Study Guide

Cold Mountain Chapter 2

By Charles Frazier

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Chapter 2

The Ground Beneath Her Hands

  • We meet Ada, the female lead, in this chapter.
  • She is trying to write a letter back to Inman, but having trouble. She seems to like him, and to want open and honest communication with him. But she also doesn't seem to know quite what to say.
  • Ada gives up on the letter and turns to look at her garden, which isn't doing so well. She's having trouble caring for the land she's inherited after the death of her father. She doesn't know how to grow things, and she's hungry since she doesn't know how to cook.
  • Apparently they didn't teach Home Economics at her school. Or chicken-wrangling. Which is why Ada gets bullied by her own rooster in this chapter. Chickens—1; Ada—0.
  • Ada takes a walk, and because a walk is never just a walk in Cold Mountain, we also get some backstory: her father was a preacher who died in May of the year the novel is set. After the funeral everyone expected Ada to go back to Charleston, but she decided to stay on the farm her father owned, Black Cove, at least for a while.
  • She goes to visit some neighbors, Esco and Sally Swanger, who are kind to her.
  • The Swangers are unimpressed with both sides of the war presently, and are worried that both the invading Federals and the Home Guard will treat the locals poorly.
  • They've got some reason to worry, since word is that the Federals recently took all the food from a nearby farm and set fire to the corncrib. The Home Guard under a guy named Teague doesn't sound too nice either; they've even tortured their neighbors looking for money.
  • Sounds sort of like asking if you want the Empire from Star Wars or the Alliance from Firefly to run the show: no fun either way.
  • As everyone talks about the future, we realize that Ada doesn't feel at home in Charleston or Cold Mountain, and she's not sure what to do next. Esco and Sally have an idea. Half-jokingly, they recommend that Ada look into their well backwards, since a local custom says that will reveal the future.
  • Ada tries it, and isn't sure what happens. She seems to see a dark figure, and doesn't know if she should try to follow him or wait for him, or even who he is.
  • Ada goes back to her farm, Black Cove. We hope you like backstory, because Cold Mountain is full of it. Don't expect your run-of-the-mill linear storytelling. It's completely full of digressions, backstory, and so on.
  • Ada and her father moved to the mountains six years ago because her father had consumption (tuberculosis) and the doctors thought the mountains would improve his health.
  • By the way, the book is set in 1864, so that means they moved to Cold Mountain about two years before the Civil War started. The place was beautiful, but it was a tough adjustment on the social front, like switching schools from Hogwarts to your average American high school. They made some progress, but Ada's still slightly out of place…though friends like the Swangers like her.
  • Later on, Ada gets a letter explaining that her father's investments don't really pay during the war. She's now faced with a tough choice:
    • Try to go back to Charleston without money, which would mean either living off her father's friends or finding a reasonably well-off but unexciting man to marry.
    • Stay on the farm, which she doesn't know how to run, and which isn't really set up as a self-sustaining farm since her father depended on the investment money and ran the farm more as a hobby.
  • She thinks back to her childhood in Charleston and has a strange dream in which her father reanimates in a glass case at a railway station, sort of, but doesn't really come back to life—basically, he's a zombie. He tries to tell her something, but she doesn't know what. That communicating with the undead thing never goes so well…
  • In the dream, the train is leaving, and she knows it's going back to Charleston in the past, when she was a child. She doesn't get on. Is that because she can't, given the money situation? Or because somehow she doesn't want to go back to Charleston anyway?
  • It seems possible, given her memories of not wanting to be part of many society activities there, which tend to center on trying to catch a husband and then subordinate all one's own hopes to his.
  • Ada decides to try to stay in the hill country on the farm, even though she doesn't really know how to survive there and her neighbors have predicted a hard winter.
  • But she's in luck! A young woman without any family comes and offers to help her with the farm. While they're very different, Ada feels a sense of kinship with the girl, Ruby, because they're both almost without blood family.
  • They negotiate a bit, and Ruby makes it clear that she's not worried about money, but does want to be treated as an equal. They agree to give a try at living on the farm together.
  • After they agree, the rooster who bullied Ada earlier in the chapter shows up, and Ada says she's afraid of it. Ruby says she wouldn't tolerate a rooster who attacked her, and Ada asks how they can chase it off. Ruby seems puzzled.
  • She kills the rooster, and makes a solid chicken dinner for them both. We're betting on her to win Iron Chef: Civil War Edition.

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