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Cold Mountain | Study Guide

Charles Frazier

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Cold Mountain | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


Besides his gun, what is Inman's greatest weapon in all the fighting he must do during his walk home, as shown in Chapter 3 of Cold Mountain?

The things that best serve Inman when he is forced to fight are not weapons but inner gifts: his mind and his courage. Inman has a keen sense of observation that is very useful to him as he figures out how to survive despite great odds. For example, at the first settlement he enters, he notices a Whitworth rifle frequently used by snipers. When he is pursued by the men of that settlement after escaping their initial attack, he recognizes them not by sight but by the sound the Whitworth makes when fired. He knows how far the gun can shoot accurately and decides how to protect himself knowing this information. When combined with his courage, Inman's intelligence makes him a formidable foe. His courage never wavers. He is nearly always outnumbered, but he does not back down. He assesses the situation and strikes quickly and fearlessly. For example, when he faces the three men at the settlement, he notes that they are "not big men ... and overconfident." He disarms them rather quickly and fights confidently until they are all down on the ground, senseless.

What roles do each of the strong women Inman meets play in his journey in Cold Mountain?

The first strong woman Inman encounters who helps him is the ferry girl. She crosses the wide, swift Cape Fear River in a canoe to bring him to the other side. She has "big strong hands" and noticeable muscles. Her physical strength extends to her fearlessness when the men from the settlement who are chasing Inman begin firing a gun at the canoe. She takes immediate action to protect them and remains with Inman until they are safely on shore. Another woman who helps Inman is the goatwoman. She feeds him and does a great deal to restore him to better health with her medicines and potions. The goatwoman also offers Inman advice and helps him see he is not so emotionally damaged that he would wish to live as she does, a hermit.

In Chapter 3 of Cold Mountain, when Inman thinks of "many things that he wished could ... get smaller and smaller until they disappeared," what might he be thinking of?

Given the source of Inman's emotional damage—the terrible things he has seen and done in the Civil War—it seems likely that war is one of the things he hopes might disappear from the earth. He especially dislikes war attached to any sort of mission or religious fervor, which is how he feels Robert E. Lee approaches war, as described in Chapter 1. In particular, Inman would like the memories that haunt him to leave him, along with the negative feelings attached to them. As he reflects earlier, if Ada Monroe would live a quiet life with him, he might dare to hope "his despair might be honed off to a point so fine and thin that it would be nearly the same as vanishing."

Why is Ruby Thewes a particularly good farm manager for Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain?

Not only does Ruby Thewes have the skills and knowledge Ada Monroe lacks to bring the farm at Black Cove back to life, but she also has personality traits Ada lacks that are very helpful when it comes to survival. Ruby is driven to work as hard as she can every day, knowing days might come when work is not possible or when some unforeseen hardship may occur. Ruby is practical, never dreamy, and prefers to look out for her own welfare rather than to depend on others, or even trust they will do the right thing on her behalf. This attitude makes her an excellent barterer who drives a hard bargain and gets the most she can from every deal. Because she is so knowledgeable about nature, Ruby also has certainty her efforts will pay off when it comes to crops, and this is one thing that keeps her so motivated.

What personality traits, if any, does Ruby Thewes share with her father, Stobrod Thewes, as revealed by their characterizations in Cold Mountain?

Ruby Thewes does not admire her father, Stobrod Thewes, and is very concerned with being the opposite of him when it comes to how she lives her life. She will never be cavalier in her treatment of others, and she is incredibly responsible and respectful toward all living things. However, she does share two traits with her father that serve her well. These traits are independence and stubbornness. Stobrod's independence is revealed in his willingness to live as he wishes, whether people approve of him or not. Ruby's independence is apparent in her desire to live alone in the cabin at Black Cove, in her belief in her own self-reliance, and in her singular ideas about how the world works. Both Stobrod's and Ruby's stubbornness comes out when they resist advice and have difficulty being told what to do. However, both of them have often lived at a subsistence level, and this trait has sometimes helped them survive.

How is Inman's memory of the conversation he and the Tennessee soldier had about Orion relevant to his dealings with Solomon Veasey when he first meets Veasey in Cold Mountain?

