Character Change Brought on by Setting, Illustrated in Deliverance and Invisible Man
Plot setting is a crucial aspect of any novel. It delivers to the audience the atmosphere which the novel itself is taking place. In both Deliverance and Invisible Man setting illustrates to the reader where the novel is happening, what time frame the novel is placed in, etc., it also serves the protagonist in the novel as well. What the setting accomplishes in both of these novels is it acts as a catalyst in helping the protagonist come to a realization of self. Deliverance and Invisible Man create a different psychosis in the protagonist’s character through their use of setting. Dickey’s Deliverance and Ellison’s Invisible Man through their use of setting, force their protagonists to come to a realization of self-awareness.
In Deliverance, Dickey illustrates how man, removed from “civilized” society, reverts back to his primitive instinct. Man, in this primitive state, becomes the most dangerous creature that roams the earth. His ability to reason becomes utilized only on the aspects of survival; laws cease to exist and man justifies and acts out any action that ensures his survival. He shows that it is not nature one should fear but rather man, nature is a neutral force that only provides context for man to behave a certain way. To illustrate this point, Dickey places four individuals, born and bred in suburban society, into wild and lawless nature. Confronted with the “uncivilized” setting around them, Dickey shows how different men can react to the same situation. The character with the most significant and profound change is Ed Gentry.
Ed agrees to venture out on the river with the hopes of gain a new perspective on the life that has been draining him mentally. Ed’s wants are shadowed by his duties to both his family and his job. Although he will not directly tell Lewis, this is the first trip that Ed actually wants to gain something from, not another weekend warrior journey, trying to conquer the natural world. Ed leaves his house in hope for friends, music, sport, a little drinking and a detachment from his day to day life. Right from the start, Ed begins his transformation, however it is only the first of two. Ed’s first transformation is ongoing. The little sensations he receives from the river and it’s surrounding give him an awareness of where he is and who he is. Illustrated in the following passage, Ed conveys his feeling towards the trip,
I touched the knife hilt at my side, and
remembered that all men were once boys, and
that boys are always looking for ways to become
men. Some are easy, too; all you have to do
is be satisfied that it has happened. (Dickey 62)
This quote illustrates that it is Ed’s second chance to prove himself to himself. Sometimes a boy just becomes a man without even realizing it, Ed want to realize and believes that tackling the river is a way of achieving a wholeness in his life. Ed from this point creates a bond with his surroundings. Illustrated in his passages where he feels the water around him (67) or when he sleeps for the first night and becomes aquatinted with the nature around him (77). These scenes illustrated what Ed had envisioned that the type of change he wanted to acquire was more of an understanding than a true change of self. His true transformation comes at the climax of the novel where the canoe trip becomes a race for survival.
Ed’s transformation is based solely on survival. This survival is exactly what Lewis had described to him earlier in the novel,
Survival depends-well, it depends on having
to survive. The kind of life I’m talking
about depends on its being the last chance.
The very last of it all. (Dickey 42).
Ed’s realization that this is “very last of it all” comes when the canoe accident has occurred. Drew has been killed and Lewis, the team leader, is injured falling in and out of consciousness. Dickey illustrates Ed’s transformation of self as a rebirth. During the violent canoe accident there is a time where Ed believes that he is dead. Ed is dead, what emerges from the river is the survivalist. He has become everything that Lewis ever wanted to become. Earlier on in the novel Dickey first touches upon the notion that the most dangerous being is not nature, but rather, man. Man that is unchecked by the laws which govern him. After Lewis kills one of the sodomites, they argue over what to do with the body; it is the collective agreement between Lewis, Bobby and Ed that the authorities cannot be involved. Lewis insists that in the woods and nature the only law tat governs is whatever man can justify.
Ed’s unconscious decision to survive occurs when he resurfaces from the water after being capsized. He enters the water as the man who has achieved what he wanted from the trip and now wants to leave. What occurs in the water is a rebirth into the man who must forget all that society has instilled within him and survive by whatever mean necessary. Illustrated in this next passage is the death of Ed as the man, who first came on the trip,
I was dead. I felt myself fading out into
The unbelievable violence and brutality of
The river, joining it (Dickey 124).
Just as he had though before, Ed believes that he will become one with the nature. It is when he realizes that he is still alive and that his fate and the fate of his friend depends on survival that he realizes he will never be a part of nature, but one who is set aside from nature. Ed transforms into the man without any law the only governing force in his body is nature and his need to survive. This is illustrated in two passages, the first showing Ed’s lack of care for law and consequence,
I wanted to kill him exactly as Lewis had
killed the other man: I wanted him to suspect
nothing at all until the sudden terrible pain
in his chest that showed an arrow through him
from behind, come from anywhere (Dickey 149).
Ed wants to kill, in order for him to survive he must kill and no other doubts about consequence even enter his mind as he states this. Ed no longer thinks in terms of his city life, his reasoning is utilized only for survival. Each action he takes to ensure his survival is instinct. The second passage that illustrates his dismissal of city life is when he awakens in the crevice of the gorge.
