Inman from Cold Mountain acts as Odysseus’ protégé due to the several similarities they share within their origin stories and the events they encounter during their journey; in company with the similarities, Charles Frazier presented Inman with his own personality and a slightly different conclusion which allows the character to take a slight deviant from the original fictional character Odysseus. Odysseus is the hero of Homer’s poem and a very prominent figure in western literature. Odysseus was said to be the king of Ithaca, husband of Penelope and the son of Laërtes and Anticlea. Odysseus is known many traits such as courage, shrewdness, endurance and persuasive oratory. Although Inman’s full name is never mentioned in the book, the character is also based of a real confederate soldier in the Civil War named William P. Inman.
Charles Frazier depicted Inman as a deserter which serves as a contrast to Odysseus but makes up for it when it comes to character development. Inman also shares many of the familiar traits Odysseus is known for such as his intelligence, courage and bravery. Though the amount of military action or battles that took place in the civil war are not highlighted in the book, there are constant reminders that both protagonists are in a state of late-war upheaval. Just like Odysseus, Inman also has a love interest whose name is Ada; in this novel Ada acts as a counter to Inman’s physical struggle to her psychological struggle of maintaining a life in her farm without her father. Since Ada’s father dies during the war, she has to change her lifestyle to work in the farm and in that she faces difficulty as she posses no knowledge on how to run a farm. But her friend Ruby helps her out and converts her to a hard and diligent worker. Just like Penelope, Ada’s love for Inman is what keeps her going. This love is also reciprocated as this is what gives Inman the strength to fight his way to the Cold Mountain. Even though Inman’s journey to the Cold Mountain does not last for ten wearying years, he does face plenty of the same challenges and threats that Odysseus faces. For instance both the protagonists encounter challenges that test either their faith or love.
For Odysseus he tested his love when it came to Circe’s island followed by Calypso’s island, even though Odysseys does succumb to his desires of sleeping with the women he meets, he eventually is able to defeat his desires because of the love he has for his wife. Although Inman’s faith isn't tested through several years like Odysseus or in a very direct manner, a strong theme of lust is present in Cold Mountain. For example when Inman meets a peddler by the name of Odell, he tells the story of how he fell in love with a slave named Lucinda owned by his father. He then goes into a slight tangent by saying that he wished his wife was dead just so that he could be with Lucinda. Similarly when Inman’s companion Solomon Veasey is just offered a chance to sleep with a prostitute, he accepts the offer without hesitation. The prostitute then proceeds to ask Inman “You want to come along too?” to which Inman replied “You all go on ahead”. Other parallels in the plot line exist as well; for example, both protagonists have their companions, Elpenor for Odysseus and Solomon Veasey for Inman. Other parallels can be seen in their encounters, both the protagonists lose their time being intoxicated in places (Odysseus among the lotus eaters and Inman amongst the speakeasy), both meet women who prefer animals to man (Circe for Odysseus and the Goat woman for Inman), both the protagonists have a near death escape with their monsters (The Cyclops for Odysseus and Teague and the Home guard for Inman).
Another common aspect between Inman and Odysseus is the type of character growth they go through. Odysseus goes through more of a physical change as his journey lasted ten years, the victory and defeat from the battles helped define his idea of the martial spirit but for Inman he gains his through a different path. Through the story, it can be perceived that Inman only faces a negative change. But if seen in the spiritual sense, Inman’s spirit does show growth and transformation. “Inman’s journey is, among other things, a record of his coming to terms with God. From its very first step, his journey is one of faith, a faith that he has lost in the war and is on the road to recovering throughout the story” (Gibson 417). At the beginning of the novel, Inman sees the world as a random place where there is neither order nor control, but by the end of the novel, Inman subscribes to a different idea, the idea of a higher power existing which controls certain events that did in fact affect Inman’s life. He recognizes that war had disrupted him, put him out of his place .during the conversation he has with the goat woman. But when he reunites with Ada he finds out that whatever he has been through, has happened for a purpose; “But she filled him full, and so he believed everything that had been taken out of him might have been for a purpose.
To clear space for something better” (Frazier 347). This is another parallel that connects this novel to The Odyssey, as the novel comes to an end, both the protagonists crossover the boundary that separates the dead from the living, in The Odyssey, Odysseus enters the underworld by making his way through the Ocean Stream to reach the other side, whereas for Inman, he merely crosses a river leading to the land away from the warzone and back to the Cold Mountain. By completing the journey just like Odysseus, Inman has displayed courage and bravery. Hence by Inman regaining his faith through this journey, he has achieved his martial spirit and knows what it takes to be a true warrior regardless of his tag as a deserter. Another difference is that the story ends differently for Inman, although he does get back to Ada and Cold Mountain, his stay is shortened as he gets mortally wounded in a gun fight which results in Inman dying but in a poetic fashion he dies in Ada’s arms. This itself acts a segue to the theme of romance. Charles Frazier also utilizes various themes to help replicate the same tension that was felt in The Odyssey.
