Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Cold Mountain as Spiritual Quest: Inman's Redemptive Journey

Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Cold Mountain as Spiritual Quest: Inman's Redemptive Journey

Article excerpt

Charles Frazier's epigraph to Cold Mountain--"Men ask the way to Cold Mountain. / Cold Mountain: there's no through trail"--may be a metaphor for critics who are lost in the interpretive thicket trying to find the genre of the story. Attempts to situate Cold Mountain in a literary context have produced a scattershot array of genres and comparisons. Affixing a label to a story, assigning it to a particular genre, or comparing it to another literary work, all give readers a place to start analyzing and understanding a work. However, putting a book in a particular category is also limiting and can keep one from noticing elements in the work that might be illuminated by placing it in a different literary context. It is a testament to the richness of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain that no single category or comparison can fully illuminate it. Critics have called it a Civil War novel, a historical novel, a tragedy, a love story, a picaresque, an epic, and a post-pastoral novel. It has been said to have elements of myth, the Western, the sentimental novel, Appalachian fiction, and the Civil War escape narrative. It has been called an adventure story, a narrative of quest, and a "fusion of realism, naturalism, and romanticism" (Knoke, "Cold Mountain" 20). On the other hand, at least two critics have emphatically proclaimed that Cold Mountain is not a tragedy; one has stated that it is not a picaresque, and one has suggested that it may hot even be a novel. (1) Critics have also drawn comparisons between Cold Mountain and other literary works. Re most obvious and most often made comparison is with Homer's Odyssey. But is has also been compared to Leaves of Grass, Walden, A Farewell to Arms, Moby Dick, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and the Bible. (2)

All of the above shed light on different aspects of the story, illuminating it in different ways. To continue the metaphor, I wish to turn on another spotlight from a different angle and illuminate a part of the story that has to this point received scant light--the religious or spiritual aspect of Inman's journey to Cold Mountain. I wish to affirm and extend the idea of Cold Mountain as a "narrative of quest" and in so doing to show why it can be neither a picaresque nor a tragedy. I will first show why Cold Mountain cannot be a picaresque; then I will show how it is a subgenre of the quest narrative--the spiritual quest; and I will show that because this quest is successful, Cold Mountain is ultimately more closely aligned to comedy rather than tragedy.

To begin with, Cold Mountain is not a picaresque because the hero of a picaresque is generally a static character who has a series of episodic, unconnected adventures. Inman, on the other hand, is a dynamic character who grows and changes through his journey. The supposedly unconnected "episodes" of his half of the novel are connected by the thread of his spiritual growth running through them, a thread which to this point has gone unremarked. Cold Mountain is a story that shows the gradual progress, growth, and transformation of Inman's spirit. I emphasize this because critics have tended to discount or downplay the inner transformation that Inman undergoes. Typically, a contrast is made between Inman's physical journey and Ada's inner or psychological journey, and this discounting of Inman's transformation dovetails with the tendency to see Inman's half of the story as "episodic" or to characterize it as a picaresque. For instance Kevin Grauke states that Ada has undergone a transformation while Inman has basically stayed the same (55). James Polk says that both characters are transformed but that Ada's journey is "ficher and deeper" (14). Claire Messud also views Ada's internal development as much more significant than Inman's. Other scholars claim that Inman's only change is in a negative direction (Ashdown 31; Inscoe 337). However, if the novel is a record of the growth and transformation of Inman's spirit, then the story fits neatly into the genre of the quest narrative, specifically that of a spiritual quest. …

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