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Transformation Occurring in The Cold Mountain

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In the novel, Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, two main characters, Inman and Ida, endure intensive transformations in their time apart from each other, and Frazier entwines their two separate accounts of their journey. The novel is set in the Civil War era, and Inman is sent off to war, and while at war, endures the full brutality of the Civil War. This time was tough, especially for Confederate soldiers, of which Inman was a Confederate deserter, trying to make his way back to his loved one. Inman knew the South wasn’t winning the war, and his desertion exemplifies his acknowledgement of his dislike of the war. The author also embarks on making the story a sort of mock epic, in the way he uses comedy to change the effect of certain parts of the story. This comedic use in the novel takes away the story being a tragedy, as it downplays many of the actions and events that take place. Cold Mountain focuses primarily on the aspects of a journey and how people deal with change, conflict, choices, love and more to bring the overall theme of the transformation of character.

Throughout the novel, Inman’s time at war really changes him, as his mental and physical wounds begin to take a toll on him. He begins the story as a very distinguished soldier, but in his desertion of the Confederate army and the choices he makes along his journey back home, he becomes lesser of a man, weak and belittled by his experiences at war. “But what the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on. And those old ones knew a thing or two and had some truth to tell. . . . You’re left with only your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not. But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you.” (Frazier, 420). Inman later on in the book accepts and acknowledges the changes he has gone through as a result of his experiences in and outside of war. The choices that Inman makes throughout his journey are the main factor in his detrimental progression, as he instantly regrets most of the decisions he makes. They take a toll on him mentally, and due to the severity of his decisions, he begins to view his life as just one messed up story. “He tried to name which of the deadly seven sins might apply, and when he failed he decided to append an eighth, regret.” (Frazier, 356). Subsequent to Inman shooting the baby bear cub, he realizes that he not only has broken his “vow to a bear”, but he in actuality just regrets shooting the bear, as it was no threat to him. Inman’s experiences and actions lead to a lot of regret, which mentally destroy him, and at the end of his journey, he has become much less of a man than he once was before the war.

In Ada’s time away from Inman while he’s at war, she undergoes a massive change, as she begins the story as a lonely, young farm girl who is far from self-sufficient. By the end of her journey, she progresses far, becoming fully self-sufficient and able to deal with issues that arise in her everyday life. “She had at least milked the cow… but she had not done much more, for she did not know how to do much more.” (Frazier, 28). As Inman leaves for war, Ada is left to fend for herself, but she doesn’t know to, as she has always had help around the farm. Her dependence on Inman was great at the beginning of the novel, and by the end, she becomes fully able, thanks largely to Ruby who comes along and helps her. Ruby acts as sort of a mentor for Ada, and Ada learns under her how to fend for herself and get difficult jobs once out of reach, done with little effort. “She left Ada with two tasks… And using the methods Ruby had taught her, split the six rounds of an old black oak log they had discovered already cut into lengths…” (Frazier, 324). Ada becomes fully capable of not only handling herself, but handling everyday life on her farm, which is tough alone, mostly because of Ruby’s teachings and advice. Ruby in a sense for Ada takes the place of Inman while he’s at war, at it makes life exceptionally easier for Ada. Ruby works as a better replacement for Inman, as Inman would have done most of the work while at home, but Ruby teaches Ada how to do it so she can really prosper with and without Inman. Ada’s change throughout the story is directly opposite of Inman, as she progresses positively throughout the entire novel, while Inman constantly regresses.

Throughout the novel, the relationship between Ada and Inman in a sense dictates the whole plot line. They miss each other dearly, as Ada is the reason Inman deserts the war, to come back home to see her. Inman’s whole journey, caused by his love and desperation to be with Ada again is the reason he regresses, but at the same time to him for a good cost at the end. Towards the final few chapters of the novel, while Ada and others are camping out at Cold Mountain, Inman suddenly emerges out of the woods to surprise Ada of his return. Their initial reactions to each other were somewhat anticlimactic, and this reunion of sorts is a part of the comedy that Frazier weaves into the story, as their longing for each other was so great, yet once they finally meet, nothing really changes/happens. In relation to their relationship, Frazier centers a lot of the plot on the theme of love. Love plays massively into the whole story, as it is the cause for most and many things of Inman’s side, and love for Ada takes place in many different ways. Love for Ada’s side comes in the ways of her countless letters sent and unsent to Inman, and her desire to be as great as she can for Inman when he returns, as she understands the severity of war and its devastating effects on people. For Inman, love takes source in every single action of his, and is in and of itself the whole reason for his journey taking place. Every action he takes, relating to the widow of Sarah and all other people he encounters he thinks about Ada, and how to deal with the situation at heart. Inman turns in a sense ruthless as a result of his undying love for Ada, as he made a vow to never kill a bear, yet he did. He also mercilessly killed many others along the way, purposeful and not so that he could get back to Ada as soon as he could. This theme of love is the main source of motivation and reason for the whole plot, and contributes massively to the development of the story as a whole, as it is the underlying reason.

