This book may be packed with action and full of tense questions about who will survive and how, but it's also beautifully lyrical and gives us a much wider exploration of human experience than your standard action-packed narrative.
For instance, check out the passage where Inman reflects on the fact that he's turned out to be pretty good at fighting, even though he's also come to hate it:
Before the war he had never been much of a one for strife. But once enlisted, fighting had come easy to him. He had decided it was like any other thing, a gift. Like a man who could whittle birds out of wood. Or one who could pick tunes from a banjo. Or a preacher with the gift of words. You had little to do with it yourself. It was more a matter of how your nerves were strung toward quickness of hand and a steady head so that you did not become witless and vague in battle, your judgment clouded in all kinds of ways, fatal and otherwise. That and having the size to prevail in the close stuff, when it came down to a clench. (5.114)
We're betting you won't catch Iron Man describing a fight this way. By this point in the book, Inman wants to give up fighting and thinks the war should end, but that doesn't stop him from reflecting on what makes him good at it. He's also thoughtful enough to recognize that it's not necessarily his willpower that makes him successful at war…it might also be things he doesn't control, like his height.
The passage is also ironic, because by this point we know that Inman doesn't want to fight. He'd much rather be doing something peaceful like whittling or playing the banjo. So this passage is full of tragic irony, since he's turned out to be good at something he's now against.
Inman’s character reflects a conflict between moral precepts and the horrific realities of life. When the novel opens, Inman is wounded and psychologically scarred by memories of war. The ghosts of dead soldiers haunt his dreams at night and thoughts of Ada fill his days. Despite his crippled psyche, Inman remains an honorable and heroic man. Throughout the novel, Inman’s conscience guides his actions. Although he is troubled by the deaths he has witnessed and doesn’t wish to add to them, Inman is willing to resort to violence if necessary. Frazier characterizes his protagonist as a warrior equipped to fight moral and physical battles.
As a figure assaulted by evil forces, Inman justifies aggressive means in the name of protecting innocent people, himself included. Consequently, Inman’s journey is ideological as well as geographical. Inman reconsiders his spiritual ideas in light of the physical danger and suffering he encounters while traveling. Inman’s travel book, Bartram’s Travels, is a spiritual and topographical guide—it inspires Inman with idealized visions of home and directs him towards that home. Inman consults the book for spiritual sustenance and for escapist entertainment. Frazier fills Inman’s journey with shades of deeper meaning, suggesting that his physical travails mirror a more profound spiritual struggle.
Inman recalls and reinterprets past events as part of his process of spiritual awakening. In particular, he remembers Cherokee folktales and envisions a world located beyond the terrestrial realm. Inman needs this kind of comfort, for, as he delves deeper into the mountains, he becomes better acquainted with man’s capacity for both good and evil. Following his encounters with Junior and his near-death experience, Inman’s faith in himself falters. However, his faith in a better world does not. Frazier suggests that Sara’s and the goat-woman’s bravery also bolster Inman’s resolve. Inman preserves his humanity under the weight of intense psychological strain because he believes in a distant and better reality.
Inman’s name (we never learn his first name) suggests that he is a self-reflective man, alone in the thrall of forces greater than his own will. Inman cannot direct what happens to him, so he seeks a measure of control by inwardly questioning his past and speculating about his future. While it would be too simplistic to state that Inman finds himself in Ada, he clearly identifies in her the kind of life he wants to live—a life of peace, stability, and affection. Thus Inman grows from a tortured and disillusioned man into a calmer, more self-aware individual. Indeed, after a journey fraught with suffering and spiritual turmoil, Inman is temporarily redeemed by love. Ultimately, however, Frazier suggests that Inman’s true redemption—an escape from the world with which he has become so disillusioned—can only be attained through death.
More characters from Cold Mountain