Upon Further Review: Sports in American Literature

By Michael Cocchiarale; Scott D. Emmert | Go to book overview
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Hypermasculinity and Sport in
James Dickey’s Deliverance

Mark S. Graybill

Rarely is James Dickey’s most famous novel discussed as sport fiction. This is surprising, given the story’s focus on four suburbanites from Atlanta who are forced to become amateur athletes in extremis when a weekend of canoeing and hunting in rural Georgia turns into a high-stakes contest with two ruthless local men. After killing with an arrow the “red-neck” who has sodomized his companion Bobby Trippe, outdoor sport enthusiast Lewis Medlock underscores for the rest of the group, including Drew Ballinger and the narrator-protagonist Ed Gentry, the competitive context in which these events have unfolded:

“Lewis,” Drew said…. “This is not one of your fucking games. You killed
somebody. There he is.”

“I did kill him,” Lewis said. “But you’re wrong when you say that there’s nothing like
a game connected with the position we’re in now. It may be the most serious kind of
game there is, but if you don’t see it as a game, you’re missing an important
point.” (126)

While assuming that a character speaks for his author is always a dubious interpretive strategy, the way Dickey frames the theme of competition in the rest of the novel lends this passage considerable importance.1 Why, then, has there been little attention to the novel as sport fiction? Critics with an interest in the genre, of course, tend to be preoccupied with works featuring the so-called core American sports, football and baseball. I suspect, however, that Deliverance has largely been ignored because it fits too uncomfortably within existing paradigms of sport fiction in other, more telling, ways.

Consider, for example, Jacob Rivers’s recently published Cultural Values in the Southern Sporting Narrative, which omits any discussion of Deliverance. Since Dickey was an indisputably major southern writer, his best-known work

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