Essay on Sinners or Survivors: An Interpretation of "Deliverance" Through Dante

Essay on Sinners or Survivors: An Interpretation of "Deliverance" Through Dante

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The characters of Lewis, Ed, and the hillbilly rapists can be examined in terms of the circles of Hell found in Robert Pinsky's translation of "The Inferno of Dante." Each circle of Hell is reserved for a particular type of sinner with very specific punishments. When the characters from James Dickey's "Deliverance" are viewed from the perspective of Dante's nine circles of Hell, their actions seem to be much more sinister then when they are taken in the context of Dickey's novel alone. What could be viewed as justifiable homicide in Dickey's world suddenly places Lewis and Ed in the pits of Hell, right alongside the rapist, murdering hillbillies.

Lewis is one of the most complex characters in Dickey's novel. It is difficult to tell exactly what his motives are or why he feels such a need to be a survivalist. Because of the way that Lewis talks his friends into participating in his adventures he could potentially end up in Bolgia 9 of Circle 8 in Hell. This is the place where sowers of discord are kept. The families of his friends and even his friends themselves are drug into his plans because he is so convincing that they need to canoe down the river. Even when his friends protest, he strongly rebuts. "'Listen,' Lewis said, knocking on the air with his foreknuckle, `you'll be in more danger on the four-lane going home tonight than you'd ever be on the river. Somebody might jump the divider. Who knows?'" (Dickey 7) Because he talks his friends into joining him on this adventure with such fervor, he is therefore a sower of discord in their lives. These sinners are wounded and mutilated in a variety of ways, but there is one that most closely resembles Lewis' ability to persuade his friends. "Then he grasped on...


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... justification would carry weight in determining who would be sent to Hell if I were making the determination. Lewis and Ed each had their faults. They acted in a way that could be determined a sin, because they did in fact take two other people's lives, but when you look at the fact that one had just raped their friend and was likely to kill Ed and Bobby and that the other had killed Drew and was lying in wait to kill the others, they didn't have another choice, if they wanted to make it off of the river alive. The hillbillies, however, did have a choice. They didn't have to rape Bobby and the surviving hillbilly didn't have to kill Drew. They did do those things, without any regard for others, and with only their own selfish wants and needs in mind. That being said, there is no pity or justification in what they did and therefore they should be in Hell.

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