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.