Study Guide

Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier

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Ada Monroe

Ada Monroe is a bright and sophisticated woman…with a super-deep interior life. She's always felt at odds with the expectations Charleston society has for her, and now she's somehow ended up in the hill country, where she's still pretty different. Good thing she likes it that way:

It was with a familiar delicious tingle of pleasure, a tightening in her breathing, that she realized she was now similarly hidden away, that anyone walking from the gate to the porch would never know she was there. (2.10)

She's also the woman Inman is coming back to.

So Inman hikes across half the American South (with no Google maps, dude), and Ada just stays at home, right? Nope. Ada stays at home, sure, but she has her own hard journey full of ordeals. She goes from being a woman who knows almost nothing about survival to a woman who knows how to care for a farm and produce food for herself…and more than that, she becomes a woman who knows the place she wants in the world. She learns how to attend to nature and community in such a way as to fit in to the world she has adopted.


Some backstory: Ada moved to the hill country of North Carolina before the war with her father, a gentle and educated preacher. Ada and her father, Monroe, are used to sophisticated Charleston society, and it takes them a while to adjust to their new surroundings, although they like the place.

You could say that Ada hasn't really adjusted yet when the book begins; she gets along with several neighbors well and finds the landscape beautiful, but everyone thinks she's slightly awkward. She's the smart, artsy type, and sometimes misjudges the more earthy tastes of those around her. Imagine a beautiful girl who wears a sleek black dress and classy heels to a football game. She stands out partly because she's so sophisticated.

Ada's also trying to adjust to changed circumstances. It's hard to get help on the farm because most of the men are away at war. She can't even cook, let alone raise the food she needs to survive the winter. Her father has recently died, and she soon finds out that the money from his investments has dried up because of the war, so she's in tough shape.

She can read Latin and Greek, and she knows her classical learning cold. She also knows what's expected of a Southern lady, though she's never been that good at fitting into the mold. But they don't make cookbooks in ancient Greek. It's getting to be a problem.

Help is on the Way

Fortunately, Ada finds an unlikely tutor in Ruby, a resolutely practical young woman who knows how to run a farm and sets about hauling Ada into real life. They begin to educate each other, with Ruby teaching Ada how to pay attention to nature, grow food, bargain, and generally survive. Ada in turn reads aloud to Ruby from books like the Odyssey that she knows well. They both trade stories of their growing-up years. The shared storytelling is a big part of their friendship, as is the shared farm work.

While trying to survive, Ada is also thinking about Inman. He writes her a letter at the beginning of the book, saying he's coming home. As the book progresses, she thinks about their past interactions and the attraction between them and slowly comes to realize that she loves him.

When he turns up in the hills around Cold Mountain, it takes Ada a while to recognize him (just like the Odyssey—how 'bout that?). But once she does, they confess their love for each other and begin to plan a life together. They spend a few days and nights together, and are incredibly satisfied to find love together.


The next day, Inman is shot by the Home Guard. Yikes! Really? You're breakin' our hearts, Charles Frazier. We find out later (ten years later, when the Epilogue starts) that Ada is living on the farm with Ruby, and that she has a daughter. While the text doesn't quite say this, it's clear the girl is Inman's daughter as well as Ada's, and it's clear that Inman died ten years ago after being shot by the Home Guard.

Lots of the same questions arise for Ada as for Inman. In the end, does she find what she needs? Is this ending a satisfying one? It's definitely tragic, but is there some hope or healing or redemption in it? The ending is sad, but also has hope.

Here's why: the book ends with Ada reading the story of Baucis and Philemon (see the "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" section for more), which is about a married couple who live a long, happy life together and at the end are transformed into two trees. The story's about a life together over many years, which Ada and Inman didn't get.

In that way, it underlines the tragedy of what they've lost. But it's also a story about transformation: the end of life, which would ordinarily be death, is transformed into life as trees, parts of nature with a long and vibrant life. So maybe there's some way that the brief time Ada and Inman shared has been transformed into a fuller life than Ada could have imagined without Inman.

But again, you'll have to draw your own conclusions.

Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain Study Group

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