Freewill Savages: Cold Mountain's Stobrod Thewes Essay

Stobrod’s return and his connection with a community of outliers both disrupts the calm continuity of the women’s lives- that a man has entered the safe haven of the women’s private world- and shows the novel’s thematic opposition between the natural and man-made worlds. His sudden appearance at the corn crib reminds Ada and Ruby that not all events may be explained by reference to the natural world—they had assumed that a small creature had been stealing their corn—but instead that men can manipulate, change, and sometimes threaten.

Although Ruby is wary of helping her father, Ada’s generosity in sharing food with Stobrod shows her new openness of character and interest in her friend’s family. Ada actually finds it rather odd that all the while Ruby had been engaging her in tales of Stobrod for the past four years since they’ve been together, she imagined him a tall, dark man- a looming, violent child beater, if you will- but when she gets the chance to finally meet him in person, he is a rather small man, and cowardly, little and withy. Not at all the frightening image she evoked in her mind from Ruby’s childhood.

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And she can’t fathom such a sorry man like him ever beating little Ruby and leaving her in the cabin alone many nights. One way that the novel follows through on its exploration of the differences between man-made and natural phenomena is by focusing on music, which plays an important role in these chapters. Stobrod’s repertoire of 900 fiddle tunes foregrounds the motif of sound and harmony that runs through the text. Ruby’s father talks about the tune he played to the dying girl, a melody that has now become a “habit” and that serves to give “order and meaning to a day’s end. Ada finds it remarkable that music has redeemed Stobrod, even if this is only a partial redemption, and remains optimistic that everyone can make something of his or her life. When he played for the dying girl, it reminded him frankly of his own daughter, and he reclaimed his sentimentality for his daughter. Fed up with the war and fighting, he begins to hate himself for leaving his daughter alone for four years since he enlisted in the Army, and decides to desert on furlough.

When he returns, he doesn’t expect Ruby to forgive him for ‘’it would take more than a tale and a fiddle tune to soften her heart towards him‘’, but it is all apart of the path to redemption, whether she forgives her daddy or not. Frazier shows how Stobrod has found something to give his life meaning (for every time he played the fiddle he learned something new), a thing for which both Ada and Inman are searching. Music also appears as a backdrop to Ada and Ruby’s natural environment.

The dry scratching of the leaves in the trees is much like the snake rattle in Stobrod’s fiddle, although it does not carry the same sense of alarm or warning. Ada’s appreciation of natural rhythms extends to an enjoyment of Stobrod and Pangle’s strange yet harmonious music. When they play, the two musicians achieve a kind of unity that has an almost mystical power over Ada. However, the “deep place of concord” that they find while performing only highlights the discord that they have encountered in the mountains. Stobrod’s stories about the outliers’ raids show how conflict has encroached on the peaceful solitude of mountain life.

Once again, the war forms a stark backdrop to human relationships in the novel—Stobrod contacts Ruby because he needs her help, not because of any patriarchal concern. Nevertheless, their reunion marks the beginning of reconciliation between the two that Frazier develops in later chapters. Frazier shows how Ada is eager to aid the growth of Ruby’s relationship with her father—she states that it is a daughter’s “duty” to help her father—in part because she no longer has a father of her own to whom she can turn. Ada is almost jealous of the relationships between Ruby and Stobrod even if it’s not a particularly good relationship.

She grows increasingly sentimental towards Stobrod’s newfound love for his daughter, and is quite appalled that Ruby still does not forgive him after all his desperate attempts at moving her heart with his fiddle music. Ada is quite touched by Stobrod’s change of heart, and many a time she closes her eyes while he plays, and finds tears spilling from her eyes when she emerges from the spell of his music. She would constantly steal a glance at Ruby who has not been moved at all by his playing and remains as cold and passive as a rock.

Ada, of course, does not blame Ruby for her behavior towards her father, because of all he’s done to her, but despite this, she reminds Ruby how lucky she is to still have a father. Ada never succeeds, of course, in persuading Ruby to forgive him. In the chapter “naught and grief,” music appears to provide a measure of harmony if not logic in a world of insensible changes. Teague and the Home Guard are moved by Stobrod and Pangle’s performance, although they shoot the musicians nonetheless. This brutal act is committed out of fear and a lack of understanding, and it foreshadows Inman’s eventual death.

It isn’t until after her daddy is shot and believed to be dead, that Ruby finally realizes that despite all he’s done to her, and despite all the scars, she still loves him. Though Ada never succeeded in getting Ruby to realize this, how ironic it is that Teague is the one to spark that inside of her. It’s like what Ruby said to Teague when he raided her and Ada: ‘’I should thank you,’’ ‘’You’re welcome. What did I do? ’’ He asked. And she answered, ‘’Clarified my way of thinking. About love. I love my daddy. ’’

Ruby- so strong, so unmoving like a rock of calm in a sea of chaos- lets her heart show through for the first time. She says ‘’she wouldn’t cry not one tear for her daddy, but if she did, she surely stole it off a crocodile‘’. It is a relief that Stobrod does survive, and Ruby fulfills her duty as daughter and cares for her father for the following days, expecting him to up and die any moment. But he does not, and lives on to see her marriage with the Georgia boy and their three children- his grandchildren. And it is a silent forgiveness that needs not words, but music.


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