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First, Odysseus is the hero of Homer's The Odyssey--a tale about a Greek warrior who leaves his home to fight in a war far from home, leaving his wife and young child behind. Odysseus is gone for many years and undergoes many adventures along the way before finally returning to his native land, which has undergone many changes while he is gone.
Such is the case with Inman in Cold Mountain. Leaving his home in North Carolina--and a woman with whom he has fallen in love--for the Civil War battlefields of Virginia, Inman experiences the horrors of both war and the havoc that it wreaks upon the citizens in its path. Though not as heroic as Odysseus, Inman proves to be a worthy combatant; unlike Odysseus, Inman does not see the war through to its end, deserting the Confederate army after receiving a serious wound and heading for home. Like Odysseus, Inman has many unexpected stops and hardships along the way, and death and violence does not end when he leaves the battlefield. It is a long, hard journey, and Inman--like Odysseus--questions if he will ever see his home again. Eventually, Inman finds Ada, his true love, just as Odysseus is reunited with his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus. The two heroes' lives end in a much different manner, though Inman does manage to leave a son to take his place beside his mother.
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