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Cold Mountain | Study Guide

Charles Frazier

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Cold Mountain | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How does Charles Frazier's use of music in Cold Mountain help to shape the characters of those who play or refer to the music?

Music runs throughout Cold Mountain, with various characters recalling lyrics or melodies, or playing or singing music to reflect their moods and life philosophies. For example: After Ada sees the image in the mirror when leaning backward over the well, a song becomes attached to it. The song is "Wayfaring Stranger," and its inclusion might be seen as setting the mood for the whole novel. Ada Monroe hears the song in her head repeatedly, and it also echoes in Inman's mind as he walks. Inman often has bits of lyrics or tunes on his mind, part of the intense thinking he does while walking. Some of the chapter titles are also lyric scraps, including "A Satisfied Mind" and "Bride Bed Full of Blood." At times, Inman hears people singing and it creates a mood, as when the young mother Sara sings a haunting song to her newborn daughter as a lullaby. He views the melody (what others might see as a grating song) as a sign of her hard life and courage. At stressful times, Inman sometimes hums to himself, as when he shoots the men from Philadelphia who raided Sara's house. The sacred tunes he remembers seems to help him put death in perspective. When Stobrod Thewes plays music on his fiddle and sings, he experiences moments of redemption from a life that might otherwise be viewed as a waste. He seems to know that music offers hope for him, as he describes how he felt when he started to really tune into playing: "What the music said was that there is a right way for things to be ordered so that life might not always be just tangle and drift but have a shape, an aim." Ada also sees the redemptive power of music for Stobrod, as stated by Charles Frazier at the end of Chapter 12.

Why is the travelogue Inman carries with him throughout Cold Mountain—William Bartram's Travels—an appropriate choice for him?

William Bartram was a naturalist who lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries. He traveled throughout the American South from 1773 to 1777, in what is now Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Alabama. He wrote in detail of his experiences, especially with Native Americans, and of his observations of the natural world. His book's extremely long title (Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida) has been shortened for easy reference to Travels. It is this book Inman carries with him throughout Cold Mountain and reads regularly. Because he is traveling where Bartram traveled, it is a good choice of a book for Inman. Much of the land he walks through remains unspoiled, and he often sees signs of the native inhabitants who used to live there, often following foot paths they used.

Where do the chapter titles in Cold Mountain come from, and in what ways are some of them them linked?

Readers of Cold Mountain will soon realize the title of each chapter is a phrase appearing somewhere in that chapter. The words are much more significant than they seem, although they might initially appear to be random pieces of a sentence. The titles reflect the overall mood of the character (Ada Monroe or Inman, depending on the chapter) or an important message the character gets from the actions described. Some of the chapter titles are linked by images. For example, several chapter titles refer to song lyrics. Several others mention colors: "The Color of Despair" (Chapter 3), "Ashes of Roses" (Chapter 6), and "Black Bark in Winter" (Chapter 17). Finally, there is the beautiful symmetry of the first and last chapters sharing a similar symbol: "The Shadow of a Crow" (Chapter 1) and "Spirits of Crows, Dancing" (Chapter 20).

What characters, actions, and references in Chapters 1 and 2 of Cold Mountain allude to Homer's The Odyssey?

Inman, a Confederate soldier intent on getting home to his beloved land and woman in Cold Mountain, is immediately reminiscent of Odysseus. It is clear the journey will be hard, that Inman has grown weary of war, and that love will propel him forward. The fact that the person Inman has been waiting to speak to while healing from a terrible wound is a blind man brings to mind the blind prophet Tiresias, whom Odysseus goes to for advice. When Inman tells the blind man some of his horror-filled war stories, the man does indeed respond with advice: "You need to put that away from you." In addition, the presence of Balis, the wounded soldier next to Inman in the hospital, is a significant nod to Homer, as Balis is a scholar who busies himself with Greek translations. In Chapter 2, readers meet Ada Monroe, the woman awaiting the return of her lover from war, a striking comparison to Penelope in Odyssey. Both women face struggles during the years their warriors are gone. Ada, a very well-educated woman, can even read "a hint" of Greek, another slight nod to Homer.

Swimmer appears only in Inman's memories in Chapter 1 of Cold Mountain, so why is he still considered a somewhat important character in the novel?

Inman meets Swimmer when they are both 16 years old, and they hang out together for a couple of weeks that summer, high atop the Balsam Mountain range. Swimmer is an inveterate storyteller and talks constantly during the hours the boys fish together. From Swimmer, Inman learns the Cherokee tales that explain nature, the beginning of the world, and animal characteristics. He also learns spells and comes to view the spirit as "a frail thing, constantly under attack and in need of strength, always threatening to die inside you." Just as Inman found Swimmer's voice soothing as they fish, when he remembers Swimmer's words while healing from his wound and walking home to Cold Mountain, he is soothed. He fears his spirit "had been about burned out of him," yet he is still living, still walking toward a good goal. He feels the protection of nature and animals along the way, ever mindful of the Cherokee lessons Swimmer taught him, headed for the high land where "the dead spirit could be reborn." So, it is as if Swimmer is Inman's constant companion on his journey, a very important character in his life.

Of the many signs, or omens, mentioned in Cold Mountain, what are some important ones seen by characters as they study the sky?

