Crows appear throughout Cold Mountain as a twofold symbol. Crows are mischievous and clever, resourceful and opportunistic, widespread and ever present. Ruby associates them with wisdom and survival. Yet crows also have a more sinister association. Inman’s most terrible moments, including his dying moments, are associated with crows—their shadows, their darkness, their taunting voices. Inman also associates crows with freedom from strife. Crows symbolize the two sides of the human experience: life and death.
The Colors Black and White
Black is a prominent color in Cold Mountain, often associated with nature and life. There are black rivers, black dirt, black trees, crows, blackbirds, vultures, people wearing black, black moods. Inman feels kinship with the black bear he encounters; Ada feels hope in the vision of a black figure in the Swangers’ well. Black is the color associated with living things, even if they are evil or suffering or simply part of the living earth. Black has substance. White, on the other hand, is frequently associated with a lack of life. The pale, white-haired Birch, for example, is empty inside, drained of feeling. When he kills Inman, Inman’s last glimpse as he lies on the white snow is of crows dancing in a white oak tree, of
blackness shifting to white.
One of the motifs that Frazier uses to achieve a sense of timelessness in Cold Mountain is patterns. The war has turned everything upside down, and disoriented characters refer to old cultural patterns to right themselves. Ruby and the Swangers cling to “signs” and folk wisdom. Stobrod and Sara give meaning to their worlds through folk music. Characters also turn to cultural patterns in literature—Greek mythology, Cherokee legends—to remind themselves of what people have experienced before. The novel follows the overall pattern of Odysseus’s journey in Greek mythology, as well as the turning of the seasons. Inman believes his journey will be “the axle of my life,” and Ada comes to believe that keeping track of the sun’s progress would “place a person, would be a way of saying, You are here, in this one station, now.” Both Inman and Ada refer to the constellations to mark the passage of their lives, and they also agree to “grow old together measuring time by the life spans of a succession of speckled bird dogs.”
Music is an important motif in Cold Mountain. Frazier uses fiddle music and folk songs in particular to capture the old world in which Inman and Ada live. Stobrod’s fiddle compositions and the songs Sara sings to her baby, for example, tell of love and death, joy and sadness. Folk music speaks to the human condition, the struggle with life and death that all people experience.
Cold Mountain: Metaphor Analysis