The Transformation of Inman, Ada, and Stobrod
Charles Frazier novel published in 1997 is set during the American Civil War, and presents how three of the characters change through circumstance or personal growth, or a mixture of the two.
Before he joins the Confederate Army Inman had thought of himself as a non-violent, man of peace, but being a soldier shows him that “fighting had come easy to him” and that he had a “gift” for violence. But this gift is double –edged that he is haunted by his prowess as a soldier on his journey back to Cold Mountain and thinks at one point:
He had grown so used to seeing death... that it seemed no longer dark and mysterious. He feared his heart had been touched by the fire so often he might never make a civilian.
Yet his compassion for all living things has not completely deserted him, and his compassion for the suffering of others returns on the trip home. For example, he stops to save the woman whom Veasey was trying to drown. He regrets shooting the bear which charges him and, having shot the cub, because he knows it cannot survive without its mother, eats the cub – but his sensitivity and guilt make the bear-flesh taste of “sin” and “regret.” He dreams of finding sanctuary alone with Ada at Cold Mountain and his experiences of war actually make him a better man, even more in harmony with nature than when h went to war. Towards the end of the novel he realizes that he cannot escape what the war did to him but he must move on:
But what the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on. And those old ones knew a thing or two and had a tale to tell.... You’re left with only your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is to go on or not. But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you.
Ada is not helped by her background in Charleston before she moves to Cold Mountain. Her friends in Charleston had told her that “the mountain region was a heathenish part of creation.” She is hostile to other people, quick to judge them negatively and over-sensitive about life on the farm. Inman says that talking to her is “like grabbing up a chestnut burr.” Ada does change, however, perhaps more than any character. The education her father made her have in Charleston has not equipped her to work on the farm, but she learns from Ruby and adapts herself to her new role, finding a peace in the rhythms and routines of nature and the farm. She is aware that 2all such rough work” on the farm has changed her. Her city pretentiousness and snobbery have gone and when she writes to Inman she is confident that she will say “what her heart felt, straight and simple and unguarded.”
Stobrod’s transformation, in one way, is the most straightforward, but also the most remarkable but Frazier does not explore it in any great depth. His treatment of Ruby as a child was simply appalling, but when he re-appears many years later he has discovered his “gift” and can play the violin. A cruel and thoughtless man, as Ruby and Ada watch him play they see “a saint’s blithesome face, loose and half a-smile with the generosity of his gift and with a becoming neutrality towards his own abilities.”
The changes the three characters undergo are all positive, which shows, perhaps, Frazier's essential faith in the possibility of redemption for everyone in one way or another. Inman is most changed by circumstance, but his love for Ada softens his scars. Ada is changed by circumstance too, but also by a change in her attitude to the mountains.