Cold Mountain

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The Old Woman Character Analysis

The old woman takes care of Inman after he’s wounded by the Home Guard. She’s calm, knowledgeable, and seemingly completely comfortable living in solitude. Yet she engages Inman in conversation when he stays with her, suggesting that she still craves some human contact, despite her protestations to the contrary. The old woman gives Inman powerful medicines that help him recover quickly and return to his quest to return to Black Cove with new enthusiasm. As such, Inman’s return would be impossible without the old woman’s help.

The Old Woman Quotes in Cold Mountain

The Cold Mountain quotes below are all either spoken by The Old Woman or refer to The Old Woman . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Grove Press edition of Cold Mountain published in 2006.
Chapter 11 Quotes

—What is it you do in those books? Inman said.
—I make a record, the woman said. Draw pictures and write.
—About what?
—Everything. The goats. Plants. Weather. I keep track of what everything's up to. It can take up all your time just marking down what happens. Miss a day and you get behind and might never catch back up.
—How did you learn to write and read and draw? Inman asked.
—Same way you did. Somebody taught me.

Related Characters: Inman (speaker), The Old Woman (speaker)
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

In this strange scene, Inman is taken in by an old woman who spends all day taking care of goats. The woman is a hermit--she lives alone, and seemingly relishes her aloneness, spending all her time writing and drawing.

Frazier portrays the Old Woman with a mixture of admiration and subtle pity. The woman claims to be entirely self-sufficient, saying she doesn't really need human company at all. There is something both awe-inspiring and pathetic in the way that she spends all her time recording her experiences; one could say that the old woman is trapped in an "eternal present," living from day to day.

In short, the old woman represents the kind of life that Inman--still traumatized by his experiences in battle--is tempted to embrace. Perhaps it's possible to be happy on one's own, far from one's home and the troubles of human society. (It's worth noting that the old woman seems to be based on Calypso from Homer's Odyssey--i.e., the woman who tempted Odysseus to live in an "eternal present" and abandon his quest to return home.) And yet Frazier subtly implies that the kind of lifestyle the old woman celebrates--the life of a hermit--is never entirely possible. "Somebody" taught the old woman how to read, and she seems to need the occasional company of travelers like Inman; in other words, true self-sufficiency is just a pipe dream.

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The Old Woman Character Timeline in Cold Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character The Old Woman appears in Cold Mountain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 11: the doing of it
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
...only sign of human civilization is the road itself. One day, he comes to an old woman setting up a trap for animals. The woman notices that Inman is wounded, and offers... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
The old woman takes Inman to her home, which is nearby. On the walk to her home, the... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
Inman and the old woman sit down to dinner. The woman asks Inman if he’s come from “killing men in... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
It’s now Inman’s turn to tell the old woman about himself. He tells the woman about his neck wound—he received it while fighting with... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
The old woman gives Inman a strange ball, made of herbs, and tells him to swallow it. Inman... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
The old woman shows Inman her papers—she writes and draws pictures all day long. She claims that she’s... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
The old woman walks into the house and greets Inman. Inman tells the woman that he needs to... (full context)