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.
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo ThemeTracker
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Quotes in Cold Mountain
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.
—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.
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.
—What is it you do in those books? Inman said.
—I make a record, the woman said. Draw pictures and write.
—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.
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.
—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?