Cold Mountain

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Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Cold Mountain, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon

Because Cold Mountain is a quest story like the Odyssey, its “episodes” keep coming back to the same scenario: a host offering hospitality to a weary traveler. Most of the time, the weary traveler is Inman, stopping for the night along the road back to Black Cove. But at other times, the traveler is passing by Ada Monroe and Ruby Thewes’s farm in Black Cove, and the situation is more or less the same: Ada and Ruby provide him with food and shelter for a few nights. The theme of hospitality is important to Cold Mountain because it links together the two halves of the novel. Whether we’re reading about Inman traveling along the road or Ada and Ruby on their farm in Black Cove, there’s an unwritten code of hospitality in the characters’ world.

The main rule of hospitality in Cold Mountain is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There’s always a quid pro quo (an exchange, literally “something for something”) when a host offers to take care of a traveler for the night. The host will give the traveler food and shelter, but the traveler needs to provide something in return. Sometimes, the “something” is a literal object—for instance, Inman offers the mysterious Junior an expensive saw in return for food and a bed for the night. But most of the time, the traveler’s payment is less literal. Stobrod Thewes “pays” for his housing in Black Cove by playing beautiful fiddle music for Ruby Thewes, his daughter, and Ada Monroe. A lot of the time, the payment is information, or emotional companionship—when Inman shacks up with Sara, for instance, he simultaneously accepts Sara’s generosity and repays his debt by offering her some desperately needed male companionship. Even the Old Woman who cares for Inman’s wounds wants something from Inman—news of the outside world.

In times of war, the quid pro quo of hospitality is an important, almost sacred rule of many societies. This means that to break the rules of hospitality is almost a sin. Sure enough, the most repellant characters in the novel, such as Junior, are the same characters who violate their end of the code of hospitality—Junior gives Inman food and shelter, but then betrays Inman to the soldiers of the Home Guard, who nearly kill Inman. Not coincidentally, Junior is also one of the few characters in Cold Mountain who’s portrayed as unambiguously evil—he’s an adulterer, and also possibly a cannibal.

At several points in Cold Mountain, the characters discuss the unreliability of money during the Civil War. But while money changes its value over time, the basic rules of hospitality stay intact and universally acknowledged (so that the few characters who break the rules are portrayed as evil). In a way, hospitality is the “currency” of the novel—the one thing that stays the same, in an era when everything else is in flux.

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Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo appears in each chapter of Cold Mountain. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Quotes in Cold Mountain

Below you will find the important quotes in Cold Mountain related to the theme of Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo.
Chapter 4 Quotes

After Ada made her decision known, Ruby wasted no time. She knew who had excess animals and produce, who would be willing to trade favorably. In this case it was Old Jones up on East Fork she dealt with. His wife had coveted the piano for some time, and knowing that, Ruby traded hard. Jones was finally made to give for it a pied brood sow and a shoat and a hundred pounds of corn grits.

Related Characters: Ada Monroe , Ruby Thewes
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Ada joins forces with Ruby, a young woman who's vastly experienced in farming and living independently. In this passage, Ruby shows Ada how to survive on her farmland--the two women trade Ada's "useless" possessions, such as her piano, for useful items like corn grits and animals.

The passage illustrates the vast, informal economy that flourished in the United States during the Civil War. Without a reliable system of currency, people exchanged goods for other goods--a pig for a piano, etc. Frazier also suggests that Ada is turning a corner, abandoning the time in her life when she had the luxury of indulging in "useless" pleasures like piano music. From now on, she'll have to be practical, spending all her time and energy surviving and keeping up her property.


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Chapter 7 Quotes

When Odell finished talking he was drunk and sat blotting at his eyes with his shirt cuff.
—It's a feverish world, Inman said, for lack of better comment.

Related Characters: Inman (speaker), Odell
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Inman meets a strange man, Odell, who claims to be the owner of a vast fortune, based in land holdings, which the Civil War prevents him from enjoying. Odell complains about the agony he's endured over the course of a lifetime--he's been forbidden from marrying the woman he loves, a slave. Inman can think of nothing to tell Odell, other than to agree that the world is a strange, "feverish" place.

In the traumatic aftermath of the Civil War, Frazier suggests, the only real "bond" between Americans was the mutual recognition of the war's devastation. Inman and Odell don't necessarily share common beliefs or a common religion, but they're united in their disgust with the brutality of the war itself. And Inman's choice of adjective--"feverish"--is interesting: with it Frazier suggests the surrealism and nightmarish qualities of postwar life, in which Inman and the other characters encounter a variety of bizarre characters and situations.

Chapter 9 Quotes

—Come eat supper with us, the man said. And we've a hayloft that's good for sleeping.
—Only if you'll take that saw off our hands, Inman said to the man.
—I expect two dollars federal. Fifty in state scrip, Veasey said, perking up.
—Take it on, Inman said. No fee.

