Deliverance: The Establishment of "Masculinity" The novel Deliverance by James Dickey portrays the essence of middle-aged men experiencing the mid-life crisis through which they must prove to themselves and more importantly every one else that they still possess the strength, bravery, intelligence, and charm believed to be society's ideal of "masculinity." Dickey's four main characters undertake a risky adventure to satisfy their egotistical complexes and prove to the world that they are still the strong young men their wives married. Each character represents a different stereotype of the middle-aged man, and therefore experiences a different type of psychological and physical journey than their peers. The character Drew Ballinger in Deliverance is a sales supervisor at a soft-drink company who is very devoted to his son and his job. Drew is the character who represents the middle-aged man's desire for talent and attention. Drew plays the guitar and his music is his true companion. Without having any talent, as he would be the first to tell you, Drew played mighty well, through sheer devotion.
(Dickey, 11) For Drew the highlight of this trip is his duo with Lonnie, an uneducated banjo player. Drew obviously finds this the most exhilarating part of the adventure in that he is the center of attention and is playing very well with a talented young man. I had never heard him play so well, and I really began to listen deeply, moved as an unmusical person is moved when he sees that the music is meant. I could not see Drew's face, but the back of his neck was sheer joy I was glad for Drew's sake that we had come. Just this incident would be plenty to satisfy him. (Dickey, 59-60) Ironically, it is this peaceful and innocent man who reaches his demise on this perilous trip.
Drew's innocence and morality is truly displayed when he is the only one among these four men who wants to report the death of the local man to the police. He does not want to be part of any wrong; however, he is given no heed due to the immorality of the others. Here comes into play the parallelism of this novel to the occurrence of the Vietnam War. For in the Vietnam War, all common moralities and values were thrown away to fit the environment in which we were fighting.
Here, all the men except Drew disregard the morals of the civilized world to survive in this unfamiliar territory where they have willingly placed themselves. That may be one reason that Drew is the one to be shot and drowned alone and later discovered: he dies because he cannot survive - it is, in essence, the survival of the fittest. Here is another parallel to the Vietnam era in that Drew's death is used as a lie and as an excuse. His death is used as a cover up, an event occurring often during the war. Because he is the moral central of the group, his death is a deep loss.
It is a loss because Drew is the best of them all; he is the most genuine. Bobby Trippe was very social and seemed to enjoy the life he led, as did Drew. It is this social man however; who is the victim of forced sodomy by local river people. However, it is because of this social nature that Bobby recoups to his former self after the conclusion of the adventure. Perhaps also, Bobby is in a state of denial of this event because it is embarrassing to him. He [Bobby] got up, twenty years older, and walked over to the dead man.
Then, in an explosion so sudden that it was like something bursting through from another world, he kicked the body in the face, and again. (Dickey, 124) Lewis, at the beginning of this trip is the egotistical man who serves as the true epitome of mid-life crisis. Lewis wants to be strong, and he wants to remain young. Lewis wanted to be immortal. He had everything that life could give, and he couldn't make it work. And he couldn't bear to give it up or see age take it away from him, either (Dickey, 9) Lewis lifts weights and acts the complete stereotype of the testosterone full man.
It is he, in the beginning of the adventure, who is in control of the situation. It is he who kills the local who has raped Bobby. However, when Lewis is injured, he becomes the helpless and the dependant. Towards the end of the novel, Lewis is no longer the protagonist, rather he is just another concern for our new hero - Ed. Lewis changes at the end of the novel. All of his ideals are now gone and he no longer wants to be the strong man, he once strived to be.
He [Lewis] has changed, too, but not in obvious ways. He can die now; he knows that dying is a better than immortality. He is a human being, and a good one. (Dickey, 277). All of Lewis' dreams of "masculinity" belong to Ed at the end of the adventure. Ed is the one who has proved himself worthy.
Lewis, though, has also proved a very important fact to himself; he has proved that he is not immortal. Ed is the narrator of this novel and also the protagonist. At the start of the adventure, he is just a follower of Lewis. He admires Lewis and respects his strength. However, gradually Ed starts to take control. When Lewis is hurt, it is Ed who becomes the protagonist and saves his companions from an agonizing death.
Ed, ironically, becomes the hero of this novel. I looked at the dead man. You " re dead, Lewis, I said to him. You and Bonny are dead. You didn't start on time; you did everything wrong. I ought to take this rifle and shoot the hell out of you, Bobby, you incompetent censored , you soft city country-club man.
You'd have been dead, you should " ve been dead, right about exactly now. You " re right in line, you " re going slow, you " re just siting there. If I hadn't come here and did what I did, you'd've been floating along now with no brains and no blood, and so would Lewis. (Dickey, 201-2) Ed is different from the rest in that he recognizes the golden eye. The "golden-eyes" is the short-lived glimpse of the Platonic Ideal; it is the beauty of life. Ed is also different in that he is the only one who proves himself; proves his "masculinity." He does this by adapting to his foreign environment and by surviving and rescuing his companions.
Also, it may be noted, that Lewis' love for the rough river is transcended to Ed. The river and everything I remembered about it became a possession to me, a personal, private possession, as nothing else in my life ever had. Now it ran nowhere but in my head, but there it ran as though immortally. I could feel it - I can feel it - on different places on my body. It pleases me in some curious way that the river does not exist, and that I have it.
In me it still is, and will be until I die, green, rocky, deep, fast, slow and beautiful beyond reality The river underlies everything that I do. It is always finding a way to serve me (Dickey, 275-6) Thus, Ed is the protagonist and hero of Deliverance. It is through this perilous voyage that Drew, Bobby, Lewis, and Ed undertake, that they prove their "masculinity," or lack there of, to themselves and to the society in which they live.