Summary, Chapter Eleven (“the doing of it”), pp. 205-223
Inman follows the slave man’s map until he reaches the Blue Ridge Mountains. But the climbing is hard for him. He is very weak, suffering from his various wounds, and so hungry that he has the dry heaves.
He meets up with a wizened old woman who invites him to her camp, where she lives in a caravan wagon and keeps goats. Scenes depicting man’s anguish and religious writings decorate the outside of the caravan. Inside, Inman finds that the woman has accumulated twenty-six years’ worth of drawings and journals in her solitary study of the plants and animals around her. The old woman prepares food for Inman, laudanum to ease his pain and salve for his wounds.
The goat woman asks Inman why he went to the fighting in the first place. Inman says that at first he was caught up in the war fever, and like other men he felt that going off to war was a great adventure, a chance to be extraordinary. Now, he tells her, he is ashamed of those feelings.
He also confesses his love for Ada, although he is not sure of her feelings for him. The goat woman in turn tells how she once loved a young man, but her parents married her off to an old man who wore out wives one after the other. One day, she simply left and has lived alone ever since. Inman considers what it might be like to live like the goat woman, but he decides that he would waste away with loneliness. He finds her life “unutterably sad.”
When Inman is well enough, the goat woman gives him food and medicine and sends him on his way. She also gives him a drawing she made of “the globular blue-purple berry cluster of the carrion flower plant in autumn.”
Summary, Chapter twelve (“freewill savages”), pp. 224-234
Ruby discovers a man caught in the trap in the corn crib. The man turns out to be her father, Stobrod. Without sentiment, Ruby feeds him breakfast—although she makes him eat outside—and she tells him to be on his way. He heads off towards Cold Mountain, where he is apparently hiding out with other war deserters like himself.
After Ruby and Ada check on the tobacco drying in the barn, the two women rest in the hayloft, enjoying the beautiful autumn day. At one point, Ruby covers Ada’s eyes and asks her to name what she hears. Ada says she can hear the trees, and Ruby scornfully tells her that she has a long way to go before she knows the land, before she can at least tell the difference between poplar and oak leaves rustling.
At supper time, Stobrod appears again, and this time he has brought a fiddle of his own making. He tells how he crafted it from scratch and sought snake rattles to put inside it, to give it “a sizz and knell like no other.” He then relates the story of how he changed from the shiftless drunk he used to be to an earnest musician. When he was called upon to ease a young girl’s dying by playing the fiddle for her he quickly ran through his six-song repertoire, and the girl told him to make up a song. In doing so, Stobrod taps a place inside himself that he didn’t know existed. He devotes himself to music from that point on, because it showed him “the right way for things to be ordered so that life might not always be just a tangle and drift but have a shape, an aim.”
Ruby is skeptical that Stobrod has really changed, but Ada finds it inspiring that someone who had wasted so much of his life can redeem himself.
Analysis, chapters 11 and 12
Chapters eleven and twelve both focus on the issues of sin and redemption in a world gone awry.
Inman wanders in a dark wood, and it is the goat woman who leads him out with her blend of religious fervor and earthy self-reliance. Her caravan depicts fading pictures of sinners seeking redemption through a hellfire and brimstone religion—the same religion that failed to redeem a sinner like Veasey. The goat woman has blended her religious beliefs with a close study of nature and come up with a lifestyle that nurtures both body and mind, a lifestyle that Inman desires. Like a wise priest offering redemption, she hears Inman’s confession of his war “sins” and of his love for Ada. Like a healer, she soothes his wounds and strengthens his body with food. Inman’s encounter with the goat woman allows him to get back on track; she reminds him of his original goals, to return to nature (Cold Mountain) and to Ada. Such a life, even for someone as stained as he, seems possible again.
Ada continues to progress in her knowledge of the land and its ways; she recognizes its importance in grounding the soul. Yet she has not altogether lost the Christian impulses of her life with Monroe. She is able to see Stobrod with mercy and urge Ruby to forgive him. And she is encouraged that someone as lost as she once was can redeem himself by tapping the old folkways. His music flows over her like water, full of the “centrality to a life worth claiming” and convinces her that she, too, will find redemption in the old ways.