Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River

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Peace Like a River A Boy on a Horse Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben says that Swede delighted in finding out that Davy escaped by pony, but they didn't find this fact out for several days. Early that morning, the sheriff, Charlie Pym, knocks on Mr. DeCuellar's door and asks if the DeCuellars have had visitors. They hadn't, so all anyone knows is that Davy escaped sometime in the night. The police assemble a posse and Sheriff Pym tells Dad that the police will have Davy by lunch. Swede, still thrilled with Davy's escape, remarks that even twelve hundred officers couldn't catch Davy. Dad tells Swede to either talk sense or be quiet. Reuben can't understand why Dad isn't equally thrilled that Davy escaped.
Reuben and Swede got exactly what they wanted. At this point, they believe that Davy is free and won't have to suffer a life in prison. Dad, however, is certainly aware that Davy will face even greater consequences for running away, including being hurt by the posse. Dad sees that it's very likely that Davy will be caught, while Reuben and Swede can only understand that Davy isn't in jail. They lack the ability to see that Davy's escape won't help him. if he wishes to remain a part of the family and society.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Over the next several days, the posse grows in size. According to Walt Stockard, a deputy who regularly visits Dad at the DeCuellars', local men with all manner of weapons assemble daily to join the hunt. The papers switch back to writing about Davy as though he's an escaped hero. Eventually, Walt shares how Davy escaped: Davy told the guard on duty that his toilet wasn't flushing. The guard entered Davy's cell to inspect the toilet and woke up an hour later locked in the cell.
The newspapers' flip in tone shows how alluring the romance of a wronged, escaped hero can be. This also mirrors Swede's glee at Davy's escape, as now he's certainly a misunderstood outlaw in her mind. Like Mr. Holgren's pilgrim hat, Davy's method of escape is so simple it borders on absurd that it even worked.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
The Lands stay with the DeCuellars for three days. Walt visits daily with news of the posse's hunt, of which there's little—the rain erased any scent trail. Sheriff Pym grows angrier, and Walt tells Dad one day that Sheriff Pym is considering a house-to-house search. Mr. DeCuellar brushes this off as unconstitutional. In the afternoon, a farmer reports a stolen horse several miles from the jail. That night, the Lands head back to their own home.
Even when there's no trial in session, Reuben finds that organized justice still mostly consists of waiting. The fact that there's a posse plays into the novel's consideration of Western tropes. Here, the posse is shown to be ineffective, suggesting that the system of justice often portrayed in Westerns might also be ineffective.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
That same night, Reuben falls asleep listening to Swede typing away in her own room. He wakes to find a poem on the floor beside his bed about two men awaiting the gallows in jail, though there's a third noose. Swede comes into Reuben's room as he reads. The poem shifts to Sunny Sundown shooting two men who had threatened Sunny's wife. Sunny is then faced with the third noose. Reuben is shocked at this turn of events, though Swede's answers to his shocked questions indicate she's not finished.
Reuben's earlier fears that Sunny's poem won't turn out "right" are coming to fruition. Notice that in this part of the poem, Sunny's plotline almost exactly mirrors Davy's. Sunny also finds himself in a situation where he must defend his family, but the law plays by different rules and seeks to punish him.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
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Reuben asks Swede what happened to Valdez. Tears well up in Swede's eyes as she admits that she couldn't write Sunny's victory over Valdez. Reuben feels terrible, and wonders if Valdez is more than just a fictional character.
Valdez shifts from symbolizing Israel and Tommy specifically to symbolizing things in general that Swede cannot control. Since she can't control Valdez, he simply disappears from Sunny's story.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Over the next few weeks, the Lands learn that the stolen horse has returned home, hungry but fine. Rumors circulate that Davy rode for miles to the highway and then hitchhiked. The newspapers continue to paint Davy in a heroic light, which delights Swede. Dad, however, becomes sad and stops answering the phone. He spends his nights praying over his Bible. One night when Reuben gets up to breathe steam, he asks Dad if reading the Bible helps. Dad can't answer him.
Because Dad has a more developed sense of moral nuance than his children, he understands that Davy is in a great deal of danger if he's still out on the run. Swede doesn't even try to understand her father's reservations, while Reuben only understands that religion usually helps Dad, though it doesn't seem to now. However, the fact that Reuben is even asking suggests he's starting to grow up.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
The snowstorms begin the first week of December, and Reuben and Swede don't go back to school. Swede amasses a stack of schoolbooks in her room to try and convince Dad that she's still studying, but she spends her time reading Westerns instead. She tells Reuben one day that she has a new favorite author because his women "ride like men." Reuben doesn't see how this matters, but Swede explains that every Western is a love story and lists the qualities of the "right kind" of girl. Reuben asks whether Sunny's wife is the right kind of girl, which Swede doesn't take well.
Swede continues to show an interest in story structure as she begins to understand that Westerns all follow a similar structure and engage similar character tropes. In addition to the structure itself, she also seems to be very interested in stories and characters that deviate from the set structure. Swede essentially uses fiction to explore instances of moral ambiguity similar to those that Reuben later discovers in the real world.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben keeps reading new installments of Swede's epic poem. A woman who isn't Sunny's wife rescues him from his unjust execution, which Reuben finds very problematic. When Sunny kisses his rescuer, Reuben can barely stand it, and tries to convince Swede to rewrite the poem to make Sunny's wife rescue him. Swede refuses, and tells Reuben to think of Sunny's rescuer as a "really great sister."
Reuben's agitation here at this morally ambiguous installment of Sunny's story provides another point from which to grow and develop. Swede again shows herself willing to question morality and how it functions, but only as it pertains to fiction, not the real world.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon