At a glance:
- Author: James Dickey
- First Published: 1970
- Type of Work: Novel
- Genres: Long fiction, Adventure
- Subjects: Self-discovery, South or Southerners, Twentieth century, Adventure, Hunting or hunters, Frontier or pioneer life, Exploration or explorers, Wilderness, Canoes or canoeing
- Locales: South (U.S.), Georgia
In this novel, four businessmen taking a weekend canoe trip down the untamed Cahulawassee River battle both nature and hill people in “kill-or-be-killed” situations. In lean prose, Dickey graphically details such incidents as a man being savagely sodomized at gunpoint, threats of castration, the sexual overtones of the death climb up a cliff, and the earthy epithets of men stalking and killing others.
The 1970 novel became popular with school-age readers after release of the highly successful 1972 film version, featuring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight. However, in challenges occurring in Maryland and Virginia schools, the book was found “obscene.” In Drake, North Dakota, in the 1970’s, the book became part of a much-publicized book- burning and teacher-dismissal case.
The American Booksellers Association has cited two reasons for the frequent bannings of Deliverance in public schools and libraries: its inappropriate themes for the young and its objectionable language. Challengers have deemed the book inappropriate because of its relentless and unnerving violence, depicting how decent men under pressure can revert to primal behavior. Challengers have also questioned the loose morality of the book’s conclusion: The survivors find deliverance back in the civilized world, unrepentant and unpunished after killing several men, disposing of their bodies, and lying repeatedly to the law.
Doughtie, Edward. “Art and Nature in Deliverance.” Southwest Review 64 (Spring, 1979): 167-180. An exploration of how the arts serve a mediating function in the novel. Argues that art helps negotiate the important boundaries between nature, human nature, and civilization.
Endel, Peggy Goodman. “Dickey, Dante, and the Demonic: Reassessing Deliverance.” American Literature 60 (December, 1988): 611-624. Endel offers a sophisticated and cogent reading of the novel in the light of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and demonstrates how Dickey has created a presentation of unsublimated evil after the fashion of Dante and against the romantic sublime.
Foust, R. E. “Tactus Eruditus: Phenomenology as Method and Meaning of James Dickey’s Deliverance.” Studies in American Fiction 9 (Autumn, 1981): 199-216. One of the most original interpretations of Deliverance. It focuses on the creative tensions in the novel and presents a “postmodern” reading, which in this case means a phenomenological and structural interpretation that centers on the characters’ sense of touch. Foust also points out the problems of romantic readings of Deliverance.
Jolly, John. “Drew Ballinger as ‘Sacrificial God’ in James Dickey’s Deliverance.” South Carolina Review 17 (Spring, 1985): 102-108. A mythical reading that centers not on Ed or Lewis but on Drew’s affinity to the Orpheus figure in Greek mythology.
Strong, Paul. “James Dickey’s Arrow of Deliverance.” South Carolina Review 11 (1978): 108-116. Focusing on Ed’s self-wounding, Strong offers an interpretation of that event and others in the light of the observations of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.
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