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Cold Mountain | Chapter 11 : The Doing of It | Summary

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Summary

Since leaving the yellow slave man, Inman has been walking a week and a half. He can finally see the mountains, but traveling through cold rain is miserable. After spending a night inside a hollow tree, he cannot get a fire going and is too weak with hunger to do more than put one foot in front of another. Then he meets a little old woman who recognizes that he is in dire straits and invites him to her home for food and shelter.

It turns out the woman's home is a caravan, and she is a goat farmer. She stokes the fire, kills a goat, and begins preparing a meal. Soon, Inman is eating a delicious meal, and the two of them are getting to know each other. The woman has been in the same place for 26 years. She makes a living raising the goats, selling medicines she makes, and selling tracts. Because she won't accept money for food, Inman buys a pamphlet on how to eat a proper diet.

The woman asks about Inman's wounds and whether or not he thinks the war has been worth it. As he realizes how kind she is, he unloads his heart and shares his stories. She then offers to use her healing arts to help his wounds heal. She gives him salve and lozenges to take with him. They spend the rest of the evening eating and talking. Inman tells the goatwoman about Ada, "that he loved her and wished to marry her." The goatwoman tells him about her journals, how it feels to live so alone, and some interesting life stories. Then Inman sleeps under the caravan.

After another day of eating and talking, Inman falls asleep among the goats outside, awakening to find the goatwoman gone. He waits for her to return before saying his goodbyes and continuing on his journey with her farewell words, "watch yourself," and the present of a drawing she has done.

Analysis

As bad as Inman's encounter with Junior was, his time with the goatwoman is a time of healing. Their conversations are deep and philosophical, and he learns from his time with her that he wants to continue living in a community. Despite his loss of faith in humanity, Inman knows the life of a hermit is not for him. Nevertheless, he is impressed by the goatwoman and trusts her enough to talk from his heart of his despair and his hope.

The drawing the goatwoman gives Inman is of "the globular blue-purple berry cluster of the carrion flower plant." It is a symbolic choice, proving beauty can come from something terrible, as the carrion is a vile-smelling plant with an odor like rotted flesh. Yet, beautiful flowers bloom from it. The goatwoman is reminding Inman that he, too, can bloom from the horrible experiences he has had in the war.

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