Freewill Savages: Cold Mountain's Stobrod Thewes

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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. 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...
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