Study Guide

Cold Mountain Disappointment

By Charles Frazier

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Chapter 3

And if Ada would go with him, there might be the hope, so far off in the distance he did not even really see it, that in time his despair might be honed off to a point so fine and thin that it would be nearly the same as vanishing.

But even though he believed truly that you can think on a thing till it comes real, this last thought never shaped up so, no matter how hard he tried. What hope he had was no brighter than if someone had lit fire to a taper at the mountain's top and left him far away to try setting a course by it. (3.76-77)

Even if hope seems miles distant, might there be a way to reach it after terrible experiences? What would that take for Inman?

Sundays and Wednesdays both, he had talked only of what he thought to be the prime riddle of creation: why was man born to die? (3.31)

Is life wholly tragic if we're just going to die at the end anyway? Or is there some kind of hope in human experience, however brief? What does Cold Mountain as a whole suggest?

He floated along thinking he would like to love the world as it was, and he felt a great deal of accomplishment for the occasions when he did, since the other was so easy. Hate took no effort other than to look about. (3.114)

Inman's pretty depressed after fighting, but he keeps trying to fight his own disappointment with the world. Is that the way he'll overcome it, or does he need something more than willpower?

Your soul will fade to blue, the color of despair. Your spirit will wane and dwindle away, never to reappear. Your path lies toward the Nightland. This is your path. There is no other. (3.25)

This curse Inman heard years ago sounds pretty terrifying. Is Inman remembering this now because this is how he feels after the war?

Chapter 5

Inman was sorry not to have bid them farewell, but he walked all through the day with some brightening of his spirit from the clear dream he had been awarded in the dark of night. (5.141)

Can even a small thing like a good dream help Inman overcome disappointment?

Chapter 6

She stood there, part in a lethargic daze, part watchful, thinking of what the pilgrim woman had said about Ada's great luck. On such a day as this, despite the looming war and all the work she knew the cove required of her, she could not see how she could improve her world. (6.29)

Ada's been disappointed at lots of moments in the book, but it's nice to see that she has hope, too. It seems that nature is one thing that helps her overcome sorrow.

This is a time that carves the heart down to a bitter nub, the third woman said. You are luckier than you know, hid in this cove. (6.11)

Lots of people are disappointed by the results of the war, and not just soldiers. What does it take to stay hopeful in such a time, and do Ada and Ruby have it?

Chapter 8

Then they argued generally for a mile or two as to whether the world might better be viewed as such a place of threat and fear that the only consonant attitude one could maintain was gloom, or whether one should strive for light and cheer even though a dark-fisted hand seemed poised ready to strike at any moment. (8.101)

This is not just a debate two characters are having while they walk. It's a pretty big question for the whole book.

Men ask the way to Cold Mountain. Cold Mountain: there's no through trail. –Han-shan, Epigraph to Cold Mountain

Is this cryptic quote warning us that the characters will be disappointed as they try to get somewhere it's impossible to go? Or is it saying that there may be hope to find or make a better world, even if it isn't easy?

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