Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Ed Gentry, the vice president of his own advertising firm. Ed’s boredom frightens him enough to take the trip to the wilderness. He is tempted several times to stay home or to go home rather than to deal with the problems that arise during the canoe trip. Ed’s philosophy of life is called “sliding,” which is continually taking the path of least resistance. Ed, however, is dying emotionally, and he knows it. This insufficiency or void in the middle of his existence is more frightening than the potential terrors of the wilderness. On the trip, he discovers what has been lying deep in his unconscious, namely, his potential to become one with nature and to abandon the laws of civilization. When he is forced to become the hero or die with the others in the woods, Ed is able to find the strength of will to kill another man. He is also able to cover up the murder when questioned at length by the police. Ed’s life is changed by the experience he has on the trip, but the changes remain internal. The river stays with him in his dreams and finds expression in his art. After this experience, he is no longer bored because he can see himself in a mythological way.
Lewis Medlock, a survivalist who earns his living managing rental property. Ed, Drew, and Bobby are ambivalent about going down a river without any experience or knowledge, but Lewis, who functions as both herald and helper for the trip,...
(The entire section is 577 words.)
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In Ed Gentry, Lewis Medlock, Drew Ballinger, and Bobby Trippe, Dickey provides a compelling variety of responses to the ordeal of life wrenched from the anesthetics of convention. Ed's is the consciousness through which the experiences are filtered. Married for fifteen years and — drawing on Dickey's own background — a successful advertising executive, Ed admits to having learned to take life on its easiest terms. Yet a lurking discontent urges him toward the river, toward an experience that will change his life by forcing him to reexamine it. This discomfort is also probably responsible for his friendship with Lewis.
Although married and the father of three children, Lewis is a survivalist and partisan of physical fitness. He scorns the physical and psychological lethargy into which he has seen men of his background sliding, and he regards the river expedition as a denial of the middle-class values that businessmen like Drew and Bobby represent. Lewis is closest to the paragon of what Dickey, in a 1979 essay of that name, has called "The Energized Man" — "the man who functions with not, say, fifteen per cent of his faculties . . . but ideally, with a hundred per cent, a veritable A-bomb among the animated or half-animated spectres of the modern world." Yet for all his admiration of Lewis, it is Ed who learns the importance of transcending individualism.
While Lewis subscribes to the pastoral myth of benevolent nature, Ed is more...
(The entire section is 305 words.)
Drew is a devoted family man who dies on the river. Before his death, he works for a large soft drink company and is loyal to them—he only shows anger when the company's good reputation is questioned. He is an excellent guitarist and brings his guitar along on the canoe trip, playing a duet with the banjo-playing albmo boy at the grocery store where they stop for provisions. After the first death, it is Drew who argues for going to the authorities and explaining what has happened, but he is voted down by Lewis and the others. Further down the river. Drew falls out of the canoe just as they approach some rapids. Ed, who was sitting behind him, is not sure that he was shot, but Lewis says that he was. When his body is found later it is not clear whether the gash on his head was caused by a bullet or by a rock that he hit. While burying his corpse in the river, Ed says, "You were the best of us, Drew ... The only decent one; the only sane one." Drew is survived by a wife and a son. Pope, who has a deformity, a "hornlike blood blister" on his forehead, which the narrator describes as a reminder of "the true horrors of biology."
Sheriff Bullard is the sheriff of Helms County, where the canoe trip takes place. When Ed and Bobby return with their story that they lost Drew "on the river," Sheriff Bullard is skeptical of their story, but he is even more willing to believe that the missing brother-in-law of...
(The entire section is 2163 words.)