Cold Mountain | Study Guide

Charles Frazier

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Cold Mountain | Chapter 1 : The Shadow of a Crow | Summary



The novel opens as Inman, a Confederate soldier, awakens in a military hospital on a hot summer morning. He has been in the hospital for weeks, with doctors unsure from the beginning if he would live or die because of the severity of his neck wound. Inman gazes out the window, waiting for the daily appearance of a blind man who sells boiled peanuts and newspapers to the hospital patients. He has been wanting to visit with the man and is now well enough to go outside.

Inman and the blind man talk about blindness. The man was born blind and therefore does not miss seeing. Inman wishes he were blind sometimes, and when the man asks how this could be, Inman relates the horrors he witnessed at the battle of Fredericksburg, and many other memories of war he cannot get out of his mind. The Confederates held a strong position and shot Federal troops by the thousands. The blind man tells Inman, "you need to put that away from you." Inman does not disagree, but the venture outside and the haunting memories wear him out, so he reads from an old travelogue book and thinks longingly of home.

Several days later, Inman goes to the nearby town to get supplies. He has decided to desert the army before they send him back to battle, and he plans to walk all the way home to the western North Carolina mountains. He reads a newspaper article about Cherokee Indians near his home who have fought Federals and scalped them, and it reminds him of his Cherokee friend, Swimmer, who told him many tales and taught him spells he still thinks of often. Sitting and drinking coffee at an outdoor table, Inman works long and hard on a letter to Ada Monroe, telling her he is coming home and warning her of the damage inflicted on him by "what I have seen and done." He returns to the hospital and learns of the death of Balis, the Greek translator who was recovering in the bed beside his. Inman packs his belongings and leaves through the window as night falls.


Inman's wounds are severe—and they are both physical and emotional. Inman himself knows how damaged he is. The narrator reveals his ruminations, saying, "all in all, his wounds gave him just reason to doubt that he would ever heal up and feel whole and of a piece again." The detailed description of the severe neck wound, coupled with the details Inman gives to the blind man about the gory battle of Fredericksburg, show what a miracle it is he survived at all. How is Inman able to think about walking so far? This very decision points to just how horrible the war is; he would rather struggle on his own against all odds than return to battle.

Inman is also drawing strength through his memories of home. He recalls the day when, as a child, he left school forever; the two glorious weeks he spent camping in the high mountains and learning from Swimmer; the beauty of the place he calls home; and the romantic beginnings of his relationship with Ada. He pieces the memories together to conclude that Cold Mountain is the one "place where all his scattered forces might gather" and where he might find "his lost self."

Inman's dependence on nature throughout his journey is foreshadowed by the things he notices on the day he leaves the hospital. He see vultures effortlessly rise up into the sky. He views himself as a lone heron, "estranged from all around him." He remembers Swimmer's belief that animals are the messengers who can bring a dead spirit back to life. Then as Inman watches the sunset, he sees "a beam of light the color of hot hickory coals [shooting] straight upward," a sign he interprets as indicating "strife, danger, grief." Later in the night just before he leaves, Jupiter shines brightly in the sky to the west, brighter than the new moon. This is where he will go, perhaps not full of hope but at least able to try to return to a better place.

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