The time period in which this novel takes place is essential to the story, as Frazier multiple times throughout the novel intertwines real history into Inman and Ada’s lives, and it has a drastic effect on the severity of both of their situations. The time period creates a struggle for Inman, because not he has deserted the war effort to attempt to see Ada again, but many would get him on the fact that he happened to desert the war, just as the South began to lose towards the end. Not to mention for Ada the Civil War hit hard on the South, especially on the economy and more, and being a farmer, it made Ada’s life even harder. Many of the characters that Inman meets during his journey have backstories that are a culmination of the struggles of the South during the latter part of the Civil War. “When she saw Pistol leading the hog off she yelled out, That hog’s all I’ve got. You take it and you might as well knock both of us in the head and kill us now, for it will all come out the same.” (Frazier, 314). This story of Sara is historically correct, and shares a common experience of all the women whose husbands left for war and never returned. Sara, like Ada without Inman, is alone with her child, unable to fend for herself and her baby. As Inman kills the Federals who take her chickens and hog, he does it because he realizes the severity of the situation, as if the hog gets taken, Sara has no way of getting any food for herself and her baby, as without her husband, she has no money, and no way to barter for food. Frazier creates Inman in the story to be fully aware of the effects immediate and prolonged of the time period they live in, and this acknowledgement of the difficult time makes for the specific actions and paths Inman takes throughout his journey home.
In Cold Mountain, Frazier uses a lot of comedy throughout the story to bring some humor in the story, and the humor presented turns the book more towards a comedy rather than a tragedy in the end. Frazier relates the novel in many ways to The Odyssey, by Homer, as they both center on a “hero” in their novel and the journey they embark on. The difference between the two and why Cold Mountain is a more of a mock epic, is because of Frazier’s use of comedy. The use of comedy takes away the sense of tragedy and pure feeling for horrific events that take place throughout the story. At the end of the novel, as Inman has endured the full brunt of his journey, changing him in ways unthinkable, he gets shot, leading to a quick and easy death. The irony in this that Frazier uses as comedy is the fact that Inman has endured so much pain, struggle, and strife in his journey to see Ada, and it just ends by getting one quick bullet by a young kid. Frazier uses this as a main point for his comedic use, and rather than viewing this as a tragedy, it is almost easier to see it as a comedy.

In this novel, Frazier adds many aspects of comedy to many of the major interactions and parts of the plot that the novel itself rather than being considered an epic and tragedy similar to The Odyssey, it becomes more of a mock epic and a comedy as a result. Many critics have taken this into account, and have realized that the book resembles much more closely to a comedy. “I will first show why Cold Mountain cannot be a picaresque; then I will show how it is a subgenre of the quest narrative–the spiritual quest; and I will show that because this quest is successful, Cold Mountain is ultimately more closely aligned to comedy rather than tragedy.[1] Comedy accompanies every tragedy and scene in the story, and Frazier puts an emphasis on it throughout the novel, so much that it is hard to miss. According to most critics who have taken the time to specifically focus on all the aspects of comedy intertwined into the novel, they noticed that it is constantly prevalent everywhere, especially in the “tragedy” of Inman’s quick but in a sense “comedic” death in the end. “In addition, Gibson believed that this novel is more of a comedy rather than a tragedy even if the novel’s ending is the death of Inman since he was triumphant in his journey and his dying vision was concrete proof of redemption” [2] The critics noticed how much Inman endured throughout the entirety of the novel, and how it is ironic that his death occurs instantly and without struggle after his journey was complete. They realized how relatively anticlimactic his death was, as if Inman were to go through an intense struggle for the majority of the novel, a fantastic and epic death would be expected in the end, but rather a quick and disappointing end for Inman was presented. The comedic sense that is frequent throughout the novel detracts from the novel being more of an epic of the “hero”, Inman, and turns it to more of a comedy and mock epic.

Charles Frazier embarks on many different aspects of human life in Cold Mountain, and he intertwines it all together to create the plot line of the story. Frazier uses choices linked with regrets, love with comedy, and more to create a story filled with epic like qualities in relation to the journey of man (and woman). Love is used as the motivating theme in the novel, the underlying motive behind most of Inman’s choices and actions in his respective journey, that relate to his regression. The Civil War context of the novel plays a huge role, as it effects Inman in the fullest, and hardest. The Civil War was a tough time, especially towards the end for Confederate soldiers, of which Inman was. Many of the stories that Frazier incorporates into Inman’s journey bring about a struggle of the Civil War for the people of the South, which is why the historical context plays a large role in the novel. Although Frazier has many underlying motives and separate stories throughout the story, he weaves the stories together to create the full change in character of not only Inman, but Ada as well. Inman regresses as a result of his journey, and Ada progresses, and Frazier in a sense has them switch places and defy the common stereotype of the Cult of Domesticity during the Civil War.

[1] “Cold Mountain as Spiritual Quest: Inman’s Redemptive Journey.” Cold Mountain. N.p., 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 May 2017.

[2] “Epigraph of ”Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier Essay Sample.” Bla Bla Writing. N.p., 01 May 2017. Web. 30 May 2017.

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