Cold Mountain

by: Charles Frazier

exile and brute wandering

Summary exile and brute wandering

Analysis

As Inman’s journey progresses, numbers and patterns arise with increasingly frequency within the text, and take on a mysterious significance. For example, an important pattern becomes evident as Inman finds himself noting the “pool of shadow” in a woman’s lap above her splayed legs, revealed as she sits in the fork of a road. The junction of the road is echoed by the woman’s posture, and both underscore the sense of partition and direction that guides Inman’s journey. He knows that he cannot stay where he is, in a shady no-man’s land, but must venture ahead one way or the other.

The crow motif reappears when a bird drops dead out of the sky in front of Inman, and a second time when three crows wait for catfish remains. Just as Inman’s conscience weighs heavily with him, images of birds also overshadow the text. The crows echo the buzzards that feed off the caged and helpless slave girl in Odell’s tale. The presence of the crows helps develop a theme of predation and threat as Inman becomes increasingly unsure of what to do in the face of cryptic and foreboding natural signs.

Inman’s new insecurity is connected in part with the reckless preacher, who adds to the burdens Inman seems destined to bear. Veasey’s reintroduction from the chapter “like any other thing, a gift” bridges Inman’s past and present, suggesting that Inman distances himself from his past. Inman is obliged to intervene twice—at the store and at the inn—to save the preacher’s life. Until Veasey’s death, Frazier develops Veasey as a foil to Inman. For example, Veasey is someone who professes to have faith but really lusts after his own ends, while Inman consults his conscience before committing an immoral act. While the preacher is a self-serving individualist, Inman’s conscience troubles him enough that he leaves money to pay for the laundry-woman’s lunch. Also, Inman’s alert but dispassionate response to violence is contrasted with the preacher’s foolhardy, gun-toting bravado. In every respect, the travelers stand as a pair of opposites, echoing Ada and Ruby’s contrasting relationship.

However, the author shows that Inman and Veasey share a similar hunger for spiritual salvation and contentment. This chapter strengthens the link between spiritual succor and physical nourishment. Both Inman and Veasey seek a more profound sustenance than that which food can provide. Hunger represents their need for absolution from past sins, and even the food they eat seems tainted. Their foraged honey is “toughened up” and black in color, and they find a blackbird and a hammer in the catfish’s belly. Also, both characters desire to escape the hardship of their lives. While Inman becomes introspective and internalizes his fears, Veasey talks “on and on” by the river and sates his sexual desires with Big Tildy.

Frazier begins to explore the motif of narration, or the telling of tales, which weaves itself throughout this episodic novel. The author uses Odell’s story to reinforce the fact that tragedies occur and lives go on independently of the Civil War, even if Inman personally has been shattered by his military experience. Frazier sets his characters against the backdrop of the Civil War, but ultimately Cold Mountain is a novel about people and landscape, rather than war or one historical event.