The Life and Death of W. P Inman (Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier Book Review)

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  • Published: 29 March 2021
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Cold Mountain, a book published in 1997 by Charles Frazier and released in a film adaptation six years after, changed in tone and storyline by the time the community watched it on the big screen. The characters in the book have a complexity that allows the reader to understand every perspective given by each character within the context of the book's conflict. No character gives more of an insight into the complexity of the Civil War than that of W. P Inman. Although the character is interesting in both the book and film adaptation, this paper will discuss how the director changed Inman’s story and death to fit the tone of the movie. While the book paints a complex picture of a man broken by war desperately trying to find peace on his way home to safety, the movie is primarily a love story. Although this makes for a fascinating love story, it changes the overall tone of the entire movie, making the story less about the effects of war on an entire population and instead a romantic tragedy set during the time of the Civil War.

Frazier got the idea for the character from a man who fought for the Confederacy before dying as a deserter shortly before coming home. Short service records convey W. P Inmans life and the rest of his story is a tale passed down through generations within his family. His military records show that in August 1864 Inman encountered a gunshot wound to the neck before being transferred to two more hospitals. It is most likely that Inman deserted the Confederacy from the hospital and a note in his records states that “[Inman] deserted the Rebels, Greensboro, North Carolina, January 15, 1863.” (Peuser & Plante, 2004) All the Inman brothers fought in the civil war, and one of Williams’s brothers Lewis signed and deserted on the same day as each other. Lewis survived the war and made it home to the family, but according to the family, Teague, and the Home Guard murdered Inman less than five miles from their home. Although “Cold Mountain” follows each of the markers within W. P Inman’s life while creating a fictional story to connect the dots. Frazier brought a story to a historical figure while also teaching valuable lessons to the reader through both major characters. (Peuser & Plante, 2004)

The Civil War corrupts every facet of Inman’s life within the book.  Immediately after he runs from the Confederacy, Inman is met with constant chaos, and the world is against him.   The Inman here is being followed around by the terrors of the war he is trying to outrun. The book’s tone and message are apparent. This book is anti war. Within the book, a man named Odell tells the story of the love of his life where the story ends with, “But he had yet to find Lucinda, and he had never set foot on home ground again. In a sense,  he was still searching.” (Frazier, 1997, p.172)   Lucinda became the symbol that Odell needed to continue moving similarly to Ada for Inman. This story is not present in the movie. In fact, they discard most stories involving enslaved African Americans from the movie, including the story of the “yellow slave” helping Inman. The war is rarely about in a negative light, and the most memorable times they talk about the war are from Ruby’s perspective. In the movie, she states, “They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather, and then they stand in the rain and say 'Shit, it's raining!'” Although this discusses how she felt towards the war, it does not discuss the focal points that Frazier spoke of within the book. When the old goat woman in the book asks why Inman fought, he replies, “Four years ago I maybe could have told you. Now I don’t know. I’ve had all of it I want, though.” only to continue with, “I reckon many of us fought to drive off invaders.” (Frazier, 1997, p. 275) While the book shows Inman’s views on the war, the movie never comes close to showing the horrors of war without relying on a gory fight scene. (Frazier, 1997)

Within the article, “Images of War and Peace: Parallelism and Antithesis in the Beginning and Ending of ‘Cold Mountain’”, the authors speak about the parallels of the first and last chapter. Bill McCarron and Paul Knoke state that “Frazier laces the opening and ending chapters of Cold Mountain with that rich mosaic of image and symbol and motif which antithetically connotes both war and peace, evil and good, despair and promise.” (McCarron & Knoke, 1999, p. 283) When Inman comes across a bear cub, he makes the decision that he does not want to kill it, but it ends up throwing itself from the cliff behind Inman. Before he shoots the cub, he states that “Even my best intentions come to naught, and hope itself is but an obstacle.”(Frazier, 1997, p. 353) In the last chapter, Inman is in his last battle when he looks at the boy for the first time. Frazier writes that “he looked as though his first shave lay still ahead of him, and Inman hoped not to have to shoot a boy” (Frazier, 1997, p. 442) and Inman ponders the boy’s innocence before the boy, unfortunately, shoots and kills Inman. The boy after that fatal shot is fire looks down at his gun in shock “As if he had no reckoning at all on it functioning as it had.” (Frazier, 1997, p. 444) This scene shows the horrors that Inman has been running from since the beginning of the book have caught up to him as a child corrupted by war. Instead, the movie plays Inman's death out like a final shootout in an old western with the crows and Inmans final collapse mimicking Ada’s vision at the beginning of the movie. While this creates a more interesting visual, it seems to cheapen Inman’s life and death by making his entire story an example of predestination.

McCarron and Knoke discuss how Ada and Cold Mountain come to be representations of Heaven and home. Inman states that “He doubted there was a man in the world emptier than he at the moment. He would walk right out of this world and keep on going into that happy valley…”(Frazier, 1997, p. 393-394)  Instead of a journey only surrounding Ada and their blooming romance, Inman’s journey is more about self-growth and coming to terms with his death while working towards forgiving himself.  Inman is a complex character that is neither good nor bad, he is not the archetypal hero that you see within the movie who faces off with the bad guy at the end of the movie. By making Inman into this heroic figure, you are doing a disservice to his character and even his death. While the movie is a black and white portrayal of the story, the book creates a heartbreaking depth to each action and reaction from the characters. Because of Inman’s lack of character development and change in motivation, the overall tone and theme of the movie changed. The changes in this movie not only changed the message, but it caused the chief characters to become simplified and more digestible versions of themselves. Instead of the self-loathing and scarred man you see in the book running away from the war, you instead see all of Inmans better characteristics running towards the love of his life, depicting him as the determined hero who simply wants his happy ending. 

Finally, while the movie is a critically acclaimed story about love and hardship, it differs in the emotional complexity of the book, painting a simplistic love story for the audience. Perhaps the portrayal of Inman as the dark character in the books would be less marketable in real life or maybe there was not enough time to have the amount of character development that Inman so desperately needed for the story to have the emotional impact that it does on a reader. A reader walks in the shoes and sees into the mind of the characters that he or she reads, while a movie allows the watcher to make more broad assumptions about the characters and story from an outsider’s perspective. The change of Inmans life and death not only changes the complexity of the story, but also the social and emotional impact on the consumer. In conclusion, the Cold Mountain film adaptation shows the importance of Inman in the overall tone of the movie allowing for a more comfortable viewing experience in contrast to the emotionally driven novel, which not only changes the overall story but all perceptions of the stories and even life itself.

References

Frazier, C. (1997). Cold mountain. First edition. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

McCarron, B., & Knoke, P. (1999). Images of War and Peace: Parallelism and Antithesis in the 

Beginning and Ending of “Cold Mountain”. JSTOR. Retrieved February 06, 2021 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/26476862.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fbasic_search_solr_cloud%252Fcontrol&refrequid=excelsior%Aa01f2c4ce58fb3653fbe1337b3c68deb

Minghella, A. (Director). (2003). Cold Mountain [Video file]. United States.

Peuser, R. W., & Plante, T. K. (2004). Cold mountains Inman: Fact Versus FICTION. Retrieved 

February 09, 2021, from https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2004/summer/inman.html

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