Charles Frazier employs many themes such as the theme of war and destruction, the theme of romance and the power of love and the theme of home. As mentioned previously, even though war is not highlighted plenty of times in the novel, it still acts as a major part as that is what is causing Inman to head home. Since Cold Mountain is regarded as the modern day Odyssey as mentioned previously, Charles Frazier also embraces the theme of The Odyssey. Instead of writing a traditional war novel, Frazier chose to write Cold Mountain in a similar style creating a parallel to The Odyssey. That is why the theme of of a protagonist heading home to a loved one and battling evils is prevalent in the novel. An example of how war transformed Inman is when he is asked about whether or not he would want to go blind and replied that he would not have minded for a few instances due to what he had seen while in the war. “He handed it to Inman and said, Come on, cite me one instance where you wished you were blind. Where to begin? Inman wondered. Malvern Hill. Sharpsburg. Petersburg. Any would do admirably as example of unwelcome visions” (Frazier 6). By citing out plenty instances as to when he would have preferred to be blind, Inman has demonstrated that war has affected him deeply. Another such instance is when Inman meets a few other men and they also try their best to stay away from all bloodshed and war; “Teague and his Home Guard roaring around like a band of marauders.
Setting their own laws as suits them, and them nothing but trash looking for a way to stay out of the army” (Frazier ). Since Charles Frazier decided to mirror The Odyssey, Cold Mountain also has the theme of struggle between man and his environment, whether it be against another person or nature itself. “Inman fought them backing up. His last wish was for them to mob him...and so he gave way until he was forced against the side of the store” (Frazier 57). Early on in Inman’s journey, he gets attacked by three other passerby’s; even without provoking them they still choose to attack Inman. Although Inman did win this fight, this event foreshadows the possibility of Inman running into trouble again, which in fact does happen a few chapters later. To contrast the theme of war in the novel, the theme of innocence is present. This theme also develops Inman’s character as he yearns for peace yet has to fight for it causing an internal conflict which he resolves by returning back to Cold Mountain and Ada. Even though Inman’s character changes throughout the book, he stills retains his innocence by keeping a diary or a notebook and writes about what he sees. “What is it you do in those books? Inman said. I make a record, the woman said. Draw pictures and write. About what? Everything. The goats. Plants. Weather. I keep track of what everything's up to. It can take up all your time just marking down what happens. Miss a day and you get behind and might never catch back up. How did you learn to write and read and draw? Inman asked. Same way you did. Somebody taught me” (Frazier 221). Inman does so to distract himself from what is happening around him; in a way it gives Inman hope as he keeps himself optimistic when he draws such pictures and writes about what he experiences.
Another theme that is highlighted in the novel is the theme of isolation; Ada and Inman face different types of isolation throughout the novel. The actions in the Civil War lead to the destruction of communities and tore families apart because the men would go to war, leaving behind their wives, children etc to fend for themselves. The novel focuses on isolation in a different way compared how it normally is focused on, Charles Frazier uses this theme to show how survival is increasingly onerous. When Inman is alone, he is attacked more and finds it harder to survive in general, but when accompanied by other people or when offered help, Inman makes it to Cold Mountain with more ease. For example, in the latter part of Inman’s journey, he is hunted by the Home Guard, he only survives that encounter because of another one of the supporting characters Sara as she provides him with shelter. Inman is also saved yet again by another supporting character; when Inman is terribly wounded, his wounds are only fixed when he comes across an old woman who offers to help him, without her help, Inman would have not made it to Cold Mountain. It is quite similar in Ada’s case, before Ruby arrives to help her out, Ada finds it near impossible to run the farm let alone take care of herself at the time. But with Ruby’s help Ada is able to manage the farm and survive.
This then leads us to the style of narration that Charles Frazier choose to write the novel in.
Just like how Homer recited The Odyssey, Charles Frazier also employs a similar like pattern yet produces a divergent at the end. Charles Frazier implemented the Homeric technique in his novel (the story of a wounded soldier finding his way back home) but did not follow all the way through as Inman does not survive his encounter with the Home guard and dies. Since Inman does not live till the end of the novel, he is in conflict with the Homeric ideal of the hero and the epic model. As Ava Chitwood of International Journal of the Classical Tradition says “he hero, and his death is a necessity brought about by the other force at work in the novel, the anonymous philosopher whose work is cited in its opening pages, but whose influence on the book has hitherto gone unremarked” (Chitwood 234). Instead Charles Frazier implements the Heraclitean method of story telling. In this method, Frazier chooses to end the story with the un-resolved conflict of Inman’s death. The Heraclitean style of narrative is used to highlight the “human” reality of the world. Heraclitus was a philosopher that emphasized more on human affairs compared to Homer’s emphasis on the supernatural and external forces controlling the characters in his stories. Although Heraclitus does follow the ideas of his predecessors in Greek philosophy, one of the main themes in his writings is the theme of human blindness, this can be connected to the novel by accentuating on the theme of war as well. As Charles Frazier chooses to use two different styles of writing including the Homeric way, this style of writing opens up many opportunities to use animals as symbols to help foreshadow the character’s path in the novel.
