Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River At War with This Whole World Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Swede had convinced Dad to allow her to bring both her saddle her typewriter on the trip. As the Lands pull out of August and Birdie's driveway, Swede sits on her saddle on a sawhorse, the typewriter on a folding table in front of her. Reuben says that Swede wrote dozens of pages before their journey ended. However, her writing neglected to mention that all parties involved in the story, Davy included, are traveling by car at this point—August had fixed up his old Studebaker for Davy and sent him off with the car and a sack of canned goods.
Swede's record of the journey illustrates how she blends fiction with reality. For her, it doesn't matter that her account isn't strictly factual; it's more important that it's romanticized and makes use of motifs and tropes found in her beloved Westerns. Reuben's aside, however, suggests that taking Swede's record at face value does the reader a disservice, as it's necessary to consider the actual facts to understand the situation.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reuben offers a few lines of Swede's writing that mention stealing their brother back. The thought of "stealing" Davy troubles Reuben. Reuben tries to remember a time when he convinced Davy of anything, concludes that he never has, and further figures that neither Swede or Dad ever have either. Reuben asks Swede her thoughts on the matter, and the two discuss the likelihood of being able to talk Davy into returning to Roofing. Swede asks if Reuben still wants Davy to come home if he has to be in jail, and Reuben refuses to answer.
In Swede's mind, Davy has become a true desperado and is almost a fictional character. This fictionalization allows Swede to brush of Reuben's questions, which represent a more mature and rational way of looking at the situation and also maintain Davy's status as an actual person, not a fictional character. Reuben is aware that the real Davy isn't going to play by the rules of Swede's fictional narrative.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Swede asks why August gave Davy the Studebaker if he wanted Davy to turn himself in. Reuben has no real answer, though Reuben wonders to himself if it's possible for someone to believe something, but still act in a completely opposite way.
This question is indicative again of Reuben's foray into morally ambiguous ground. However, regardless of the morality of what August did, it drives home August's loyalty to the Lands.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Reuben asks Swede what she's writing about, which turns out to be nightshirts. They discuss why August wears one, and Swede states that the difference between nightshirts and nightgowns is lace. Swede begins to read her typed page aloud, which details the fashion choices of Charlie Pitts, an old desperado. Reuben tells the reader that this text from Swede is a prime example of "original research."
This "research" is even more indicative of how Swede fictionalizes things in order to create her own idyllic and romantic world in which she doesn't have to consider truth. This is a humorous and low-stakes example, but Reuben will find that Swede's method, while comforting, isn't always useful.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
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The Lands stop at a park in Linton at noon to cook beans. After lunch Reuben and Dad take a nap, but Reuben wakes minutes later to Swede saying that Andreeson is parked across the park. Reuben creeps out of his bunk to peek and sees Andreeson eating. Andreeson catches sight of Reuben and waves. Swede wonders if he's trying to intimidate them. Andreeson leaves a few minutes later and Swede and Reuben debate whether they should tell Dad. Swede fears that Andreeson will make them go home, though Reuben thinks that's unlikely. Dad wakes up with a headache and suggests they stay overnight.
Being followed by a federal agent is much less thrilling here than Swede might've imagined. This continues the novel's process of breaking down the romantic tropes of Western novels and exposing them as dramatic, but not actually that fun in practice. As Andreeson enters the scene, Reuben and Swede also have to wonder how (or if) their journey to find Davy fits into either a system of frontier justice or organized justice.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Dad wakes up again for dinner. As they eat, they hear a bang on the Airstream door. Dad admits Mr. Andreeson into the Airstream. Mr. Andreeson tries to make small talk about the beauty of the Dakotas. Dad refuses to play along, so Mr. Andreeson asks why he's out in the Dakotas in the middle of winter. Dad tells the truth and admits that Davy contacted August and Birdie. Andreeson says that they don't have to be enemies, which Dad refutes. Andreeson leaves and Swede bursts in through the door moments later. Reuben thinks that he hadn't noticed she even left.
It's somewhat unclear what exactly Mr. Andreeson's goal is, particularly if he believes his goal isn't in opposition to Dad's goal. This begins to complicate the Lands' belief that Andreeson is truly and fully their enemy. It suggests that while he still represents a version of the law that works in opposition to Davy, he might have Davy's best interests at heart.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Swede makes coffee and swings into her saddle. She quickly types up several verses about a posse's ill-fated search for Sunny Sundown. She wakes before Dad the next morning and when Dad suggests they have pancakes, she suggests they leave early instead. Dad refuses, and when Swede claims she feels ill, he sends her back to bed. After a few minutes, Swede states that she's been praying and believes that God wants them to leave. Dad finally gives in.
Swede continues to conceptualize Davy as Sunny Sundown, though Andreeson now factors into her poem as the posse. By putting current events into an idealized time period like this, Swede can use what she finds interesting or useful and continue to view Davy as heroic, crafty, and guaranteed to succeed.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reuben and Swede sit in the back of the Airstream on Dad's bed to watch the highway disappear behind them. Reuben is thrilled that they escaped Andreeson, but Swede isn't willing to celebrate. She suggests that Andreeson will just find them again.
This is an uncharacteristically down to earth reaction from Swede, which suggests that something has happened to shatter her idealistic engagement with the situation.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben reminds the reader of the 1955 Plymouth's poor gas mileage and describes the two five-gallon gas cans they packed along as a precaution. When they approach a station, they find it deserted. Dad decides that they'll be able to make it to Mandan.
The situation becomes increasingly dire and more realistic as they deal with the necessity for gas. This stands in stark opposition to Swede's idealized writing about the posse's hunt.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
When they reach Mandan, Dad begins to slow down for the first gas station but decides to pass it by. He states that the price is high, but Swede whispers to Reuben that a state officer was sitting at the station. Dad passes several more stations, and Reuben begins to notice troopers sitting at every single one. The Lands drive silently through Mandan without stopping. Reuben feels chilled as he realizes that the troopers are looking for his family.
In Mandan, Swede's posse comes to life as the state troopers, while the Lands take on the role of Sunny Sundown. This complicates the relationship between Swede's fiction and the Lands' reality, as it illustrates that fiction can become reality. However, this also shows that in the real world, common tropes like this are actually very scary.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon