The Civil War and the Battle of Petersburg
The U.S. Civil War, lasting from 1861 to 1865, broke out between the northern states (the Union) and the southern states (the Confederacy that seceded from the Union). The causes of the war were complex and involved political, economic, and social forces. The South had increasingly tried to separate itself from the North since the Revolutionary War, a movement that escalated sharply after 1820 when the newly formed western territories began to consider the question of slavery. This coupled with the rise of the abolitionists in the North caused the South to worry about maintaining equal status in the national governance of the country.
Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 prompted South Carolina to secede immediately from Union, a move soon repeated by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The war began on April 12, 1861, when P. G. I. Beauregard led an attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Soon after Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee joined the other Confederate states. Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) became commander of the Confederate Army and Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) led the North.
Inman is wounded during the battle of Petersburg, one of the most protracted and bloody of the war. Petersburg is located on the Appomattox River in southeast Virginia, near Richmond, which became the Confederate capital during the war. Confederates and...
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Sources for Further Study (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Booklist. XCIII, June 1, 1997, p. 1656.
Kirkus Reviews. LXV, April 1, 1997, p. 503.
Library Journal. CXXII, May 15, 1997, p. 100.
The New York Review of Books. XLIV, November 20, 1997, p. 18.
The New York Times Book Review. CII, July 13, 1997, p. 14.
The New Yorker. 73, June 16, 1997, p. 104.
Newsweek. CXXIX, June 23, 1997, p. 73.
People Weekly. 48, July 21, 1997, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, May 5, 1997, p. 196.
Southern Living. XXXII, October, 1997, p. 76.
The Times Literary Supplement. November 14, 1997, p. 25.
U.S. News and World Report. CXXII, June 23, 1997, p. 14.
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Literary Allusions and Connections
A literary allusion is a brief, sometimes indirect reference to a literary character, event, place, or work that encourages readers to make connections between literary works that will enrich their understanding of the present work. Many critics have noted the similarities between the novel and Homer’s Odyssey, focusing on plot and character details: a warrior must make a long and difficult journey back home where he hopes to be reunited with the woman he loves. He must rely on his cunning and intelligence as he continually faces severe impediments to his goal. The woman at home who waits for him confronts her own troubles. Both face internal as well as external struggles that present physical as well as spiritual tests. Frasier also makes two specific allusions to Homer, one in the initial hospital scene in which the man in the bed next to Inman translates Greek passages from the epic and the second when Ada reads the Odyssey to Ruby.
Both the novel and the epic are structured episodically, which heightens the focus on the importance of the journey itself. Inman recognizes that “this journey will be the axle of [his] life.” Ada keeps the cabriolet when Ruby comes to the farm because of “the promise in its tall wheels that if things got bad enough she could just climb in and ride away.” She held “the attitude that there was no burden that couldn’t be lightened, no wreckful life...
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The alternation of chapters between Inman and Ada establishes these characters as co-protagonists. It also builds suspense, at first about the nature of their relationship and finally about the future of it. When the characters are reunited in the eighteenth chapter, "Footsteps in the Snow," the alternation ceases and Inman and Ada share three chapters, as they share three days in the deserted Cherokee village. The only chapter that belongs neither to Inman nor Ada is the sixteenth, "Naught and Grief," the chapter in which Pangle and Stobrod are shot by the Home Guard. This chapter's singularity underscores the crucial importance of its action and foreshadows the final gun battle.
However, the most striking technique in Cold Mountain is its unique diction. Cold Mountain's prose bristles with unfamiliar nouns (harls, passway,jemson, snath, cullions, internalments, barns, spurtle, rindle), unusual verbs (frabble, rare, frail, way, row), and strange adjectives (moiled, mackled, awander, malandered, misgrown, withy), many of which cannot be found in a standard dictionary. The effect is not to baffle readers, but to transport them to a different time, a time when presumably people had detailed knowledge of the particular things, actions, and qualities referred to. Frazier creates the texture of a life that is palpably different from ours. His concrete language draws the reader into a particular world of weight and substance;...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Cold Mountain has impressed reviewers as well as the reading public, Civil War buffs as well as readers antagonistic to Civil War literature, hawks as well as doves. Its overarching simplicity of situation embraces a remarkable complexity of incident and detail that can provide rich material for group discussions. Readers are moved, charmed, and disturbed by Cold Mountain, and are usually eager to talk about its characters, meaning, and effect.
