Inman meets a succession of female characters (beginning with the ferry girl in “the color of despair”) that remind him of Ada. His reaction to each woman is one of suppressed longing, suggesting that he views her as an apparition of, rather than a replacement for, his distant lover. Frazier underscores Inman’s fidelity to Ada; Inman does not attempt to satisfy his longing with the women he sees, although they elicit responses of buried desire. Inman’s yearning for emotional and romantic solace is conveyed in his subsequent dream of Ada, in which he vows never to part from her.
The “ashes of roses” chapter incorporates the theme of Christian belief or received wisdom as opposed to intuition. Ada disagrees with her father’s theology that nature’s elements are mere “tokens” of another world. In addition, the pilgrims provide a background context for the war as they criticize the Federals for their cruelty. However, Frazier does not seem to be making an overt political point. The pilgrims symbolize the displacement brought about by war as their enforced journeying contrasts with Ada’s newfound domestication. Ada herself is connected to the war only through the act of listening to other people’s stories, past and present. She cannot assuage Blount’s fear because she would consider such comfort artificial. Thus, while she is beginning to find contentment through industry, Ada, like Inman, bears witness to the cold realities of other people’s lives.