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Free Study Guide - Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

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CHAPTER 3 the color of despair


Inman feels that after days of traveling he has not gotten very far from the hospital. Bad weather, dogs from the farms he passed, and the threat of the Home Guard, plus his wounded condition leave Inman tired and partially lost.

He comes to a town at a crossroad and stops in a store to buy food. Two men who were sitting in rockers on the porch of the store when Inman arrived are gone when he comes out. Inman had noted that one of the men had a fine rifle, the kind snipers use. At the edge of town the same two men block Inman’s path. A third man, a smith carrying a scythe, joins them. The three jump Inman. Inman is able to grab the scythe and sweeps it across near the men’s ankles. He beats them down with the handle. The smith pulls out a gun. Inman takes the gun, places it to the smith’s head and pulls the trigger four times. The gun does not fire. Inman beats the man, flings the gun away and walks off.

Inman avoids the road as he continues. He recalls a spell against enemies taught to him by a Native American friend. The spell reminds him of a sermon Monroe gave the day Inman first met Ada. But his thoughts do not distract him from the foulness of the area where he is walking. He is between a forest overgrown with poison ivy and a great brown river, which he cannot cross.

He comes to a sign marking a ferry crossing. Rather than a ferry and a ferryman, Inman meets a young girl with a canoe. She haggles with him for a $20 fee and they begin to cross the river. Suddenly they hear voices and gunshots. It is the men from the crossroads town. They shoot holes in the canoe forcing Inman and the girl into the water holding on to the far side of the canoe for cover. They are finally carried out of range by the current. Once on land, Inman gives the girl more money and she gives him directions to the road that goes west.

Inman is bruised from the fight, blistered from poison ivy, and his neck wound has opened up. His food is tainted with the taste of the river. Yet after only a few hours sleep he sets off again.


Inman so loves the flowers, ridges, coves and clear water of Cold Mountain that his current surroundings are vile to him. He hates the flat land, the pinewoods and the disgustingly brown river. The war was fought over ground like this “country of swill and sullage, sump of the continent.” Still he continues, soul-sick, and despairing that there is not even a hope that Ada will be with him in Cold Mountain. Tired, sore and injured he chooses to continue his journey. The theme of endurance is strong in this chapter.

CHAPTER 4 verbs, all of them tiring


Ruby moves into the old hunting cabin on Ada’s farm. She and Ada take stock of the farm and Ruby seems to have plans for each bit of the property. There are parts of the farm that are still in good working order. Ruby explains how they could trade cider and tobacco for items they could not produce themselves. She trades Ada’s piano for pigs, sheep, corn grits, ham and bacon.

Watching the piano being carried away, Ada reminisces about the Christmas party Monroe had where, as the result of too much champagne, she ended up briefly in Inman’s lap. The memory makes Ada think there might still be some champagne in the basement but she finds coffee beans instead. Ruby is able to barter these for an impressive amount of food and supplies, including the most valuable commodity, salt.

Ruby’s routine is to wake before dawn, complete some farm chores, then make breakfast. She expects that Ada be there for breakfast. It is clear by Ruby’s actions and expressions that she will not be treated like a servant.

Ada learns to work constantly at farm chores. She and Ruby rest only in the evening. They sit on the porch and Ada reads aloud from Homer’s Odyssey. Then Ruby tells stories of her life as a poor, neglected, motherless child.


Through Ruby we get a picture of the extreme independence and earthy spirituality necessary for survival in the mountains. She is master of the old ways and takes charge of the daily routine on Ada’s farm. Until Ruby’s arrival, Ada had not a hint of the processes behind food, clothing and shelter. Ada feels Ruby’s plans use too many verbs, all of them tiring, yet she knows Ruby will not let her fail.

There is another reference to 19th century literature here, Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, which Ada retells over coffee to Ruby who was heretofore a stranger to books. There is also the reference to Homer, hinting that this story parallels that epic odyssey.


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Cassie, D. L.. "TheBestNotes on Cold Mountain". . 09 May 2017