1. Which do you find more interesting, the story of Inman's journey home or the story of Ada's struggle for survival? Why? Is Cold Mountain more a "man's book" or a "woman's book"?
2. Is there any significant sequence to the episodes of Inman's journey? Must Frazier tell these things in this particular order or could the events be reordered without any significant change to the novel?
3. Cold Mountain is a novel about a handsome couple separated by war. The man fights his way back to the faithful woman he admires, but he always takes time to help and protect the innocent. The couple is joyfully reunited, experiences perfect physical love, and produces a child. How does this novel successfully avoid sentimentality? Or does it?
4. Do you detect signs that the author of Cold Mountain is trying to be "politically correct"? How might the novel have been more sensitive to the feelings of blacks or women?
5. Are there any elements of the...
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Certainly, a major undercurrent of Cold Mountain is that of nostalgia, a yearning for a time when most men and women lived closer to the earth, paid closer heed to the cycles of the seasons, knew the names and properties of plants, noticed the habits of animals. This aspect of the novel has led at least one reviewer to accuse Frazier of escapism, of a failure to create a living art, an art that grows out of its author's own time and experience. And some of Frazier's own comments have lent support to such criticisms.
One can partly answer the charge of escapist nostalgia by pointing to details in the novel which show clearly that not everything about the past was superior to the present. For instance, the goatwoman's forced marriage to an old man who worked his wives to death like abused farm animals is a situation far more likely to have occurred a hundred years ago than today. Ada's frustrated desire for something we now take for granted, the ability to record musical performance, also points to shortcomings in Ada's times compared with our own.
Still, it is true that Cold Mountain implies a protest against the mass culture of our era. Frazier offers the reader an alternative vision of life, an alternative "lifeway," to use a word the author has used elsewhere. It is important to note that he in fact has chosen to celebrate a way of life that was already becoming marginal in American society in the mid-nineteenth century. The...
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Topics for Further Study
Choose one of the themes discussed in the fiction section and write a poem or a short story that explores that theme in a different way.
Read Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and prepare a PowerPoint presentation comparing and contrasting each main character’s view on the social and political aspects of the war and their participation in it.
Read Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative and/or watch Ken Burns PBS mini-series on the Civil War and conduct imaginary interviews with some of the people presented in the book/film on their experiences during the war.
Watch the film version of the novel. In what ways does the film follow correctly the novel? Does the film have the same thematic focus as the novel? Are the characterizations similar? Note the scenes in the film that have been altered or added and think about why those changes might have been made. Write an essay that compares and contrasts the book and the film.
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Cold Mountain is a historical novel, an adventure narrative, a naturalist essay, a love story, and a tragedy.
Since the backdrop of Cold Mountain's action is so obviously historical, one might expect its most significant literary precedents to be those of the historical novel, a genre launched by Sir Walter Scott in 1814 with his book Waverly. Like most historical novels from the lowly costume romance to Tolstoy's unsurpassed War and Peace (1865-1869), Cold Mountain mixes fictional and historical figures, with the latter playing negligible roles. However, Cold Mountain's central aim is not that of the purely historical novel. Although it does aim to present a society under the impact of momentous events by showing the effect of those events on the personal lives of fictional characters, this is not its central aim.
Another literary precedent for Cold Mountain is Homer's Odyssey (circa 800 BC), a book Ada reads to Ruby in the evenings after their work. Inman is an American version of Odysseus who, like the Greek king of Ithaca, wants only to return to his harsh and isolated land. Like Odysseus, Inman suffers exotic adventures involving the temptations of women and the dangers of capture and death. Near their final destinations both Odysseus and Inman find welcome shelter among kind animal herders, Odysseus with the loyal swineherd Eumaeus, Inman with the reclusive goatwoman. When these men...
