Study Guide

Cold Mountain Summary

By Charles Frazier

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Cold Mountain Summary

The main character, Inman, is wounded while fighting on the Confederate side of the Civil War and decides to run away from the Army and go home to the woman he loves and the place where he grew up. Meanwhile the woman, Ada Monroe, who's also slowly realizing how much she's in love with Inman, learns that the war has taken away her family's money, so she must figure out how to survive on a farm. Her education before the war mainly focused on Greek and how to dress for a ball…so killing chickens and cooking pies seems like quite a challenge.

As they both struggle for survival, they encounter a number of eccentric characters and become friends with a few of them. Inman strives to get home.

Major events along the way include:

Inman stops a dude named Veasey from killing a girl (it's a long story), and Veasey ends up traveling along with Inman for a while. Veasey's boneheaded enough to fight a giant catfish with his bare hands. Inman and Veasey stop to help a guy named Junior, who repays them by turning them into the Home Guard. The Home Guard is rounding up deserters from the Confederate Army and sending them back to the front or shooting them. Bad luck: in this case it's shooting them.

Inman survives the shooting, but Veasey doesn't. Inman heads on and is taken in by a kind woman who owns a lot of goats. She feeds him, gives him medicine, and listens to his story. Inman keeps going and is sheltered by a woman named Sara, who is so poor that her main hope for surviving the winter is the food from one hog. Some Federal soldiers try to take it away, and Inman gets it back.

As Inman encounters all these events, he grows more and more set on seeing Ada again. But when he gets to her farm, she's gone! Really, dude? She stays at home for most of the book and then leaves just before Inman gets there?

Turns out, she's got a good reason for disappearing just then. Backstory: while Inman has been hiking through the wilderness, Ada's been learning to survive on a farm. The chief reason she's able to learn is that a strong, practical young woman named Ruby turns up and offers to help run the farm if she can live there and share in the food it produces. Ada agrees, and the two start to become friends and coworkers on the land. This part of the story is a great buddy movie in its own right.

More backstory: Ruby has a lazy father named Stobrod. She thought he'd died in the Civil War, but he turns up needing help partway through the book. Ruby and Ada leave food for him in a particular spot, but Ruby won't take him in on the farm for fear the Home Guard will come after him and hurt Ada and Ruby too.

We promise, this backstory does line up with why Inman can't find Ada when he gets home. Here's how: the Home Guard eventually shoots Stobrod (yikes!), and Ada and Ruby go up into the hills to bury him. That's why they've left the farm just before Inman gets there. The pal of Stobrod's, who's still hiding on the farm, tells Inman where the women have gone.

As Inman heads into the hills, Ada and Ruby have found that Stobrod isn't dead, just badly wounded. They take him to an abandoned Cherokee village and try to help him recover.

Inman and Ada eventually find each other in the woods, while Inman's wondering how he'll ever find her and Ada's out trying to shoot a few turkeys for dinner (where's a good Chipotle when you need one?). It takes them some time, but they recognize each other and are happily reunited.

Things are looking up for the next few days: Stobrod's recovering, Inman and Ada are planning a happy future together as a married couple, and Ruby's slowly warming up to the idea of Inman joining them all on the farm. They even have a plan: Inman will go North until the war ends (it's late in 1864, and people in the South know the end is coming), Stobrod will hide out on the farm and recover, and Ruby and Ada will keep working the farm in the meantime.

It's all pretty hopeful, until they start home. Then the Home Guard turns up. Again. Inman bravely fights until only one is left. In a tense standoff, the last Home Guard guy shoots first. The last thing we see in the main part of the novel is Ada holding Inman. Frazier doesn't even tell us if he lives or dies. Talk about your cliffhangers!

Ah, but there's an epilogue. It's set in 1874, ten years later, and it tells us a lot: Ruby married the pal of Stobrod's who told them where to find her dear old Dad after he was shot, and they have a family. Stobrod's still living with them on the farm, and seems to have improved a lot in later life. Ada's there too, with a daughter. And now, the moment we've all been waiting for: what about Inman? That's what Frazier doesn't tell us. After all that suspense. Frazier, dude, you're killing us. But Inman never appears, so we're left to fill in that he died in 1864 after the Home Guard shot him. And Ada's daughter is nine years old. So we can also fill in that she's Inman's daughter as well.

How do we feel about this ending? Is it hopelessly tragic? Or does it achieve some sort of satisfying conclusion, in spite of the sorrow?

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