The next day, the goat-woman tells Inman a tale about a deal she struck with a man in town who refused to let her keep the bells on the goats that she was giving him. Inman falls asleep and awakens at night surrounded by goats. He searches in the woman’s journals and finds many drawings of goats. The goat-woman returns, warns Inman to be careful, and gives him a drawing of a carrion flower before he sets off.
Analysis: in place of the truth; the doing of it
The chapter “in place of the truth” highlights Ada’s increasing awareness of her environment, as she starts nicknaming crows she sees around the farm. The female protagonist’s decision to dress a scarecrow in her mauve dress and fancy hat shows her distance from the concerns of society. Frazier indicates how close Ada and Ruby have become as they braid their hair and compliment each other. The author juxtaposes Ada’s memories about the last days she spent with Inman against this background of friendly intimacy. Her memories of Inman indicate the deep current of longing that passed between the lovers and which continues to hold them together.
Both “in place of the truth” and “the doing of it” develop the novel’s commentary on spirituality by exploring the possible existence of an invisible world lying parallel to the visible one. The Cherokee woman’s tale that Inman recalls echoes Swimmer’s ideas about mountains as gateways to a celestial world (ideas that Inman recollects in the chapter “the shadow of a crow”). This tale is, as Ada rightly interprets, about Inman’s “fears and desires,” particularly as he fears losing something he values (Ada) through his own misdeeds. Just as the people in the tale desire an existence free from the ills and strife of their world, so the story hints at Inman’s need to find spiritual peace and sanctuary.
This search for a better existence is developed in “the doing of it,” in which the goat-woman appears as a kindred spirit to Inman. Because of his harrowing experiences in “to live like a gamecock,” Inman shows resolve to distance himself from the evils of mankind. Although Inman wonders whether he is capable of living alone like the old woman, he clearly respects her resilience and survival instincts. The anonymous goat-woman is spiritual in the sense that she knows the secrets of nature. She heals Inman with herbs and feeds him with meat raised by the land. The woman, like the “yellow slave” who gave Inman his map in the preceding chapter, possesses wisdom and intuition. She is literate and has opinions about events in the world (such as the war), but she is driven to live outside of human company. Frazier suggests that the goat-woman acts as a bridge between the natural world and the world of man.
In many ways, Inman also is bridging both worlds. He is searching for a convergence between the horrors of his past and the hope of a better future. Perhaps this search leads him to confide in the goat-woman about his love for Ada and his vision of their eventual marriage. Inman uses the analogy of paired lines to describe his hope for this union, which will draw them together to form “one line” instead of two. This is the first time that Inman discloses his feelings about Ada and his hopes for the future to another person. It is significant that he should share this information with a woman who herself longs for an absent lover, a “yellow-haired” boy whom she abandoned to marry her cruel husband. Ironically, the goat-woman has decided upon a life of isolation in order to forget about her loneliness. In contrast, Inman believes that only living with Ada will console his spirit.