forces, Inman justifies aggressive means in the name of protecting innocent people, himself included. Consequently, Inman’s journey is ideological as well as geographical. Inman reconsiders his spiritual ideas in light of the physical danger and suffering he encounters while traveling. Inman’s travel book, Bartram’s Travels, is a spiritual and topographical guide—it inspires Inman with idealized visions of home and directs him towards that home. Inman consults the book for spiritual sustenance and for escapist entertainment. Frazier fills Inman’s journey with shades of deeper meaning, suggesting that his physical travails mirror a more profound spiritual struggle.
Inman recalls and reinterprets past events as part of his process of spiritual awakening. In particular, he remembers Cherokee folktales and envisions a world located beyond the terrestrial realm. Inman needs this kind of comfort, for, as he delves deeper into the mountains, he becomes better acquainted with man’s capacity for both good and evil. Following his encounters with Junior and his near-death experience, Inman’s faith in himself falters. However, his faith in a better world does not. Frazier suggests that Sara’s and the goat-woman’s bravery also bolster Inman’s resolve. Inman preserves his humanity under the weight of intense psychological strain because he believes in a distant and better reality.
Inman’s name (we never learn his first name) suggests that he is a self-reflective man, alone in the thrall of forces greater than his own will. Inman cannot direct what happens to him, so he seeks a measure of control by inwardly questioning his past and speculating about his future. While it would be too simplistic to state that Inman finds himself in Ada, he clearly identifies in her the kind of life he wants to live—a life of peace, stability, and affection. Thus Inman grows from a tortured and disillusioned man into a calmer, more self-aware individual. Indeed, after a journey fraught with suffering and spiritual turmoil, Inman is temporarily redeemed by love. Ultimately, however, Frazier suggests that Inman’s true redemption—an escape from the world with which he has become so disillusioned—can only be attained through death.