Analysis: spirits of crows, dancing; epilogue. October of 1874
As winter overshadows “spirits of crows, dancing,” death seems to hang suspended over the landscape. The characters are surrounded by a wasteland blanketed in snow. However, warm hearts beat within these frozen surroundings. The icy cabins protect Stobrod and give Ada and Inman some time together. Inman finally seems satisfied, noting that Ada has “filled him full.” As in the rest of the novel, in this chapter, it is tempting to read every natural detail as prophetic. Inman notes the absence of a duck he had seen sitting in a lake, but he does not know whether the creature drowned or flew away. Thus, what the duck symbolizes is uncertain. Frazier may be suggesting that there is no way of knowing what will survive and what will perish, since there is no certainty in the world.
This lack of certainty is symbolized most powerfully by Inman’s death. Inman is liberated from his anguished life just as he starts to believe in a better future. His death is neither heroic nor gallant, although it is preceded by a thrilling gunfight. Inman is simply shot by Birch, a boy with “empty” eyes and a quick hand. After all the danger and violence that Inman has encountered, it is pathetic that he should be killed so swiftly and unexpectedly. However, there is a measure of peace to his death. As sensory perception fails him, Inman’s vision suggests a crossing over to a world of pure spirit. His vision of crows echoes his vision after being shot by the Home Guard in “to live like a gamecock.” This bird has been associated with Inman from the novel’s very first chapter, “the shadow of a crow”; it seems to capture both the sadness and independence of his spirit. Ada holds her lover as he dies. This moment is the only time in the novel when the narrator withdraws from the action, observing the scene as if from afar. The lovers are allowed one moment alone together.
The epilogue underscores the novel’s motif of rotation or the circular passage of time. Ada is shown to draw some comfort from the certainty of seasonal changes that, unlike events in life (and the novel), have neither “inauguration nor epilogue.” In spite of great suffering, she seems to have found a measure of peace living with her daughter and Ruby’s family at Black Cove. The action of pulling in the “latch-string” suggests a sense of reassurance Ada has gained from a regular routine. Frazier thus ends his novel on a note of equilibrium. The characters experience no more grief, suffering, or upheaval. They simply have followed the turning of the seasons and have embraced the changes that they have encountered.