When he meets Solomon Veasey, Inman recalls having a conversation with a Tennessee boy about the name of the brightest star in Orion. The reason the meeting triggers the memory is twofold. First, it is night and Inman has just noticed Orion has risen. Second, Veasey claims to be a preacher, yet he is about to engage in an evil deed when Inman comes upon him. Inman cannot reconcile in his mind how a man of God could plan to kill a woman, Laura Foster, to hide the fact he has gotten her pregnant. He no doubt wonders how God allows the death of innocents, including all of the death he has seen in the war. He wishes he could be more like the Tennessee boy, content to not ask questions—such as the name of a star—but to simply accept things rather than trying to own them with some sort of flawed human certainty.

How might the women Inman rescues along his way home in Cold Mountain remind him of Ada Monroe, and how does this connection affect his actions?

The first woman Inman rescues is Laura Foster, whom Solomon Veasey is about to throw over a cliff to her death. Inman notices her physical beauty, especially her dark hair, which curls around her face, and the softness of her skin. The similarity to Ada Monroe is clear. It's possible Inman chooses not to kill Veasey himself or "take out his knife and cut the man up" because he is familiar with the extraordinary physical attraction a man can have for a woman. Although he certainly does not approve of Veasey's plan to kill Laura, he cannot condemn his sexual activity with her. Inman also rescues Sara, an 18-year-old widowed mother. His original plan is to help her slaughter her pig so she can make it through the winter, but he becomes much more important to her survival when Federals raid her cabin and take the pig and her chickens. He goes after the three raiders, kills them, and brings the animals back, and he also provides her with the innocent comfort of sleeping beside her in her sorrow. He finds her beautiful and is surely reminded of Ada's vulnerability when it comes to surviving. He no doubt hopes that people protect and comfort her in his absence.

How do the travels of the gypsies Inman encounters in Chapter 5 of Cold Mountain compare and contrast with his own journey?

The gypsies choose to live on the road as a way of life. They love the freedom of the road, and they speak of their adventures with pride. Inman, on the other hand, is only walking home because he cannot get there any other way. His journey is toward freedom, but it does not represent freedom, as he must hide and worry about being captured and sent back to the war he is fleeing. Although the gypsies, too, are at risk of being caught, the consequences for them would be much less severe. Also, the gypsies travel as part of a community, not alone as Inman does. They do not long for home like Inman does; home is with them wherever they go.

How could the importance of paying close attention to surroundings be seen as a central message of Chapter 6 in Cold Mountain?

The helpfulness of being fully alert emerges as a theme in Chapter 6 several times. The chapter opens with Ada Monroe's musings about Ruby Thewes's practice of looking for signs in nature and responding to them with certain actions. Although Ada's religious background prevents her from accepting superstitions, she admires Ruby's practice as "a way of being alert." Later in the chapter, Ada compliments Ruby on her knowledge of so many details—in contrast to "how disoriented Ada [is] in the world"—and Ruby tells her it is the result "of being attentive." The rest of the day, Ada concentrates harder than ever on the details of her surroundings and is rewarded with a new sense of contentment. In contrast, when the three women and their children and slaves who are fleeing the Federals in Tennessee arrive in Black Cove, it is because they have not been alert in their travels. They have lost their way and are really quite fortunate that their lack of attentiveness has brought them to a safe place rather than into greater danger.

In Cold Mountain, after Ada Monroe tells Ruby Thewes the story of her Charleston evening with Blount, she comments that Ruby missed her point—what is the point she is making?

After listening to Ada Monroe's story about her evening with Blount in Chapter 6, Ruby Thewes is unimpressed, which is what leads Ada to say, "you've missed my point." The reason Ada tell the story is to point out that sometimes people can surprise themselves. Blount has surprised himself by enlisting in the war because, as he tells Ada that night, he is very afraid of being a soldier. That same night, Ada surprises herself by admiring her own reflection, not aware at first that she is looking at her own image. Ruby misses the point of the story because she cannot imagine surprising herself. As she grows as a person in the course of the novel, however, Ruby will surprise herself. She will accept her father back into her life.

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