Related Characters: Inman (speaker), Solomon Veasey (speaker), Junior (speaker)
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Frazier shows us the informal system of bartering that holds together American Southern society during the Civil War. Inman and Solomon help a stranger, Junior, move a heavy load. In return, Junior offers to let Inman and Solomon stay at his house--and Inman completes the transaction by giving Junior a valuable saw he's obtained during his travels. While Veasey selfishly wants to profit from the exchange by bringing paper money into the matter, Inman "correctly" allows Junior to keep the saw without any further payment--they're "square."

In the absence of reliable currency or a reliable system of government, the rules of bartering and trade were of vital importance to the United States (particularly in the South). Throughout the novel, Inman must trade his possessions for food and shelter, and this scene is no exception. Furthermore, notice that Inman's status as an honorable man--a worthy protagonist for the novel--is confirmed in the instant that he performs a fair transaction (the saw in exchange for shelter). By the same token, Solomon's status as a corrupt character is confirmed when he selfishly tries to make extra money from the trade. By and large, the "good" characters in the novel are those who abide by the rules of hospitality and quid pro quo.

Junior raised up his face and looked at him but seemed not to recognize him. Inman stepped to Junior and struck him across the ear with the barrel of the LeMat's and then clubbed at him with the butt until he lay flat on his back. There was no movement out of him but for the bright flow of blood which ran from his nose and cuts to his head and the corners of his eyes.

Related Characters: Inman , Junior
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Inman has been ambushed by the Home Guard, and it's revealed that they were in cahoots with Junior, the man who offered Inman a place to sleep at night. The Home Guard tries to kill Inman, but Inman manages to escape. To avenge his near-death, Inman returns to Junior's property and beats Junior over the head with his rifle, perhaps killing him.

Does Inman do the "right" thing here? Junior has violated the most basic code of Southern society at the time--the code of hospitality. There's an unwritten law that a host must offer lodgings to travelers in need, provided that the traveler can provide some kind of service or trade in exchange (Inman gave Junior a saw, sealing the transaction). By violating the terms of their deal (i.e., turning Inman over to the Home Guard) Junior proves himself to be a villain, below all contempt or sympathy.

Whether or not one agrees that Junior "deserves" his beating, it's important to note that Inman seems to be giving in to his desire for blood and violence. Long months of serving in the Civil War have left Inman deeply scarred and with a mind still full of violence--and he gives in to this violence when avenging Junior's crimes.

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.

Chapter 12 Quotes

To Ada, though, it seemed akin to miracle that Stobrod, of all people, should offer himself up as proof positive that no matter what a waste one has made of one's life, it is ever possible to find some path to redemption, however partial.

Related Characters: Ada Monroe , Stobrod Thewes
Related Symbols: The Fiddle
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:

Ada and Ruby meet Stobrod, Ruby's deadbeat father. Stobrod is, in many ways, a contemptible character: instead of raising Ruby as a father should, Stobrod has spent most of his life on the road, traveling from town to town in search of money and food.

Yet in spite of his lackluster parenting, Stobrod now seems to be a symbol of redemption and self-improvement. For all his former moral ugliness, Stobrod is now capable of playing beautiful fiddle music--he brings great joy and contentment to both Ada and Ruby by performing. Ada concludes that Stobrod has proven that it's possible to find at least "partial" redemption for one's sins.

Notice that Ada uses the word "partial." In the world of Cold Mountain, it's impossible to forget the agony of the past altogether (whether "the past" means the nightmare of the Civil War or the pain of abandonment). Human beings are capable of striving to overcome their sins, but there's no evidence that it's possible to surpass one's sins altogether.

Chapter 13 Quotes

—If I was to ask you to do something, would you do it?
Inman considered that he should frame an answer here on the order of Maybe, or If I can, or some like provisional phrase.
What he said was, Yes.
—If I was to ask you to come over here and lay in bed with me but not do a thing else, could you do it?
Inman looked at her there and wondered what she saw looking back. Some dread shape filling the clothes of her husband?

Related Characters: Inman (speaker), Sara (speaker)
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Inman finds shelter in the home of a young woman named Sara. Sara has a child, but her husband--the father of the child--has been killed in the Civil War. Sara is clearly lonely and attracted to Inman, but she's also still loyal to her husband and his memory. So Sara asks Inman to lie next to her in bed. As Inman correctly guesses, Sara is trying to use Inman to "channel" a sense of her own deceased husband, whom she still loves.

It's important to notice that Inman is reluctant to play the part of a dead man--and yet he agrees to help Sara without any protest ("Yes"). When confronted with another person's trauma and grief, Inman--who has plenty of trauma and grief of his own--immediately tries to help. In general, the passage evokes the (possibly futile) ways that humans try to cope with their own sadness. Sara's request to Inman might seem bizarre, but it's the best way for her to regain some contact with a man she continues to love.