Well, I said to the black stone at my face,
when I get to the top the first thing I’ll
do will be not to think of Martha and Dean
At this point family could be very dangerous to Ed. Any link to society outside the woods could cause him to loose his edge, soften him and revert back to thinking like a city man. Upon killing the man he had been hunting and rescuing both his friends, Ed quickly changes back to a man in need of civilization.
Although the main focus of his trip was to get way from everything that had been suffocating him, Ed welcomes back everything he left behind in a new light. In a play on word, Dickey illustrates the whole purpose of the voyage in the following passage,
“I tell you,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.
That arrow-head is meant to open you up.”
The arrowhead, along with opening up Ed’s leg, also opened up his capabilities as a savage man. Hunting down the man with his bow and killing him with the broad head arrow illustrated the pinnacle of what man needs to achieve for survival. The setting of this novel is also what opened up Ed, for had he not been placed in such a predicament, he would had never had the chance to see the capabilities of man.
Paralleling Dickey’s use of setting as a vehicle for changing the self of a character is Ellison’s use of setting in Invisible Man. Much like Deliverance, the main protagonist is greatly affected and changed by the setting that he is thrown into.
Ellison uses the setting of New City, predominantly Harlem for the learning environment that his unnamed protagonist will experience change. Invisible Man, who will be referred to as I.M., experiences a change not of a different self, but his true self. What I.M. views as being proper and good is all cover masking who he really is as a person? The first true breakthrough that I.M. has is the scene in the novel where he buys a yam from a street vendor. Before he eats the yam, the vendor tells him something that will be an ongoing theme throughout the novel. It will also be a realization point for I.M. as he eats the yam,
“You right, but everything what looks good
ain’t necessarily good,” he said. “But these
For I.M. this is nothing but the absolute truth. The school and the founder and Bledsoe, who all seemed to be nothing but the good were all masks of deception. I.M.’s yam however is good. It reminds him of who he is and where he came from. It also makes him think of the people at the school collectively. Stating how he would like to smear the faces of his school mates with the peel of his yam, he also show how they would react to simply being confronted with a stereotype that was actually true.
What a group of people we were, I though.
Why, you could cause us the greatest humiliation
simply by confronting us with something we liked.
Not all of us, but so many. Simply by walking up
and shaking a set of chitterlings or a well-boiled
hog maw at them during the clear light of day!
In this passage, I.M. begins to disassociate from his educated ways and ideals. He is reverting back to being a member of a black community, not some group of “educated” persons who believe that there is a difference between themselves and their ancestors. Exemplified in another passage is I.M.’s realization of his wasted life, trying to change the way he was viewed, not by the general public, but by his own people. The general public still saw him as one thing and this would not change.
What and how much had I lost by trying to do
Only what was expected of me instead of what
I myself had wished to do? What a waste, what
A senseless waste! But what of those things
Which you actually didn’t like, not because you
Were not supposed to like them, not because to
Dislike them was considered a mark of refinement
And education- (Ellison 266)
Eating the yam allows I.M. to see what changes have occurred within him. For the first time, it truly sets in exactly what Bledsoe and the others have done to him. The changes that these men went through, were by no means made to improve the race, but rather to improve their standing in the social scheme of things. In and earlier quote I.M. refers to what would happen had Bledsoe been confronted with the very things he likes, or rather, with the very things he denies liking. I.M. describes the outcome of such a said situation as Bledsoe, “loosing caste” (Ellison 265).
I.M. comes to a painful realization while eating his last yam. In biting the last part of it the bitter taste reminds him that it is frost bitten and he is not back at home where this behavior is acceptable. Slowly, through the next few events, I.M. reverts back to being a pawn once again. He falls into believe in some good that is not necessarily good. The Brotherhood, which is explained in the following chapters exploit him as much as Bledsoe had. The individuality that he had achieved in the few minutes of eating his yam will be taken away again merely out of his own instinct to do what others tell him is right. I.M.’s full change to self will not be realized until later in the novel.
Summarizing the two novels; Dickey expresses change of self through man’s need to survive. Ellison also expresses this but it is man’s need to survive in a modern changing society. What Ellison achieves is a need for acceptance of what one is. For I.M. acceptance of what he is, is acceptance of being invisible to the society around him. Although this is not realized until later I the novel the first inkling of this thought are expressed in the yam scene. Dickey achieves the change in self by placing man in a setting far removed from his day to day existence. What man in this setting is able to accomplish solely depend on whether or not he truly wants to survive. Man must let go of what he thinks he know and follow his own law. This is what separates Drew from Ed, Drew’s refusal to abide by the law of nature eventually will lead to his death, not directly, but because of this refusal he had already passed on from the other members of the group. Both novels express how setting can be used to illustrate a change in the character’s mind. While Invisible Man has a multitude of many different experiences, and goes back and forth like a ping pong ball, Deliverance has one more profound and concrete turning point. Each of the novels expresses that there is a direct link to the protagonists tranformative experience and the setting which he is placed.