Ruby, Inman, and Ada are inside a tiny cabin in the mountains, taking care of Stobrod. As the day drags on Inman, falls asleep while Ruby and Ada attend to Stobrod, cleaning his wounds as best they can. While they work, Ruby tells Ada something that she’s been thinking ever since first seeing Inman: she and Ada can do without him. Ada acknowledges that Ruby is right—they don’t need Inman’s help caring for the farmland. But Ada also admits that she “wants” Inman.
This section of the text has been important to the arguments of queer theorists who see a homoerotic tension in Ruby’s friendship with Ada. Either way, it’s easy to understand why Ruby would be a little jealous of Inman—Inman seems to be “breaking up” Ruby and Ada’s friendship. Ada, for her part, acknowledges this, but feels drawn to Inman for reasons she can’t entirely articulate.
Hours later, Inman wakes up to find himself in a warm cabin, in which a fire has been built. Stobrod is also waking up, but Ada and Ruby are nowhere to be seen. Inman quickly gets Stobrod some water. As he gives Stobrod the drink, he remembers all the different kinds of battle wounds he’s seen over the years.
Inman has slowly been curing himself of his trauma. A major part of his “therapy” consists of interacting with other people who’ve gone through similar experiences. Here, he meets Stobrod, someone who, we can sense, has seen just as much violence as Inman. (They both nearly died from gunfire at the hands of the Guardsmen, for instance.)
Afterwards, Inman walks outside, where he finds Ada walking around in the “yellow light.” Ada touches Inman’s back with her hands and tells him he feels thin. Together, Ada and Ruby tear apart one of the birds Ruby caught and drop it in a pot of water. Inman is starving, and when the food is ready he eats it ravenously.
Again, we see birds—an important symbol in the book—being stripped of their majesty and mystery. This process corresponds to the novel’s main characters, Inman and Ada, becoming more confident in their own lives. In this sense, we might say that Inman and Ada no longer need birds—they no longer need these big, ambiguous symbols of escape to make sense of their lives.
Inman shows Ada the book, by Bartram, which he’s carried with him throughout his journey. He asks Ada if she wrote him letters while he was in the hospital, and Ada says that she did. Because Inman never got these letters, Ada summarizes them for him: details about her life. As Inman listens to Ada, he bursts out, “I’m ruined beyond repair, is what I fear.” Ada isn’t sure what to say. Eventually, she tells Inman that she knows people can be mended—he’s no exception. Gently, Inman touches Ada’s body, and they kiss.
The big tension of this book has been—what is Inman going to do when he reunites with Ada? What will they say to each other? Will they get married? The “elephant in the room” is that Inman has seen some pretty horrible things, so it’s hard for him to just return to his old life wooing Ada, even though this is seemingly why he returned to Black Cove in the first place. Even if physicality isn’t the “solution” to Inman’s problems, it’s definitely an important part of his desire to return to Ada.
Later on, everyone falls asleep together in the cabin: Stobrod snores heavily, keeping the other three people awake. Ada stays up, thinking about Inman, who looks old and wizened. Inman isn’t the man she knew before the war—but neither is she the same woman she once was.
Looking into each other’s eyes, Ada and Inman measure their own progress in the last few years: they’ve grown older, more mature, and a little sadder. The question, then, is whether are not they’ve also grown apart.
The next morning it continues to snow in the mountains. Ada and Inman go hunting together. As they hunt, Ada tells Inman about Monroe’s death, her decision not to return to Charleston, Ruby, etc. As they hunt, they come upon an arrowhead lodged in a tree. The arrowhead looks very old. Inman and Ada imagine that it landed in the tree centuries ago, and has been there ever since.
This section is haunted by images of the past: both literal ones, like the arrowhead, and more abstract one, like Ada’s description of her father’s death. The one truth to which Frazier keeps returning is that the past is never really over, as long as we have memories. But this doesn’t mean that we’re doomed to be dominated by the past: we can find ways to move on and reshape the past, just as Ruby and Ada “reshape” the Cherokee ruin into a hospital for Stobrod.
Ada and Inman rejoin Ruby and Stobrod, having failed to catch anything. Stobrod, conscious again, asks who Inman is. Inman simply replies, “I gave you water.” Ruby tells Ada about her plans: together, the four of them could work the farmland, planting apple trees, pulling the plow, etc.
It’s inspiring to see Ruby, who’d previously been skeptical about living with Inman, now planning a new life on the farm for herself, Ada, and Inman. The future seems bright—they can work together on the farm as a kind of family unity.
Ada finds Inman lying in bed with his shirt off. As if in a trance, she begins removing her clothing—first her skirt, then her corset. She tells Inman to look away, but he replies, “Not for every gold dollar in the Federal treasury.” Inman touches Ada’s naked body, and pulls her into bed.
Inman and Ada are clearly attracted to each other, and their physical attraction is an important part of their desire to move forward with their lives. Inman and Ada want to live together, to have children, to spend their lives on the farm. In the process, they want to forget their pasts, or at least move beyond their traumas.
The chapter cuts ahead an hour—Ada and Inman lie in bed together. They talk through the night. Inman talks about his childhood, for which he’s very nostalgic. He barely touches on his time during the war—he mentions people’s names, but gives no details about what happened to them. Ada asks Inman to tell her about his journey home. He doesn’t say much about his travels either, but instead talks about meeting “a number of folks on the way.” Inman tells Ada that it’s a gift to be able to forget one’s own pain. Ada disagrees slightly—she thinks it’s good to forget pain, but it also takes a conscious effort, a desire to forget.
It’s telling that neither Ada nor Inman gives a huge amount of detail about their past. This could signal that the characters are still guarding painful secrets. But perhaps it’s meant to show that Inman and Ada are no longer obsessed with their own pasts—instead of stewing over their own pain, they’re more interested in starting a new life with each other. This is the meaning of Ada’s monologue about the desire to forget and move forward: more than anything else, moving past trauma is an act of will.
Inman and Ada continue talking. They plan to get married, and to order books about art, botany, and travel. Inman will learn Greek, and Stobrod will play the fiddle for them, assuming that he survives. Ada tells Inman about what their life would be like in Black Cove, if they were married. As Ruby said, they could all work on the farm together. They conclude, “Oh, the things they would do.”
There’s something both optimistic and wistful about this final section of the chapter. The future looks bright—and yet it seems strangely out of reach, as if it will only ever be an abstract ideal (like the Shining Rocks in the Cherokee story). In short—the novel isn’t over yet; more tragedy awaits.