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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Chapter 1 the shadow of a crow Summary The chapter opens as Inman, a Confederate soldier, awakens in the hospital with a severe neck wound. It was expected that he would die in the field and was taken to a field hospital where he was again placed with the dying. Failing to die within two days he was sent to a regular hospital. Here, in a room full of wounded, Inman gazes out a tall window, a portal to thoughts of the past.
A memory of his school days comes to mind. On this particular day the young Inman was not paying attention and flipped his hat out of the window of the classroom. It landed far outside like the shadow of a crow at the edge of a field. The teacher told Inman to get the hat and come back to be paddled. Inman stepped outside, retrieved his hat and walked away from the school for good.
Throughout the summer Inman has spent much time gazing and reminiscing. He decides to go outside and talk with a blind peddler who he has seen daily parking his cart across the road from the hospital. Inman is surprised to learn that the man has been blind from birth rather than as the result of some misfortune. The blind man explains that it would have been worse to have been able to see the world and then lose that gift. The man does not wish for a chance to glimpse the world. He challenges Inman to cite a time when one would wish for blindness. Inman responds with a recounting of the gruesome slaughter of the battle of Fredericksburg.
Inman returns to the hospital and seeks comfort, as he has done many nights, in his book. He keeps the coverless book, Bartram’s Travels, curled up into a scroll. The images of nature he reads therein calm him and bring thoughts of his home, Cold Mountain.
Days later, his neck painful but healing, Inman walks into town. He buys clothing, ammunition for his pistol, knives, and a small pot and cup. He sits with a cup of coffee and a newspaper and once again recalls pleasant events from his past. He writes a letter about coming home then returns to the hospital.
When he reaches his room, Inman sees that Balis, the man who occupied the bed next to Inman and spent time translating ancient Greek, is gone. Balis has died. Inman flips through Balis’ papers only to discover a confusing mess. There is but one line of Balis’ writing that Inman is willing to accept, “The comeliest order on earth is but a heap of random sweepings.”
That evening Inman double-checks his packs which are already filled with food and makeshift camping gear. He goes to sleep but awakens during the night. He dresses in his new clothes, takes up his packs, and steps out the window.
Inman has imagined throughout the summer that the window in his ward could lead him to other places. He often visits these places in his mind. His memory of walking away from a whipping at school foreshadows Inman’s intent to walk away from the carnage of the war.
The multi-page description of the battle at Fredericksburg not only exemplifies this carnage, but also personalizes the historic massacre and draws the reader into Inman’s mind. We come to understand how men cope with such atrocities by losing a part of themselves, and how Inman pines this loss.
The tonic for Inman’s brooding is the writing of William Bartram. The poetic descriptions of the profusion of natural beauty in the mountains eases Inman into recollections of the features of his home, Cold Mountain. Inman will carry this book on his journey.
Bartram’s Travels is the first of several works from the Civil War era that Frazier incorporates into his novel. In future chapters we will see other works through the eyes of the characters, which add credibility to the time setting of the story.