Deliverance Themes

Social Concerns / Themes

In its exploration of the individual man tested by the frontier elements, Deliverance continues the legacy of classic American fiction. But it is also very much a creature of the turbulence, violence, and apocalyptic mood of the late 1960s. In a 1976 interview, Dickey himself explained the novel's success thus: "I wrote the right book at the right time."

That time was one of widespread skepticism over the continuing validity of institutions and traditions. Dickey removes his four protagonists from their comfortable social setting and places them in the wilderness in order to test their individual resources and to probe the premises of modern civilization. What begins as a pleasant weekend outing for four middle-class and middle-aged men soon forces each to confront fundamental issues about a life he had been taking for granted.

Deliverance is also an expression of the environmentalist concerns that were beginning to emerge as public issues during the period in which it was written. Civilization is encroaching even on the remote Georgia wilderness in which Ed, Lewis, Drew, and Bobby go canoeing. They encounter the jetsam of urban life floating along the most accessible parts of the river, and even its most primitive parts will soon be conquered by a dam. Their adventure one autumn weekend represents a desperate last chance: for each mortal man individually and for the vanishing environment.

Deliverance is a...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Deliverance Themes

Strength and Weakness
Lewis is, without a doubt, held up in this novel as an ideal of masculine strength. The narrator describes him as "one of the strongest men I had ever shaken hands with," and repeatedly points out the trials of physical endurance with which he challenges himself. Even more importantly, though, is that he is presented as having the psychological strength to overcome difficulty. His physical strength, as Lewis himself explains it, is just a tool to prepare him for a time he foresees in the near future when society will collapse, when people who rely on their social skills and positions will find themselves unable to survive. "Life is so fucked-up now, and so complicated, that I wouldn't mind if it came down, right quick, to the bare survival of who was ready to survive." One apocryphal story of Lewis's strength is when he broke his leg in the woods while fishing by himself and hopped three miles to his car. He then used a stick to push the gas pedal to drive it. On the canoe trip, though, the break in his leg is much more severe, up near the thigh: he does talk when spoken to, but for the most part the pain overcomes his strength, causing him to vomit and pass out.

Bobby, on the other hand, is the novel's example of weakness. He is fat and talkative: he "would not have been displeased if someone called him a born salesman." By the second morning of the trip, Bobby is complaining that he wants to go home, that the food is bad, and the tent is uncomfortable. As the story continues, Bobby and Ed are confronted by two rugged men who victimize them—one even rapes Bobby. Lewis, the strong character, comes to Bobby and Ed's rescue by sneaking up during the attack and killing Bobby's rapist.

Rites of Passage
The canoe trip represents a ritual that transforms Ed, the narrator, several times along the way. On the morning that he leaves home, while in Lewis's car, he contemplates the difference he sees in himself: "We were not—or at least I was not— what we were before." Later, when Ed relates the story of missing the deer with his arrow, he tells Lewis that he wishes Lewis had been there to take the shot, showing a confidence in Lewis's hunting skills. This confidence proves well-founded when Lewis is later able to kill a mountain man with one perfect shot through his back.

The rite of passage continues for Ed as he climbs up the rock cliff in an effort to stop the attacker. During this strenuous exertion, Ed recognizes that he is an element of nature, which helps...

(The entire section is 1037 words.)