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.