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.
Lewis Medlock, Ed Gentry, Drew Ballinger, and Bobby Trippe decide to canoe a river in north Georgia before it is dammed. Lewis promises them an enjoyable time away from the pressures and routines of the city. The four men spend September 14 on the river and have the type of day that Lewis promised. The next morning Ed agrees to take Bobby in his canoe because Lewis is frustrated with Bobby’s ineptness and weakness.
Ed and Bobby stop to rest on the bank since they are tired and, ironically, are well ahead of Lewis and Drew. Two men step out of the woods, one of them trailing a shotgun by the barrel. The taller man seems to be toothless, and the shorter man has white stubble on his face and a stomach that falls through his overalls. In an attempt to pacify these mountain men, Ed tells them that he and Bobby are not government agents looking for a still and would even be interested in buying some moonshine from them if they have it. This comment seems to set something in motion for the mountain men, and they take Ed and Bobby at gunpoint deeper into the woods. The tall, lean man ties Ed to a tree with Ed’s own belt and then turns to Bobby. While the tall man holds the gun, the white-bearded man sodomizes Bobby. They turn then to Ed and decide that he will perform oral sex on the tall man. As they exchange the gun an arrow appears in the middle of the tall man’s chest. Lewis and Drew arrived upon the scene quietly, hearing Bobby’s screams, and Lewis had drawn his bow on the tall man and waited for an opportunity to let the arrow fly. The tall man dies, and the white-bearded man runs off into the woods and disappears. Drew wants to take the body to the sheriff, but Lewis wants to bury it in the woods because the area will be covered with water soon. The men vote with Ed because they think his way is the least complicated for their present and future lives. They bury the man and the shotgun deep in the woods and go back on the river to go home.
Drew and Ed are paddling together in the first canoe when Drew falls out. This spill causes the other canoe to turn over in the rapids, and everyone swims for safety. The wooden canoe is broken in half, leaving only the aluminum canoe. Lewis’s leg is broken as well, and Drew cannot be found. Lewis tells Ed and Bobby that Drew was shot from the top of the cliff. Ed understands then that the white-bearded man is on top of the cliff waiting for them to head out in the canoe so that he can kill them. Ed realizes that, in order for them to survive, he has to climb the cliff and kill the mountain man. He...
(The entire section is 2,996 words.)