Deliverance Summary

James Dickey


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Deliverance Summary

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James Dickey’s novel Deliverance takes place in the wilderness of North Georgia. Four friends, Lewis, Bobby, Drew, and Ed, decide to take a weekend canoe trip to escape their lives in the city and the boredom they feel there. None of them have any experience canoeing, and their knowledge about the wilderness is limited, yet Bobby, Ed, and Drew go along with Lewis’s suggestion that they make this trip.

Lewis’s closest friend is Ed, a graphic designer. Ed is entering a mid-life crisis, upset with how fast he has aged;he is in his late forties. He has accompanied Lewis on similar trips in the past, minus the canoe. Despite that, they have never gone so far into the wilderness as Lewis suggests now. Ed’s boredom and frustration overcome his concerns about the trip. He decides he is going to bring along his bow to do some hunting—even though it is off-season. The four men start in the town of Oree, where people try to convince them not to take this trip.They do anyway.

At first, the canoeing is easy. There are some sections with rapid water, but they learn quickly how to use their paddles to maneuver the canoes. They camp alongside the river, and on their first night, Drew plays some music to entertain them. The next morning, Ed tries to hunt deer, but fails to hit any with his bow and arrows. The hot and humid weather is oppressive, and they are constantly dogged by swarms of mosquitoes. They paddle a bit farther and then decide to stop and rest.

Two men approach Ed and Bobby; one of them is holding a shotgun. They try to relaunch their canoe, but the armed men force them to move inland. There, one man binds Ed. Another rapes Bobby. As they are about to assault Ed, Lewis kills one of them with an arrow shot from the bow. The other assailant escapes into the forest. Lewis, Drew, Bobby, and Ed decide to bury the dead man in the river so that no one will know they killed him. They launch their canoes and paddle toward Aintry, the next town, hoping to get there as soon as possible.

However, as they enter another area of rapids, Drew is shot in the head. Both the canoes capsize, and Lewis breaks his leg when he goes under water. The remaining three manage to float along and determine they will have to climb the cliffs ahead and face their attacker. Otherwise, Ed is certain he will pick them off one by one. Ed sets a trap, which a man falls into. He is badly wounded—but there is a problem. Neither Ed nor Bobby can be certain it is the right man.

Even so, they continue on to Aintry, where they tell the authorities that Drew was lost during a canoeing accident. They have to try to keep their stories straight to avoid suspicion. In the coming weeks, a dam is constructed over the river. It floods and covers the area where Drew’s body and the body of the other man were.

One of the main themes in Deliverance is the conflict between man and nature. The four men are at odds with nature at almost every turn. Rapids, mosquitoes, weather that saps their energy, and failed hunts are some of the examples of this conflict. There are also poisonous snakes—water moccasins—hanging from the trees. Lewis likes the idea of testing their survival skills in the wilderness, but they learn that nature is unpredictable. Another theme is the conflict of man versus man. The two who attack Bobby and Ed embody this conflict. They want to kill the foursome, and ultimately, Ed must face off with one of them to survive the conflict, relying on a cool head and resourcefulness. At the beginning of the story, Lewis embodies the third major theme, hubris. His arrogance in assuming they will be able to handle everything that comes their way, despite never having gone canoeing and holding only limited knowledge of surviving in the wilderness, is misplaced pride—or hubris. In this sense, he is like Odysseus of The Odyssey, whose hubris gets his men killed. Drew loses his life because he follows Lewis into this canoeing trip. Additionally, the two men who attack Ed and Bobby exhibit hubris.

Deliverance was published in 1970. Two years later, it was adapted into a film. It also appeared on the Modern Library’s list of one hundred Best Twentieth-Century novels, as well as Time magazine’s list of the one hundred best English-language novels since 1923. In addition to his three novels (Deliverance, Alnilam, and To the White Sea), James Dickey has written poetry, illustrated prose, and nonfiction. He also wrote the screenplay for The Call of the Wild in 1976.