If changes of nature form the steady background to this chapter, then tales of war dominate its foreground. The sadistic Teague reappears with his rabble of Home Guard who look like “battlefield dead.” Yet, however ridiculous these men seem, their brutality exemplifies man’s capacity for horror and perversity in times of conflict. The captive’s tale foreshadows Inman’s own experiences with the Home Guard in the next chapter and at the end of the novel. Also, as the novel suggests on other occasions, features of war point back to an earlier, primeval age. For example, the outliers carry old weapons that resemble “artifacts from a yet darker age.” This descriptive detail continues the novel’s theme of the past that will reach its apex when Ada and Inman find an old arrow head in the chapter called “the far side of trouble.”
A striking feature of the captive’s tale is how bleakly it contrasts with and refutes Mrs. McKennet’s romanticized war stories. The “satisfied and plump” widow’s glorification of war reminds Ada of Charleston society, as her tales lack any correspondence with actual events. Clearly, as Ada asserts, the conflict does not stand for principles of “tragedy and nobility.” The military ideals the widow upholds are those Ada was unable to express to her friend Blount, as she remembers in the earlier chapter, “ashes of roses.” Ruby’s disinterest in the war underscores her dissociation from events and emphasizes the indifference of many Southerners toward the conflict. Frazier uses this chapter to explore the different reactions Southerners had to the Civil War, while focusing primarily on events in the natural world.