A Journey Towards the Home Called “Self”

Part 1

A Journey Towards the Home Called “Self”

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            Why would anyone ever want to come back to a place called Cold Mountain? Or, why would, for whatever reason, anyone want to continue living in a place called as such? These are just some of the questions that are raised, explored and tackled in Charles Frazier’s Civil War story, Cold Mountain. The story, patterned after the life of Frazier’s ancestor, W.P. Inman, tells us of journeys made, lives lost, and love found. Cold Mountain is a story that is as much about the journey of a person as it is about the end of that journey, and, as with most tales of travels and travails, this particular story takes us to the end and the beginning of any journey – home.

            Any man who is torn away from all that he loves and knows and, who, through no deliberate decision of his own, is made to deal with the violence of the world at large, especially during times of war, can never escape the experience unscathed. Any man who undergoes such is bound to break, shatter and might, eventually, become a ghost; he is a man without substance, hollow. In the days after receiving a fatal wound to the neck, this is the kind of man Inman is. He fears that “his spirit (…) had been blasted away so that he had become lonesome and estranged from all around him” (Frazier 22). He spends his days “brooding and pining for his lost self” (Frazier 23) and more and more his desire to become whole again and to leave the violence the Civil War manifests itself in his desire to come back to Cold Mountain because, in his quest to rebuild and regain the man he once was, it “soared in his mind as a place where all his scattered forces might gather” (Frazier 23). In essence, we find Inman here a man who has been nearly destroyed by the Civil War and, now, all he wants is to leave behind the harsh outside world, find the man he was once, be reunited with his love, and go home to heal and be happy.

            For Ada Monroe, it may seem, initially, that she is one who has been uprooted from her home of Charleston and has been forced to put up with the general ignorance and backwardness of Cold Mountain. Her life of books and painting and music do not seem to be suited to the very rural environs of Black Cove farm and even her way of dressing and fixing her hair, which are the fashion in modern Charleston, are held as impractical and odd in Cold Mountain. All these things seem to point one in the direction of thinking that Ada, too, is geared towards going home to Charleston but as one sees her in her state after her father’s death, and as one is given the chance to “listen in” on her thoughts about Charleston, one realizes that it was never really her home. Her home had never been defined by where she lived in; it was defined by who she was with, and, for all of her life, it was with her father. Ada’s father had provided her with all the security and comfort, both physical and emotional, and had therefore created a situation where Ada housed herself within the confines of being only her father’s daughter and feeling that that was the only place she belonged. Thus, after her father’s death, Ada was not homeless in the physical sense, no, it was not as literal as that. She was homeless because, without her father, she belonged nowhere and with no one.

            These two people, Inman and Ada, as linked together as their lives are, must find their ways “home” separately in order to, in the end, be able to start a home that can sufficiently satisfy both. Inman’s physical journey from the battlefront to his home on Cold Mountain can actually stand also for the symbolism of his own internal journey to recover his lost spirit and his lost self while Ada’s change from being a very dependent city-girl into an independent, strong woman can be seen as her coming home to her own identity.

            Inman finds his lost self with his journey. On his way to Cold Mountain, comes across a variety of people. There are, of course, the good guys and the bad guys. These characters are instrumental for him because they not only aid him (or block him) in his physical journey, but, in hindsight, they proved that he has not totally lost the goodness and dignity in himself, thus allowing him to come “home” to his old self and reunite the old Inman with this new, battle-worn Inman. The evils caused by characters such as Veasey and Junior and Teague force Inman to come to terms with the violence of the world and how, in a way, he can counteract their evils with his own brand of morals and justice. With character of the woman healer, Sara, and the slave, Inman finds that not all in this world are evil. Encounters with these characters allow Inman to continue living on and   physically buoy up his spirit in their own ways.

            With Ada, although she makes a no physical journey as perilous as Inman’s, her own journey to find herself is just as hard and just as cruel. In her mid-twenties and still very dependent on others, much like a child, Ada had to lose her father in order for her to come into her own (with the help of Ruby, of course). From her own admission to herself, she “had discovered herself to be frighteningly ill-prepared in the craft of subsistence” (Frazier 31), as evidenced by her failed attempts at growing vegetables, baking a loaf, etc. But through Ruby, Ada learns how to work for herself and how to work with another human being. This change in Ada has allowed her to become grounded and whole – no longer the distant, condescending angel but a down-to-earth, educated woman. The changes in Ada and the things she learns from Ruby are essential in her final meeting with Inman because these are things that enabled her to take care of Inman with her own two hands and thus cement their relationship. Ada’s changing is her way of “coming home” to herself. She no longer needs her father to make a home for her because now she is able to make anywhere her home. Cold Mountain is her home now, not because she now has the know-how of living on her own, but because she has acquired the ability of being strong in herself.

