English 204 – Environmental Literature
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

Discussion Questions—Deliverance


  1. Consider carefully the title of this novel. Who is delivered? And from what? Are there various levels of deliverance in the novel? Is the title in any way ironic?
  1. James Dickey said, “I wrote Deliverance as a story where under the conditions of extreme violence people could find out things about themselves that they have no other means…Deliverance is something that could happen…civilized men killing under primitive conditions.” The obvious question is: “What do these four men learn about themselves? Do the readers learn more about the men than the men learn about themselves? If so, what?
  1. Deliverance was published in 1970, during the Viet Nam War. Do a bit of research into the 1960s and 1970s culture in America. How is this text a commentary or a response to Kennedy’s “New Frontier,” the sterility of suburban life and urban work, Viet Nam, Kent State, and the Cold War?
  1. The artist Georges Braque is mentioned a few times in the text. Braque is acknowledged as an artist who pursued an art of contemplation whose aim was to reconcile man to himself by means of aesthetic harmony. How does this artist (and his style) reflect Ed Gentry’s character…and perhaps a major theme of the novel regarding the conflict between nature and civilization?
  1. Why does Drew Ballinger die in the novel? Look carefully at his character and determine what he signifies as an artist, a role model, a humanitarian, a man. Choose any of the four major characters and do an analysis of that character. What significance do the names play in understanding the characters?
  1. This book is arguably the most violent text we have read thus far. Three men are murdered, one man is sodomized, two men are seriously wounded physically, and all are scarred psychologically. What purpose does the violence serve in the text? Does Dickey glorify violence and exploit sexual perversion? What other forms of violence are present in the text?
  1. Is this a man’s book? Where are the women in the story? How are they portrayed? What function do they serve? Are there definitions of masculinity and femininity within the text? Does the text perpetuate archetypal myths such as man’s initia6tion into the wilderness?  How does the woman figure into this myth?
  1. Who is the antagonist in this novel? The river? The Hillbillies? Deliverance seems to depart from our image of the wilderness as benefactor, refuge, or purifier. If Thoreau read Deliverance (and he too went on an extended canoe trip with his brother on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers), what would he think of the image of the “natural man” (the mountain men) who relied upon their instincts apart from civilization? What would he think of these men who lived lives of quiet desperation, and decided to take a canoe trip one weekend?
  1. Is this text an appropriate choice for an Environmental Literature class? Defend your response.