Inman's and Ada's few days of joy snowbound together in the deserted Indian village bring to fruition their love for each other. But more fundamentally those days bring to fruition the mature, unsentimental love of the natural world that has been growing in each character.
Cold Mountain celebrates the simple lives of subsistence farmers and woodsmen, ways of life nearly as old as the human race. It celebrates but does not romanticize the labor the earth requires to yield sustenance to those whose regular habits and careful attention can learn to cooperate with the seasons. In doing so it must reject competing visions of life, those full of destructive ideals and a thirst for unwholesome extremes. Ada's memory of the Savannah boy Blount who weeps with fear before enlisting and Inman's memories of Marye's Heights— these are moments when the novel examines and finds wanting the Southern myths that have turned savagery, loss, and destruction into Romantic moments of "nobility" and "beauty." Mrs. McKennet's cliched "heroic" views are rejected by Ada, just as Longstreet's comment that at Fredericksburg the Federals were "falling as steady as rain dripping off an eave" is rejected by Inman. "It was nothing like that, no similarity," thinks Inman. Inman's attitude toward war and toward the tendency of figurative language to mask the reality of pain and death is echoed in Ada's response to Pangle's grave: "Ada remembered her thoughts when they had buried the winter cabbages, how she had made it metaphoric. But she found this burial to be an entirely different matter. Beyond the bare fact of two holes in the ground, there was no similarity at all between the two."
Frazier's is a reverent book, but it is not a religious one. It is a book that asserts the spiritual but not the supernatural. Ada, Inman, and Ruby are skeptical about an afterlife. But if they are skeptical about the next world, they do believe in a spiritualized natural world, a world whose apparently infinite connections and cycles imply a spiritual force animating the material.
The book is also about change, about the necessity for individual people to open themselves to the flux and complexity of life and the unavoidable dangers of doing so. Both Ada and Inman express fear that they will never be able to connect with things and people outside themselves. Inman has been "stunned" by the war. His neck wound is the outward symbol of his inner wound. At the beginning of the novel, he has a condition that has been called in the twentieth century "shell-shock," battle fatigue," and "post-traumatic stress syndrome." His journey home is a perilous quest for healing. The blind man tells...
(The entire section is 1094 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Cold Mountain Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The Meaninglessness of War
Inman determines that the men of the mountain areas in North Carolina went to war “to drive off invaders” whom they felt would threaten their way of life. Ruby had thought that the North “was a godless land, or rather a land of only one god, and that was money.” The people of Cold Mountain, however, soon discover that they are fighting someone else’s war—those who want to protect a system that requires the subjugation of an entire race to another. Many men in the South, like Inman “had been fighting battles for such men as lived in [the grand plantations], and it made him sick.” The goatwoman insists: “N——-owning makes the rich man proud and ugly and it makes the poor man mean. It’s a curse laid on the land. We’ve lit a fire and now it’s burning us down.”
Inman also finds no clear purpose for the aggression from the North, insisting that “anyone [who thinks] the Federals are willing to die to set loose slaves has got an overly merciful view of mankind.” His cynical view of the motives on both sides causes him to experience an overwhelming sense of waste: “every man that died in that war on either side might just as soon have put a pistol against the soft of his palate and blown out the back of his head for all the meaning it had.” Ada makes a similar judgment when she declares the war to be “brutal and benighted on both sides about equally” and “degrading to all.”
In the early days of the war, Inman, along with other mountaineers, got caught up in “war frenzy . . . the powerful draw of new faces, new places, new lives. And new laws whereunder you might kill all you wanted and not be jailed, but rather be decorated.” Inman now determines that “it was boredom with the repetition of the daily rounds that had made them take up weapons.” Yet his first assumption proves to be correct as well. One of the deadly consequences of war is its ability to bring out the worst in human nature.
His battle experience shows him that men enjoy the killing: “the more terrible it is the better.” He sees evidence of this continually. One of the worst incidents occurs after Inman and Veasey have been captured by the Home Guard. Determining that taking their prisoners back to face justice is a waste of time, one of the guards decides to kill them. When one of the prisoners, a twelve-year-old boy begins to cry, one Guard member recoils, declaring, “I didn’t sign on to kill grandpaws and little boys.” But when...
(The entire section is 1033 words.)