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Cold Mountain | Study Guide

Charles Frazier

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Cold Mountain | Chapter 2 : The Ground Beneath Her Hands | Summary



At the beginning of the chapter, Ada is writing to Inman, but she throws the letter away. She is distracted, taking miserable account of the failure of the farm since her father's death several months ago. She cannot even feed herself adequately, as shown by her need to crawl into a boxwood hedge in search of an egg. Although she enjoys being hidden inside the bushes, a chicken attacks and wounds her there. Ada cleans herself up, still lamenting her state of affairs, acknowledging that "her will to do was near gone" and knowing the "hardness of work" is not something she learned in her privileged Charleston childhood.

Several hours later, having still failed to feed herself, Ada travels to her father's grave site, the post office, and her nearest neighbors' house (where she hopes to be given a good meal). The Swangers welcome her, and they sit together on the porch talking about the war, the natural signs of a hard winter to come, and Ada's decision about whether or not to return to Charleston. Esco Swanger advises her to go to the well and to lean over backward while looking at a mirror to see her future. Ada does as he suggests and is startled by a vision of "a black silhouette of a figure [moving] as if walking ... [with] firm resolution." Paired with her vision is the strong feeling "she was meant to follow. Or else to wait." Sally Swanger sends Ada home with food, but Ada stops on the ridgetop, surveying her property and remembering her trip there with her father six years ago and other significant events from their time together in the mountains. She then reads a letter she picked up from the post office earlier and learns she has almost no money left to her from her father's estate. She falls asleep reading a book she has carried with her.

When Ada awakens, it is night and she had a dream warning her that her time in Charleston has ended. She stays up all night outside considering her options, ultimately deciding that she will remain at Black Cove but unsure how she will survive. The next morning, however, Ruby Thewes arrives to offer her help and begins planning what it will take to bring the farm back to life and keep it operating at a level that will allow them to survive.


There are striking parallels between the beginning of Ada's story and the beginning of Inman's. Most significantly, they both come to their senses on the day their stories begin, Inman from the fog of illness and Ada from the fog of grief.

Other parallels abound. Both pass time by counting. While trapped in bed, Inman counts to see "how long it would be before anything of significance altered." While trapped in the boxwood shrub, Ada will not leave until she can "count off, at minimum, three convincing reasons to do so." Both have difficulty composing just the right letter to each other.

In these opening chapters, both Ada and Inman also have experiences involving birds, and see signs in visions, dreams, and natural occurrences. Both escape their situations by looking at the natural world and reading. Finally, both seem to reach their decisions at night. Inman begins walking, and Ada decides to remain in Black Cove.

All of these parallels help readers track the intertwined stories of the two lovers. From the beginning, it is clear Ada and Inman are connected at a deep level.

Just as readers learn much about Inman and his character from the opening chapter, much about Ada's character is revealed in this chapter. She is no longer the person she once was, a refined member of Charleston society. Neither will she remain the sort of "Sleeping Beauty" she has been for the past few months, as referenced in the chapter. Similarly, Inman has lost his core sense of self. Both will need plenty of help as they complete their inward journeys to change. For Ada, the help comes in the form of Ruby Thewes and the small community they are a part of. Inman's help will come unexpectedly from strangers he meets along the way.

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