Summary, Chapter nine (“to live like a gamecock”), pp. 159-185
Inman and Veasey come across a tree saw, which Veasey steals. He tries to wheedle Inman into giving him his gun back, but Inman refuses, saying the world is safer if Veasey has no weapon.
In a creek, the men come upon a man trying to remove a dead bull from the water, which is being poisoned by the carcass. Veasey has several ideas, none of which is practical, and Inman allows him to try them out before he finally takes charge, grabs the saw, and cuts the bull into parts that the men can then easily carry. Then he gives the saw to the man, whose name turns out to be “Junior.”
Junior shares a bottle of liquor with Inman and Veasey, and he invites them to come home with him. On the way, he brags of his successes in both cockfighting and women. Veasey admires his “gamecock” way of living. He says he is married to a slut, and that his wife’s two sisters, also sluts, live with them.
By the time they reach Junior’s home, Inman and Veasey are drunk. They follow Junior into the house, which tilts to the side because of a bad foundation, and drink some more. Veasey finally passes out, and Inman meets Lila, Junior’s wife, and her sisters. There is something strange about the women and their children, Inman thinks. There is also something strange about the liquor they offer him. Inman cannot think properly. He soon finds himself alone with a barely dressed Lila, who offers herself to him. Before Inman can even refuse her, Junior bursts in with a shotgun and marches Inman outside to “marry” Lila.
Outside, however, are the Home Guard, fetched by Junior. Inman realized that he and Veasey have fallen into a trap. The two men are shackled to the other prisoners and are taken away.
For days Inman and Veasey are dragged with the other prisoners, never fed, barely given water, and offered no shelter of any kind at night. Inman burns inside with every step that makes him backtrack from his goal of reaching Cold Mountain. When the Home Guard decide to simply shoot the prisoners instead of taking them further, Inman is sure his journey will end.
However, Inman is merely grazed by a bullet, and the “grave” he and the other prisoners are shoved into is so shallow that Inman can still breathe. Feral hogs eventually dig at the grave and uproot Inman. He manages to break his shackles with a rock. Before he leaves, he pulls Veasey from the pile of bodies. He does not feel sorry for Veasey, but neither does he think Veasey deserved such an end. Inman realizes that he has seen so much death and horror that he is numb to such things now.
Starved, freshly wounded, and worn out, Inman stumbles across the countryside. Some slaves shelter him in a barn, feed him, and clean his clothes. One of them draws him a map.
Rather than head directly west again, Inman returns to Junior’s house, where he discovers his knapsack on the porch with his belongings still inside, including his gun. The gun feels like a “tonic” to him. He finds Junior in the smokehouse, and with the gun he beats him to death.
Inman walks through the night, and he spends the next day resting in a thicket. Above him, crows harass a snake in a tree, and although the snake hisses and strikes at them, they do not back down. Eventually, the snake goes away, and the crows “celebrate” their success. Inman sleeps and dreams that he is a crow, a being filled with darkness yet able to escape from or laugh away his enemies. Night, when it comes, is like a great swelling blackness of crows to Inman.
Analysis, chapter 9
In this critical chapter, Inman makes backward progress on his journey, both physically and mentally. Like Odysseus in The Odyssey, he is snared by those who would derail his journey entirely, and he must dig deeply to find the resolve to continue. His encounter with the wicked and depraved Lila parallels Odysseus’ encounter with the seductress/witch Circe. Inman is able to resist the call of Lila’s wanton world. He is less successful squelching his inner demons when he escapes from the Home Guard. Inman has so far kept true to an inner, moral compass, but his brutal act of revenge against Junior makes him question his progress. Is he, in fact, just like other men, empty and beyond redemption? At the end of the chapter, Inman dreams of being a crow, stained with darkness, yet nevertheless able to rise above enemies, even laugh at them. Significantly, Inman chooses to look to nature to find an analogy for his state of mind. Just as the crow is black, so is the heart of man tainted with a blackness that he must struggle to control all his life. Inman must find the strength to keep struggling.