‘Cold Mountain’ is set in a time of violence and war. It is set during the American civil war in the mid 19th century. The war was between the north and the south. The north did not see much use for slaves as it was an industrial part hence it suggested the end of slavery. The south, whose wealth came from cultivation of the land needed a huge work force hence they saw the need for slaves. The war was meant to end human suffering yet ironically it imposes suffering on innocent people like Sarah and her baby.
In this essay, I will discuss how Frazier has created a contrast between the characters that fall victim to war and the characters that perpetuate violence. Ada and Inman, the main characters of the novel have been separated by the war. It is Inman who suffers from the psycho trauma of seeing his work mates killed in the war. He has been subjected to so much inhumanity. He witnesses the further atrocities that are described in detail, such as the soldier systematically hammering the heads of the heads of the fallen federal soldiers and no one try to stop him.
The man doing this “whistles, almost under his breathe a tune by Cora Ellen”. This shows just how much the war has changed the people. This man is acting like what he is doing is an everyday thing, and there is nothing wrong with it. Yet to the reader this creates an incongruence image to show just how inhuman this act is. This is human life which is being treated like animals. Ruby is a victim of the war as her father leaves to go and fight in the war. This however does make her more self-reliant and appreciative of what she’s got.
As much as being a victim, Frazier presents her as a confident person who is at ease with herself. There is a great contrast between Ruby and Ada’s characters. Ruby has risen from being a victim to being in control, while Ada remains a victim until she meets Ruby who helps her embrace both pain and happiness as the novel goes on. Ada learns to trust herself and moves towards nature. The similarity between Ada, Ruby and Inman is that they all seek solace in nature.
Sara is a young girl whose husband has been killed in the war, is a victim because she is left with a sick child to tend for with no help from any one. How can war that’s meant to stop human cruelty be so cruel to an innocent girl who has not done any harm to anyone? She is so sad that the only thing that keeps her alive is her child. The baby is the only bright point of her life, “Without her, there would be nothing holding me to earth”, her life has been darkened by the war. As well as nature, Frazier used music to provide the victims of war with another world to escape to.
Sara sings songs to her baby to stop her carrying. When she sings, “the sound of her was that of a woman of previous century living on in the present, that old and weary. Sara was such a child to sound that way”. Even the home guards, which kill Pangle, listen to the music and agree that none of them “had ever heard fiddle and banjo played together in that tuning, nor had they heard playing of such strength and rhythm applied to musical themes so direful and elegiac”. It is only after music ends when Teague remembers the purpose of their trip.
It seems music is used as a mean of escaping reality. Another victim that uses music to escape the tremors of war is Pangle and Stabrod. They carry musical instruments when they should have been carrying guns like Teague and his men. Frazier presents Stabrod and Pangle standing next to the monolith, which creates a sense of something that endures through time, and yet it is the end of Pangle’s life. In chapter 16, Frazier draws a fine line between life and death when he describes the death of Pangle out in detail.
The musical instruments are very ironic as it is the men carrying them that die instead of the men carrying guns. Teague goes around killing people who have neglected their duty as fighters of the war. This is a self given job for Teague as he wouldn’t get into trouble with the authorities if he didn’t do this. Teague is an example of how men who went to war have been traumatized and led into acting like animals. His inhumane actions can be seen when he tells Pangle to cover his head with a hat because his men couldn’t “shot at a grinning man”.
Teague’s presence “brings with it a familiar terrain of violence” to Inman. This gives readers an idea of what Teague might be like (probably a rough looking man). It is Teague’s boy that kills Inman in the end. We now know that the war had different effects on people. For people like Ruby, it made them stronger and independent, for people like Sara, it brought nothing but sadness, it separated Ada and Inman, others lost their best friends like Stabrod and for some people, well, it brought out the worst in them.