Summary: ashes of roses

Ruby and Ada hoe the garden and pull weeds. Ruby shares her belief in the “rule of the heavens” and how everything has grown in accordance with the “signs.” Although Ada recognizes that Monroe would have dismissed these signs as superstitious, she sees them as metaphors.

A group of pilgrim women and children arrive from Tennessee. They say they are fleeing Federals who have burned their houses down. Ada and Ruby make them dinner. The next day, the pilgrims leave, and Ruby and Ada eat lunch in the orchard. Ruby tells Ada that she has learned everything she knows from observing nature and talking to old women and to Sally Swanger. Ruby shares some of her theories about nature, and Ada thinks about her own views of the world.

In the evening, Ada lets her mind drift and tells Ruby about the last party she attended in Charleston at her cousin Lucy’s house. She wore a mauve dress that Monroe bought for her and went boating on the river with a man named Blount. Blount confessed that he was scared about the war, but Ada only could stroke his hand in response. On reentering the house, Ada became jealous of the confident woman she saw in the mirror, before she realized it was herself. Later, Ada found out that Blount had been shot in the face while walking backwards for fear of getting shot in the back.

Ada finishes her tale and thinks about Monroe’s belief that the landscape around Cold Mountain is a reflection of another world. Ada decides that the physical world is all there is and goes to put her cow, Waldo, away.

Analysis: like any other thing, a gift; ashes of roses

The chapter “like anything else, a gift” introduces the opposition between darkness and light. Inman stumbles across a man dressed in black who is about to kill an innocent woman dressed entirely in white. However, Frazier’s narrative suggests that morality is not as clear-cut as this diametric symbolism might suggest. For Inman, there is a blurring between good and evil as he ponders what moral action he should take. By his own admission, Inman does not want to be “smirched” by other people’s mistakes. Nonetheless, Inman is forced to witness the preacher’s guilty confession and becomes embroiled in the man’s moral dilemma. Throughout the novel, Frazier shows how Inman’s instinct to do the right thing remains strong, even when he is required to kill to ensure his own survival.

Frazier introduces an element of light-hearted humor in this chapter. The preacher describes his assignations with Laura as “sport in a hayrick.” When he states that he “anguished” over the situation on many nights, Inman responds that those must have been rainy nights when the hayricks were wet. Not only do such jokes enliven the text and emphasize the preacher’s foolhardiness, they show that Inman has a sense of humor. Although it would appear to undermine the tragic focus of this chapter—an attempted murder—Frazier uses humor to highlight the light and dark aspects of human nature.