Themes

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.)