Charles Frazier's novel "Cold Mountain" tells the story of a soldier's journey home across the Blue Ridge Mountains after deserting the Confederate army during the Civil War. Although published in 1997, his prose style captures the culture, voice and majestic setting of its historical narrative. Using techniques like tone, imagery and a dash of regional flavor, Frazier blends mythology, romance and history to create his unique world of Civil War-era Appalachia.
Location Linguistics: Diction
Frazier's use of language in recreating southern Appalachian speech patterns plays a key role in establishing the book's setting. In an interview with Random House Books, Frazier states that he achieved the book's natural, regional voice through diction, or word choice. Rather than spell words phonetically, such as using "likker" for "liquor," he attempted to recreate the "musical" quality of Appalachian speech through rhythmic writing and language of the era. Sentences like "We don't eat them thataway atall" and antiquated expressions such as "Compose yourself to die" subtly indicate the story's time and place with fluency and realism.
Inman Meets Odysseus: Allusion
Allusions to Homer's "The Odyssey" provide the literary roots for Frazier's writing style. The story is a Civil War-era retelling of Homer's own narrative; Inman, the jaded soldier who deserts the army to return to his love, Ada, mirrors Odysseus in his own journey home from war to his wife, Penelope. Other "Odyssey" allusions also abound throughout the story; Ada is highly educated in Greek literature, and many minor characters' stories brush against Inman's, just like the side narratives of Homer's journey. These echoes of the Greek classic situate "Cold Mountain" in a clear literary tradition and add another layer to Inman's own epic journey.
Cold Climate: Tone
Tone is a technique where the author evokes a particular emotion through description, word choice and situations. "Cold Mountain" carries an atmosphere of desolation that corresponds with the hardships its characters face, such as the danger of Inman's journey on the run from the Home Guard and the wealthy, sophisticated Ada's struggle to live in the mountains after her father's death. Phrases like "raw winter sky" and cold, archaic words like "crag" and "scarp" to describe the mountains illustrate Frazier's attention to language's role in creating an emotional landscape for readers.
Pictures of War and Wornness: Imagery
Because "Cold Mountain" takes place in a time and location foreign to modern-day readers, Frazier's use of imagery, or sensory descriptions, becomes especially critical to his writing style. As Inman recalls his experiences in battle, Frazier's visual and tactile descriptions of stacked, dismantled bodies and Inman's own near-fatal neck injury provide a disturbing, realistic portrayal of the Civil War's carnage. Frazier also draws on other sensory details, specifically evoking the region's music through sound imagery. In one scene, Inman encounters the skeletal remains of three men who were hanged that sound "like instruments, like dry sticks."