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Reports indicate that United Artists has purchased the rights to Cold Mountain for $1.2 million and that plans are in the works for Anthony Minghella to direct. Minghella directed the highly acclaimed The English Patient (1996), an adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's novel of the same tide (see separate entry).
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Anthony Minghella directed and wrote the screenplay for the critically acclaimed and commercially successful film version of the novel. Jude Law, Renee Zellweger, and Nicole Kidman starred in this 2003 production. As of 2006, the film was available on DVD.
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What Do I Read Next?
William Bartram’s Travels and Other Writings (Library of America edition, 1996) contains the book read by Inman during his journey home that chronicled the author’s own travels through the Carolinas. Bartram, one of the earliest American nature writers, carefully gathered details of the landscape that he supplemented with his own drawings.
Stephen Crane’s naturalistic novel, The Red Badge of Courage, originally published in 1894, provides a fictional account of the Civil War and examines the complex ways that the participants responded to it. In his characterization of Henry Fleming, a young Union soldier, Crane explores the disillusionment soldiers feel from military action and questions concerning the nature of honor and courage.
Frazier’s Adventuring in the Andes: The Sierra Club Travel Guide to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, the Amazon Basin, and the Galapagos Islands (1985) is based on his travels to South America.
While doing research for his novel, Frazier consulted Phillip Shaw Paludan’s Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (1981), which focuses on the North Carolina mountaineers who were unsuccessful in their attempts to avoid involvement in the conflict between the North and the South.
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Ashdown, Paul. “’Savage Satori’: Fact and Fiction in Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.” In Memory and Myth: The Civil War in Fiction and Film from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to “Cold Mountain,” edited by David B. Sachsman, S. Kittrell Rushing, and Roy Morris. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2007. This chapter on Cold Mountain is part of a collection exploring “creative responses to the Civil War” and the formation of “historical memories of the war into durable, ever-changing myths.”
Garren, Terrell T. The Secret of War: A Dramatic History of Civil War Crime in Western North Carolina. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 2004. A historical novel similar to Cold Mountain that offers more historical detail. The protagonist had been assigned to the same army unit (Inman’s) fictionalized by Frazier. An excellent historical and narrative companion to Cold Mountain.
Inscoe, John C., and Gordon B. McKinney. The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. A scholarly look at western North Carolina’s disposition at various stages of the Civil War. Explains the confusing political landscape of the region in detail, affording a greater understanding of...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Beronä, David A., Review of Cold Mountain, in Library Journal, May 15, 1997, p. 100.
Frazier, Charles, Cold Mountain, Vintage Books, 1998.
———, “How the Author Found the Inspiration for His Civil War-Era Novel among the Secrets Buried in the Backwoods of the Smoky Mountains,” in salon.com, http://www.salon.com/july97/colddiary970709.html (accessed May 28, 2006).
Gardner, James, “Common ‘Cold?’” in National Review, December 31, 1997, pp. 54–55.
Heddendorf, David, “Closing the Distance to Cold Mountain,” in Southern Review, Vol. 36, No. 1, Winter 2000, pp. 188–95.
Holt, Karen C., “Frazier’s Cold Mountain,” in Explicator, Vol. 63, No. 2, Winter 2005, pp. 118–21.
Miller, Laura, “Charles Frazier’s Majestic Civil War Novel, Cold Mountain, Evokes a Harrowing Odyssey and a Lost Way of Life in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” in salon.com, http://www.salon.com/july97/coldintro970709.html (accessed May 28, 2006).
Review of Cold Mountain, in Publishers Weekly, May 5, 1997, pp. 196–97.
Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative, Vintage, 1986. In this trilogy that was adapted by Foote and Ken Burns into a popular PBS mini-series, Foote chronicles not only the historical facts of the war, but brings...
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