Cold Mountain is Charles Frazier’s debut novel, based predominantly on stories of Frazier’s ancestor William P. Inman that were passed down from generation to generation following the American Civil War. Though highly fictionalized, much of the novel is based on fact, including several of the battles and the political landscape of the late-war South.
The novel is, at its core, two separate coming-of-age stories that intersect into a single love story. The first coming-of-age story is that of Inman, whose journey not only is the physical journey from Raleigh to Cold Mountain but also is a spiritual one, as his character attempts to come to terms with the meaning of his life. While it is easy to claim that Ada, Inman’s purported true love, is the reason for his being, Frazier takes great care to depict Inman as someone lost in purpose, even though Ada and Cold Mountain remain his ultimate goal. Though Inman does take his place as the soldier who no longer knows what is worth fighting for, his odyssey does not lead him to answer that question but rather the questions he asks along the way.
Religion and philosophy, while never directly addressed, criticized, or praised, present themselves throughout Inman’s journey. Veasey, in particular, seems to represent a facet of religious thought that Inman does not accept. Indeed, it is one Inman wholly rejects. He seems keen to discover religion anew, remembering with fondness the tales told to him by an old American Indian friend, Swimmer.
The second coming-of-age story is that of Ada, whose journey is unlike that of Inman in that it is not physical or overtly spiritual. Instead, Ada evolves from a life of leisure and education into a life of physical labor, survival, and an appreciation for natural things. Whereas Inman utilizes an internal catalyst in his journey—he simply wants to go home—Ada is forced to accept external influences, personified in the form of Ruby, who seems to represent Mother Nature and becomes both her teacher and her friend. There are clear hints of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (1854) in Ada’s transformation, and she ultimately finds joy in her shedding the materialism of her previous life.
Frazier balances these...
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