To heighten the theme of The Odyssey in the novel, Charles Frazier replicates the concepts of animals, birds specifically to be the harbingers of fate. In The Odyssey, birds are used as a literary tool to foreshadow omens that the soldiers and Odysseus will face. For example, in the beginning of the book, a pair of eagles tear each other apart symbolizing and foreshadowing the imminent war and battles the soldiers will face. Then towards the conclusion of the epic, a large bird flies by with a swallow in the mouth symbolizing the sheer weakness of the crew. Similarly, in Cold Mountain, birds act as a literary tool to either symbolize Inman’s state or foreshadow omens. Right at the beginning of the book, symbolism can be seen as Inman looks up at the sky and sees vultures flying; “Above the dome, a dark circle of vultures swirled in the oyster sky...As Inman watched, the birds did not strike a wingbeat but nonetheless climbed gradually” (Frazier 16). This event foreshadows the encounter that Inman will have when he meets Teague and the Home guard, it is supposed to represent Inman getting cornered by the antagonists. Another such example is the referral to poultry in the novel, the comparison of Inman to poultry in the novel symbolizes Inman’s fate which is inexorable death. “Those with the strength to do so had knocked holes in the sides of the wood boxcars with the butts of rifles and rode with their heads thrust out like crated poultry to catch the breeze” (Frazier 4). In this quote, Charles Frazier refers to all the wounded soldiers heading to the hospital like poultry because the chance of survival is slim for those who were severely injured while fighting in the war. Although the soldiers are compared to poultry, Inman still envy’s at birds due to their ability to either fly away from their enemies or laugh at their victims. “And when his eyes were closed, he dreamed he lived in a kind of world where if a man wished he could think himself into crow form, so that, though filled with dark error, he still had power either to fly from enemies or laugh them away” (Frazier 185). Here Charles Frazier explains to us that the crows in this scenario represent Inman’s freedom because Inman at this point in the novel is being held captive by Junior. This quote also portrays Inman’s envy towards the birds ability to travel fast by flying as Inman himself wishes to travel or fly at that speed to Ava. Charles Frazier also used birds to represent the state of the United States of America through the harassment of a snake by crows. “There were crows in the limbs above him, three of them, and they were harrying a rat snake they had discovered up in the tree. They sat on the limbs above the snake and gabbled at it...The snake made the customary vicious displays of its kind...But all its efforts were met with hilarity and ridicule by the crows, and the snake soon departed” (Frazier 184). In this quote, Inman sees a rat snake getting harassed by three crows which were surrounding it, with the crows trying to tear apart the snake from different sides, it is meant to represent the United States of America being torn apart due to the Civil War. It is not only Inman that interacts with birds, since both Ava and Ruby run a farm they also have such encounters with them. Ada and Ruby use birds, specifically the erratic movements of crows as a means to find prophecies about their futures. The attempt of doing this itself symbolizes the haphazard state of both Ada’s and Ruby’s life. An example of such is when Ada and Ruby come across a great blue heron. “Off in the river stood a great blue heron. It was a tall bird to begin with, but something about the angle from which they viewed it and the cast of low sun made it seem even taller...The heron stared down into the water with fierce concentration” (Frazier 150). When Ada and Ruby come across the heron, it symbolizes more than one thing. When described what it looked like at first sight, it represented the Cold Mountain itself and how its an elegant sight which looks different than what it actually is. Secondly Ada comments on the heron’s focus by bringing up the greek myth of Narcissus, a hunter who was known for his beauty. Although she proceeds to change her mind by saying that the heron was hunting for food rather than admiring its own reflection, there can be many comparisons made between the heron and Narcissus. For example, both of them share striking physical appearances, both of them lost themselves in their gaze and finally both act as solitary pilgrims. This connects to the image of none other than Inman, as his journey to Cold Mountain is his true test of faith. This brings up the final idea of what the Cold Mountain actually is.
Cold Mountain is referenced several times throughout the book, it is said to be a haven from those who fled from the war, a home to many where plenty of souls were nurtured, but to Inman and to Ada it is something greater. As children Inman and Ada grew up in Black Cove (the mountain that neighbor’s Cold Mountain), and would be able to tell around the place as it wasn’t a sight to miss. Inman had heard stories of Cold Mountain being an uninhabitable place due to the terrible cold and the unreachable heights. “Swimmer described it as a far and inaccessible region, but he said the highest mountains lifted their dark summits into its lower reaches” (Frazier 16). Not only was it uninhabitable, the mountain acted as a beacon due to its enormous size which ended up becoming a landmark. But it also acts as more than a beacon, Cold Mountain also represents the constant state of innocence as it is told to be the same entity after the war as it was before the war. This lack of change is what characters such as Inman and Ada are drawn to because the mountain was not affected by the war, but everybody else was. The loss of innocence is what causes such characters to have fond memories of Cold Mountain. As Inman is absconding from the war, he is being drawn to Cold Mountain because it reminds of his life before the war broke out, a life of peace and contentment.