Cold Mountain: Chapters 3-4
Summary, Chapter Three (“the color of despair”), pp. 53-70
Inman is tired, hungry, and partially lost when he comes upon an out-of-the-way country store where it seems safe to purchase some food. However, as Inman leaves town, he is jumped by three men. He fights them off and makes his escape into the woods, fully expecting them to follow him sooner or later. As he walks, Inman remembers the words to a Cherokee spell Swimmer used to make an enemy’s soul “fade to blue, the color of despair.” He repeats the spell, unsure that it actually works.
Eventually, his memories turn to the first time he met Ada Monroe. After a church service, Inman got Sally Swanger to introduce him to Ada in exchange for clearing an acre of Swanger land. Inman could think of nothing to say, however, when he actually stood before Ada. She, in turn, is impatient and abrupt.
Inman continues his journey through the flatland forest and along a muddy, ugly river. His thoughts of Cold Mountain and of Ada, of building a quiet life there together, keep him going. At last he comes to a ferry crossing and pays a girl to take him across the foul water in a canoe. Midriver, they are fired upon by the men who had indeed been following Inman. As the two of them float down the river in the damaged canoe, Inman fully expects to be dragged to the bottom of the river by the monstrous catfish he glimpsed earlier. He contemplates the world, how hard it is to find anything to truly love in it—and how easy it is to merely hate it. Yet in his mind, Cold Mountain remains as the one place he can truly love.
He finally leaves the river and spends the night in the brush, hungry, tired, bruised, covered in poison ivy blisters. His neck wound has opened again. Yet when daylight returns, he takes up his packs and continues his journey back to Cold Mountain.
Summary, Chapter four (“verbs, all of them tiring”), pp. 71-85
Ruby and Ada set about saving Black Cove Farm. Ada writes down everything Ruby recommends, and she learns from Ruby that they do not need money if they have the means to barter what they have for what they need. Ada even agrees to trade her beloved piano for such practical things as sheep, corn grits, cabbages, a ham, and some bacon.
On the day the piano is taken away, Ada remembers playing it a Christmas party before the war. At that party, she had found herself in the kitchen alone with Inman, who had just arrived, soaked by rain. Although they had hardly spoken since their meeting, she ended up sitting in his lap. The moment was over quickly, and Ada returned to the party. They did not speak the rest of the evening.
Ada and Ruby soon fall into a routine of chores, and Ada feels like Ruby speaks only in “verbs, all of them tiring.” Nevertheless, she lets Ruby teach her how to garden, to patch a roof, to chop off a chicken’s head, etc. In return, Ada reads Homer to Ruby at night. Eventually, Ruby relates how her father, Stobrod Thewes, often left her in their mountain shack to fend for herself as a child. On a particularly cold night when she might have died, Ruby heard a voice, a “tender force of the landscape,” that watched over her all night. Ruby describes how she has survived since her father went off to the war. She has not heard from him since and presumes he is dead.
Analysis, chapters 3-4
In chapters three and four, Frazier takes readers further into the setting, into a world that does not exist anymore. Frazier achieves this “other worldly” effect through detailed descriptions of the rural landscape and its people, as well as through characters’ use of Southern, specifically Appalachian, speech.
The South that Inman travels through, however, also has an ominous, distorted quality like that found in fairy tales. The flatland forest he crosses seems to be a “sick and dangerous place” where “trees loomed like green and grey beasts risen out of the ground.” The countryside is dotted with isolated farms patrolled by snarling hounds; the roads are patrolled by the relentless Home Guard. When Inman swings a scythe to defend himself against the men who attack him outside the town, he finds it ironic that the tool he once used so naturally—in better times—is now a weapon in his hands.
What makes this landscape so evil, however, is not only nature, but human nature. It is the human element that is most dangerous to Inman; it is the human element that has been around for so long that even the Cherokee had a spell against evil people. Yet Inman is part of the human element in the landscape. His actions, whether on the battlefield or against the three men, are necessarily violent. Inman’s vision of living as a peaceful man at Cold Mountain continually clashes with the violence he must undertake to simply survive.
The landscape that Ada confronts is equally “old world,” a rural landscape that quickly returns to the wild if it is not tended properly. Ruby, however, knows how to live within this landscape. She does not seek to rule it, but to care for it, in order to survive. She understands the spiritual aspect of nature; she knows “things others never would” because of her experiences in the wild. Slowly, she is teaching Ada to coexist with nature. The work that she makes Ada do is stripping away all that is artificial and contrived in Ada.
Although Inman and Ada are taking different paths to self-knowledge, their love story remains at the core of their journeys. Chapters three and four make clear that Ada is the woman to whom Inman is traveling and that Inman is the man for whom Ada waits. Frazier allows readers to see just enough of their relationship’s early days (their meeting, the Christmas party) to see that they began very tentatively, without a clear declaration of love on either side. This uncertainty, contrasted with Inman’s determination to return to Ada, makes Inman’s journey and suffering more heartbreaking. He seems to be risking much for a woman whose love he is not entirely sure of.