            Finally meeting again after four long years, the lovers do not recognize each other at first and rightly so because both have changed in so many ways. But despite both having changed so drastically, Ada and Inman find each one’s changes compliment and complement the other. Ada, grown strong and resilient gives Inman the strength to try and leave the horrors of the war behind him. Inman, on the other hand, has become wiser and through his wisdom he tries to assuage any bitterness that might arise out because of those four wasted years. In this way, we now can see how each character’s journey to find and gain a home has allowed them to find a home in each other.

            Cold Mountain challenges us to review our ideas of what home and self are. The characters begin as lost travelers who are journeying towards a far-away home that might never be reached. But, as they go on their respective ways, we begin to discover that the search for a home does not just involve a search for a place that is peaceful and accepting and comfortable. Instead, we find that the search for a home also involves coming to terms with who we are in relation to the world that we live in. Arriving at a place we can consider home is a journey that cannot just be measured in miles or kilometers because it is a journey that only the heart can declare ended.

Part 2 (Q1:Cold Mountain)

            Charles Frazier’s rather bleak and dark novel, Cold Mountain, is a novel that makes one realize just how important it is to have a sense of “self” and also the importance of having self-awareness, especially during conditions of great trials and tragedies. Perhaps, the main characters in this novel are not automatically able to have that sense of self and self-awareness early in the novel, but as one progresses through the novel one can find, too, the progress of Inman and Ada Monroe. With Inman’s character, we find a broken man who has seen, experienced, and even committed too much violence. In the beginning, he is positioned as a man who has lost all confidence in the morality of goodness of his fellow human. This feeling causes him to desert and plod his way through roughly 250 miles in order to get back home to Cold Mountain and to get back to the love of his life. As Inman begins his quest for home, we are also shown how Ada, now fatherless and penniless, comes to terms with the fact that she must now live on her own and provide for herself – something which her father never prepared her for.  Inman then goes on to meet a variety of people both “evil” and “good”; his true self, an honorable and good man, makes itself known by how he deals with the people he meets along the way. Those whom might be considered as evil, Inman, has no qualms about hurting or killing (as with Teague) but the book also shows how, though jaded, he still has a conscience and a willingness to help those around him (as evidenced by his regret over the bear incident and his aid of Sara.) Ada’s struggles, on the other hand, show a woman who has journeyed beyond being out of touch with the realities of life (she could not manage her own money nor even cook her own food) to being a down-to-earth woman who could efficiently care for herself and those around her. It is the journey of these two characters and their struggles to clearly define themselves against the madness and hardship of war that drives the novel forward and also drives them to a life beyond all their hardships.

Q2 (The Garden Party)

            In Katherine Mansfield’s short story, “The Garden Party”, there is an exploration of a young girl’s identity as formed by her social class. We meet the affluent Sheridan family on the day that they are to host a garden party at their own house. The focus of the story, however, seems to be the youngest Sheridan, Laura, and how she is just beginning to gain an identity or a self. We find her positioning herself based on her social class, which goes on to influence her maturity, and her sense of right and wrong. The first example and clearest example we find of such is Laura’s encounter with the workers who are about to set-up a marquee on their garden. She fancies herself as someone who disregards social classes and yet we see just how “trapped” within her own class she is as evidenced by her bourgeois tendency of being preoccupied with manners and airs and conventions: She wonders whether a workman’s talk of “bangs slap in the eye” to her is respectful (Mansfield, 61) and she “proves” her ease with them through defying proper etiquette by taking a “big bite of her bread-and-butter” (63). Later on we find even more examples of Laura’s very evident bourgeois upbringing as shown by her flippancy in dealing with the news of a death near her home as her preoccupation with the party and her own appearance begin to take center stage. In the end, however, Laura does show genuine empathy with the working class through her visit and subsequent reaction to the wake of the dead man. It showed that as middle-class as she was, she still had enough “connection” with those of a lower class to cause her to share their grief.

Works Cited:

Frazier, Charles. Cold Mountain. New York: Grove Press, 2006.

Mansfield, Katherine. The Garden Party. New York: Random House, 1991.

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