A Mirror Has Two Faces Connecting With

A Mirror Has Two Faces: Connecting With Our Animal Nature In Essay, Research Paper

A Mirror Has Two Faces: Connecting with Our Animal Nature in

James Dickey’s novel Deliverance

I remember watching nature shows on television and

seeing natural predation. There on the screen lions stalk,

chase, kill, and eat their prey. A true vision of animal

nature. Humans are also animals, therefore, possessing

animal nature. This animal nature can be witnessed every

fall as thousands of hunters across the United States forge

into the woods to stalk, kill, and eat their prey. Most

hunters even display the heads of their prey in their living

rooms as a testament to their animal nature.

Ed Gentry also touches his animal nature in James

Dickey’s novel Deliverance. One weekend, Ed along with

three friends, Bobby, Lewis, and Drew decides to canoe down

the Cahulawassee river not knowing what trials laid ahead.

Drew is killed, Bobby sodomized, Lewis disabled, and Ed

severely wounded. Ed stalks and kills a man in order to

survive; and through Ed’s need to survive in the wilderness,

he touches the animal nature within him.

Ed goes through life aimlessly. Eventhough he has a

wife, a boy, and his own business, Ed has no direction, no

purpose. Life is boring. Ed’s only break from normal life

is the occasional excursions that he takes with his good

friend Lewis. The first inclination of what Ed needs to be

complete is while laying out a photo shoot for a Kitt’n

Britches ad. As Ed surveys the model, he looks into her eye

and spots an imperfection in it:

There was a peculiar spot, a kind of tan slice, in

her left eye, and it hit me with, I knew right

away, strong powers; it was not only recallable,

but would come back of itself….and the sight of

that went through me, a deep and complex male

thrill, as if something had touched me in the


Was this part of Ed’s animal nature showing through? The

animal instinct to reproduce.

Ed, Lewis, Drew, and Bobby leave for the river. Lewis

and Ed in one car, and Bobby and Drew in another. As Lewis

and Ed are driving, Ed presents his theory on life– the

theory of “sliding”(41):

I’ll tell you. Sliding is living antifriction.

Or, no, sliding is living by antifriction. It is

finding a modest thing you can do, and then

greasing that thing. On both sides. It is

grooving with comfort.(41)

This is how Ed lived, without any connection to the animal

nature within him.

The second day on the river, the wilderness revealed

its powerful nature. Bobby was sodomized by two mountain

men, Lewis had his leg severely broken, and Drew was

supposedly killed by a mountain man. Ed was the only one

left to help the helpless to civilization. Ed knew that he

had to kill the remaining mountain man to insure that the

mountain man didn’t kill the rest of them. “Kill or be


As Ed ascended the cliff to the top of the gorge,”[He]

looked for a slice of gold like the model’s in the river:

some kind of freckle, something lovable, in the huge

serpent-shape of light(176).”

When Ed reaches the top of the gorge, he carefully

plans how to kill the mountain man like an animal stalking

its prey and waiting for the right moment to pounce. He

then climbs a tree and waits for his prey to come into view.

Spotting the mountain man, Ed lines up his prey:

for he was shut within a frame within a frame, all

of my making: the peep sight and the alleyway of

needles, and I knew that I had him…and [then] I

saw his face– saw that he had a face– for the

first time. The whole careful structure of my

shot began to come apart, and I struggled in my

muscles and guts and heart to hold it


Eventhough Ed has truly connected with his animal nature by

hunting his prey and within a few seconds of making the

kill, his human side still shines through complicating his

judgment. At the moment when Ed is then threatened further

by the mountain man seeing him in the tree; the animal

nature within him releases the arrow.

When Ed shoots the mountain man, he center shoots him,

therefore, the mountain man doesn’t die immediately. To

ensure that the mountain man is dead, Ed tracks the mountain

man, “I got down on my hands and knees to try to find a

direction for the blood….and when I couldn’t see it I

could feel it, and, in some cases, smell it(196-197).”

As Ed tracks the mountain man further into the woods, he

becomes more like an animal searching for its wounded prey,

“I was thinking like a driven creature…I went to all fours

with my head down like a dog and the knife between my

teeth…smelling for blood like an animal again…(195-199)”

Finally Ed finds the man but is not sure that he is the one.

The one that tried to force sodomy on him and killed Drew.

Ed descends the cliff and condemns the body of the

mountain man to a fate at the bottom of the river. Then Ed

climbs in the canoe along with Bobby and Lewis and proceeds

down the river to Aintry. As Ed and Bobby float down the

river in the canoe, Ed sees Drew’s body washed up on rocks

at the edge of the river. Ed recovers Drew’s body and

condemns it to the same fate as the mountain man’s body.

Nearing the town of Aintry, Ed makes up a story to

explain Drew’s death, Lewis’s broken leg, and his injuries

as well. The sheriff believes the story; and Bobby, Lewis,

and Ed return to their lives in Atlanta.

Although Ed returns to his life in Atlanta, things have


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…. 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… The river

underlies, in one way or another, everything I do.

It is always finding a way to serve me, from my

archery to some of my recent ads and to the new

collages I have… full of sinuous forms threading

among the headlines of war and student strikes….

Thad and I are getting along much better than

before. The studio is still boring, but not as

boring as it was.(275-276)

Ed has returned to the life he onced lived, but with a

different outlook a more appreciative, outlook on life. Ed

doesn’t have the same fascination for wild things as he once

did because he found his wildness, his animal nature, “I

still loved the way she looked, but her gold halved eye had

lost its fascination. Its place was in the night river, in

the land of impossibility (277).” Ed is now complete with

his two halves, human nature and animal nature, he is now


Dickey, James. Deliverance. New York: Delta, 1994.


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