In Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier describes the epic journey home of wounded Confederate soldier Inman from Petersburg to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Inman’s physical voyage home is paralleled by the mental journey made by his sweetheart, Ada, in her transformation from ‘city girl’ into ‘mountain woman’. The story is woven around the experiences of Inman and Ada trying to rebuild their lives from the desperation and disaster of the war, all the while trying to find a way to see each other again–whilst they are so far apart.
It also blends the horrors of war into their current lives, and the corruption that has scarred them forever. Inman and Ada’s respective ordeals help develop the themes of war, homeland, women and children which this essay aims to reveal. The motivation behind Inman’s desertion, when he “set his foot on the sill and stepped out of the window”, is not an issue that Frazier ever invites his readers to question. Having been surrounded by the dying, having witnessed the horrors of the first industrialized war which pitted countryman against countryman through the eyes of Inman, one feels deep sympathy. The horrifying battle scenes further add to the sense of the impermanence of escape offered by the war: “The fighting was in the way of a dream, one where you foes are ranked against you countless and mighty. And you are weak.
And yet they fall and keep falling until they are crushed.” Frazier’s somber cataloging of the horrors of war creates enormous sympathy for his protagonist’s desertion, making it eminently justifiable. Inman’s disinterest in the issues of the war serves to show the lie of the common soldier’s involvement in the war. Frazier would posit that it is the job of the common soldier just to die, and in the most inhuman way possible: "Inman could hear the firing, but also the slaps of balls into meat. A man near Inman grew so excited, or perhaps so weary, that he forgot to pull the ramrod from his barrel. He fired it off and it struck a Federal in the chest. The man fell backward, and the rod stood from his body and quavered about with the last of his breathing as if he had been pierced by an unfletched arrow.
" Inman’s return home to a deeply changed place where he no longer has a role is indicative of the common fate of soldiers. What he has seen and done marks him out so distinctively from the rest of the population that he becomes an outlier both to the military and to the society he used to belong to. There is a deep irony that Frazier chooses to kill his hero at the conclusion of his journey, after surviving so many great dangers, and yet he must die for he “had seen so many men shot in recent years that it seemed as normal to be shot as not.” Inman’s death leaves the impression that the war left him irreconcilable with his homeland, if not with himself.Inman has an enormously strong sense of pining for his home place: “After a time, though, Inman found that he had left the book and was simply performing topography of his home in his head.
Cold Mountain, all its ridges and coves and watercourses, Pigeon River, Little East Falls, Sorrell Coves, Deep Gap, Five Scald Ridge. He knew their names and said them to himself like the words of like the words and spells of incantations to ward off the things one fears about most.” Inman’s idealization of his homeland is clear in this passage. However, given his experiences, while that home place may retain its physical beauty, it cannot ever remain in its idealized form. What one fears about most is his removal from the world either from death or by becoming an outsider which Inman became a victim of: “She thought that Inman had been alone too long, an outlier.” In the traditional masculine role of household management, Frazier has categorically illustrated that Inman is not required. The women, Ada and Ruby, are entirely self-sufficient, and his role has been relegated to that of merely a begetter of children, which is subtly suggested in the epilogue.
Inman serves no purpose in his home place, despite his discussion with Ada, replete with effusive imagery of how “they would grow old together measuring time by the life spans of a succession of speckled bird dogs.” Inman’s death serves to establish Cold Mountain as Ada’s new home place. It is only in this death that Ada breaks completely with her old self.
As the novel closes, the image is of a self-sufficient Ada, no longer needing a man to make her home: “She had been up on the ridge alone cutting trees in the spot where she had marked the sun setting the day before. The log chain had kinked, and she had been trying to work loose the disordered links when the fingertip clean as snagging a tomato sucker.” At the opening of the novel, the women are polarized. The spoilt and unrealistic Ada, “in need of help” must, through Ruby’s guidance, develop into the ‘strong mountain woman’..