With its anonymous and interchangeable business complexes, shopping malls, fast-food joints, and suburbs, the city could be any modern American city. This technique underscores Dickey’s intention to present the extreme violence of the friends’ wilderness canoe trip as a universal human experience: Violence, the novel suggests, is the “normal” experience of modern American men. After the river, the city is the most important of the novel’s four places, since its job is to create an image of the modern American place, the most desirable, if flawed, image of order and civilization available to modern humanity.
Oree (OH-ree). Staging area for the characters’ white-water river trip. Oree is not a major setting in the story but is a necessary one. As the first rural stop after the city, it serves to prepare readers for the movement from civilized urban life to the dangerous, anarchic freedom and inhumanity of nature, experienced at its most raw.
Cahulawassee River (ka-hool-a-wash-e). Georgia river on which the four men undertake their canoe trip. That this is the most important of the places in the story is made plain by the fact that it is treated at far greater length than the other three places taken together, as well as by the subtle lyricism of the description of the journey of Ed, Lewis, Bobby, and Drew. The beauty and the anarchic freedom that the river represents to the characters is soon countered and then eradicated by the extraordinary violence and hardship of the episodes that follow: the homosexual rape of Bobby, Lewis and Ed’s killing of the mountain men involved in the rape, the death of Drew, the breaking of Lewis’s leg, and the exhausting and sobering journey of the three battered survivors the rest of the way to Aintry.
Within the river chapters Dickey contrasts the city with nature. His use of this device implies a value judgment that, finally, favors the flawed city against the perfect, if brutal and dangerous, amorality of nature.
Aintry (AYN-tree). Town at which the river trip ends. The last of the novel’s four places, Aintry serves as a sort of decompression device. That is, the story moves from the city, to Oree, to the river itself, and then to Aintry, where Ed concocts a plausible set of lies for the authorities that allows the men to avoid arrest, to heal, and to return to civilization. From Aintry they return to the city and their separate, ordinary lives.