“Cold Mountain” is the story of a confederate soldier named Inman and his journey back to his homeland after years of fighting in the civil war, along the way he meets many interesting personalities some benign some malevolent. The second focus of the story is on Inman’s lover Ada and her struggle to learn how to live without her father, Inman and servants. “The Odyssey” is the story of an Ithacan king named Odysseus and his journey back to his homeland after years of fighting in the Trojan War, along the way he meets many interesting personalities some benign and some malevolent. The second focus of the story is on Odysseus’s wife Penelope and her struggle to live without her husband. The two stories sound very similar on the surface, but how similar are they really after the two line synopsis? “Cold Mountain” has frequently been called a modern “Odyssey” but is this an accurate description?
The first important information is how the wars end for our protagonists. In Inman’s case he deserted to return home because he had gotten too weary of the fighting and killing. However Odysseus returned home after a successful campaign against the City of Troy after 12 years, although long since wearied of the war he had nevertheless staid until the end. The difference here though can be attributed to cultural differences between the time “Odyssey” was written and “Cold Mountain” was. Although the differences are cultural they are also important to the story as it gives the main antagonist force their reason(s) for pursuing the Protagonist. In Odysseus’s case the main antagonist is Poseidon God of the sea Poseidon causes Odysseus to become lost at see in retribution for his vanity. However in Inman’s case he is chased and finally killed by the Home Guard for deserting the army.
Another large difference is in the personalities of Penelope and Ada, Ada was rather weak when she had no one to lean on but Penelope was able to keep everything together even as it fell apart around her until her husband returned. Without her husband Penelope was able to prevent major damage to her family by the suitors and in the process keep herself from falling into melancholy or being forced to choose a new husband. Ada on the other hand was unable to keep the house and farm or even herself in good condition, she fell far into melancholy to the point of neglecting her own physical needs. It was not until Ruby came into Ada’s life that she was able to overcome her melancholy and start functioning as a person again. The valiant wife bravely awaiting her husbands return is far from what “Cold Mountain” has to offer, yet even still the longing for the return of loved ones is a main theme of both stories.
Both stories go into great details of the challenges each protagonist faces, yet these are not important to the overall picture. No one would think about adding a Cyclops to the American south east just as no ancient Greek would create a hero out of a deserter. Although the details of the events are different they have the same effect of portraying the great obstacles the protagonists had to face before returning home. These obstacles allow the reader to see just what the protagonists are made of and get a look deep into their psyches.
Unlike Inman who died after returning home, but not before impregnating Ada, Odysseus survived and was happily reunited with his wife and son. Again the difference here could be construed as differences in literary styles between the two times, by the time “Cold Mountain” the “triumphant return and all is okay” ending was long since a clich” of literature and the contemporary audience doesn”t really believe the endings anymore. Instead “Cold Mountain” ends with the triumphant return and untimely death of Inman, followed by all is okay. For the readers of the “Odyssey” Odysseus was a hero of mythical proportions to have him end in anything but a triumphant ending would have been demoralizing to the audience. Yet Inman’s death did not prevent a happy ending, in fact if anything it adds even more happiness to the story because it allowed Ada to continue her life as she had grown accustomed and instead of losing a fianc” she gained a daughter.
Upon Odysseus’s return he had to battle the suitors to be able to be reunited with his wife. In Odysseus’s case Penelope had no attachment to the suitors who tried for her attention, so was quite happy when they were removed from her life. Inman in a situation similar to Odysseus had to figuratively battle with Ruby for Ada’s attention. In Inman’s case he could never have won the battle for Ada’s attention without driving a wedge between him and Ada. Ada had begun to so heavily lean on Ruby for support that without her Ada would probably have been unable to live without the emotional support she provided and not resent Inman for coming between them.
Although the ending and beginning are different the story in form is the same so at least in this way “Cold Mountain” and “The Odyssey” are literary cousins. The lessons they teach are also similar but the characters themselves could not hardly be anymore different. The characters of “The Odyssey” show strength in all things before, during and after tragedy, yet in “Cold Mountain” the characters are rather weak, having to fall to the bottom before picking themselves back up. Although it is possible to excuse all differences in the way the characters behaved on the differences of the ancient Greek and American culture, it shows just how far our society has come in terms of role models. Deciding modern culture is the sole reason for the differences portrays modern society as distancing itself from heroic portrayals of historical characters and instead of glorifying them they are portrayed as people with failings and character flaws but in the end being able to overcome them. This leaves us with only one option, first to realize that our society has progressed to the point where heroes are not all that one needs to see in life and thus modern society has realized that even normal people can do admirable things and secondly to decide that “Cold Mountain” is indeed a modern reincarnation of “The Odyssey” but that no longer are god-like men the only ones capable of being heroic.