The first important sign viewed in the sky is described at the end of Chapter 1. Inman is watching the sunset when he sees "an opening in the clouds" through which the sun shoots "a beam of light the color of hot hickory coals straight upward." Inman thinks it looks like a rifle barrel standing up, and finds it to represent "strife, danger, grief"—the things he will leave behind in deserting the war. That night as he leaves the hospital, he sees "the bright beacon of Jupiter declining to the western horizon," the direction of his destination. On the night before Inman decides to enter the settlement, he sees things in the night sky that might be viewed as warning signs. He sees meteors (that seem to be aiming for him) and a giant fireball. He sees a similar strange light in the sky the night Junior turns him and Solomon Veasey over to the Home Guard. As a young child, Ruby Thewes gets caught on a bush and must spend the night alone outside. She hears a voice that calms her as she looks to the sky, and she has remembered "every star pattern that passed across the piece of sky visible to her" ever since. She takes comfort in those stars, knowing she will always be safe. Similarly, both Inman and Ada Monroe take comfort when they can look at the night sky and name the stars and planets. It seems to indicate a sense of permanence and regularity neither of them often feels otherwise. In this way, the moon, planets, and stars are signs that everything will be okay.

How do Inman's dreams in Cold Mountain help readers understand what he is thinking?

Inman's dreams run throughout his journey home to Cold Mountain and are described below. After Inman spends the day and evening with the gypsies, he beds down in the woods and reads his Bartram scroll, a section about a plant. Then he thinks about the beautiful dark-haired gypsy he has admired all day and evening, the softness of Laura Foster's thighs when he put her in her bed, and the feeling of Ada Monroe sitting in his lap. His dream that night combines the plant he has read about and his longing for Ada. She appears in a foggy rain, her head wrapped in a dark cloth, and allows Inman to embrace her as she unwraps her headdress and looks directly in his eyes. The dream recharges Inman on his quest to get home to his beloved, his hope renewed she will have him after all. After Inman kills Junior, he takes refuge in a thick section of woods and watches crows mocking a rat snake in the tree above him. When he sleeps that night, he dreams he is a crow and can take revenge on his enemies without having to kill them, by flying away or mocking them. On the first night Inman sleeps beside Sara, he dreams the beasts on the quilt chase him. He cannot get away from the harm they would do to him, just as he cannot seem to escape his inner demons. When the mother bear confronts Inman, he remembers a week of related dreams he had while in a trench during the battle of Petersburg. In those dreams, he transforms into a bear and is relieved to be living in peace in the wild, getting what he needs on his own. However, in the final dream he is shot by men, and as he sees his body skinned and gutted he notices how much bears and humans are alike. This is when he knows he must never harm a bear—and why he tries to avoid harming the mother bear.

What does the attack by the red hen on Ada Monroe as she sits in the boxwood in Chapter 2 of Cold Mountain represent?

As Ada Monroe hides in the boxwood bushes, she is hiding from reality, as she has been since her father's death. When the hen attacks her, the hen represents reality. It is time for Ada to come out of hiding and start dealing with life, no matter how harsh or frightening it is. Later, when Ruby Thewes arrives and they reach an agreement to work together to bring the farm back to life, Ruby's first act is to kill the chicken and cook a delicious meal. This is proof that nothing is insurmountable if a person takes charge and does what needs to be done in order to survive.

Why does Monroe quote Wordsworth in Chapter 2 of Cold Mountain as he and Ada Monroe near their new mountain home?

William Wordsworth was a poet of nature who found a great deal of spiritualism in the natural world. So it is quite appropriate Monroe, a preacher, would quote Wordsworth as he enters the beautiful natural world of the mountains of western North Carolina. It's also appropriate that his glee at the vista before him—which inspires his reference to Wordsworth—comes just before and during a particularly descriptive paragraph of the setting by Charles Frazier. The author's language is often so lyrical as to resemble a song or a poem, and this is no exception. Readers see the landscape, feel the air and the mist of waterfalls and rivers, and smell the spring blossoms—with Cold Mountain looming above it all.

How is Ada Monroe's hair important throughout Cold Mountain?

Although Ada Monroe is not a particularly vain woman, her thick, dark hair does seem to be a source of pride to her. When she catches herself admiring her image in a mirror in Charleston before she realizes she is looking at herself, one of the things she admires is her hair. How Ada wears her hair mirrors her change from a woman of the city to a working farm owner. Early in Chapter 2, readers learn she has already "abandoned both of the current hairstyles" because "she no longer had need or patience for such updos." This is a definite change from when she first arrived at Cold Mountain, at which time her "flourish of hairstyle was subject to ridicule." Inman, however admires her hair at all times, especially the curls at the nape of her neck. He dreams of touching and kissing that spot all through the war and during his long walk home to her. When Ruby Thewes braids Ada's hair during their hair contest, she gives Ada a practical hairdo, of course, one that is tight and won't come undone. By this time in the novel, the style suits Ada perfectly; she has also become comfortable wearing her hair loose so it falls around her shoulders. This is another style Inman likes. He clearly loves Ada's natural beauty, and she clearly does not wish to fuss over her appearance the way she used to.

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