Peace Like a River Beauteous Are My Cakes Indeed Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Beauteous Are My Cakes Indeed Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When the Lands arrive back home in Roofing, with Swede fast asleep in Dad's arms and Reuben struggling for breath, they find the front door tarred. Dad puts Swede into bed and tells Reuben to sit so that Dad can attend to him. Addressing the reader, Reuben explains how his lungs work, or fail to work, using the metaphor of a bellows. He explains that his bellows has a sponge growing in it that nearly paralyzes his lungs, and describes the fear of falling asleep and never waking up again.
The tarred door indicates that the conflict between the Lands and their adversaries is most definitely not resolved. The fear Reuben feels upon seeing the door is only intensified by his difficulty breathing. Reuben's struggle with asthma makes it very clear that while it may be a miracle he's alive, he has to suffer for the privilege of being alive.
Themes
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Dad lights the kitchen stove and pours salt and baking soda into a pot of water. He then runs downstairs to get kerosene to try to strip the tar off the door. When the water boils, Dad sets the pot on a cutting board and the board on Reuben's lap and covers him with a sheet to create a steam tent. Reuben feels his chest loosen as Dad begins to work on cleaning the door.
Steam is a contested treatment for asthma. It can be helpful in some cases, but can also cause greater damage in others. In the novel, however, steam works like religion does and Reuben truly believes that it helps him.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Dad says that the door isn't going to come clean, and begins to tell Reuben about the conflict that led up to the tarred door. Reuben doesn't want to hear, as he sensed when he saw the tarred door that the Land family's lives have changed. He tells Dad he knows about Dolly, and Dad is silent for a minute. Dad then explains "the principle of escalation," framing what happened in the locker room as wartime strategy and ethics. Reuben says that this speech was absorbing, but detracted from the truth and downplayed the seriousness of the situation.
Reuben assigns a great deal of meaning to these events and symbols, which ties into how he engages with storytelling. Dad similarly uses metaphors and storytelling to explain the situation for Reuben, though Reuben interestingly doesn't find it particularly helpful. This suggests that storytelling allows people to assign meaning to events in their lives, but it can also obscure the truth when it's overused.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben says he learned later from Davy that Dolly, a clarinetist in the pep band, had gone to the locker room to retrieve a pair of shoes midway through the football game. Dad was cleaning vomit in the boys' locker room when he heard male laughter coming from the girls' locker room. Dolly, meanwhile, heard someone come into the locker room and turn out the lights. It was Israel Finch and Tommy Basca, and Dolly threw her locker padlock at them. They grabbed her and Israel began to rip open her sweater when she saw Dad's illuminated face coming up behind Israel. Dad proceeded to beat the boys with his broom handle. Afterwards, Dad took Dolly home and returned to the school to lock up, where Israel Finch approached Dad and informed him that he and Tommy were watching his family.
Dad's illuminated face becomes another of his minor miracles. It also draws on religious iconography like the illuminated halos of saints and angels, which further develops the connections between Dad and Jesus or other religious figures. Notably, Reuben never offers any real reason why Israel and Tommy decided to go after Dolly, which supports the possibility that they're nothing more than evildoers out to harm others. Reuben essentially begins to dehumanize them and turn them into villains acting in cold blood.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
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Reuben returns the narrative to the kitchen, and asks Dad what they will do in retaliation. Dad replies that they’ll do nothing. He sweeps up Reuben and tosses him into bed.
Dad is obviously unconcerned, or at least unwilling to allow Reuben into his adult world. This stands in sharp contrast to how Davy allowed Reuben into the adult world of this conflict.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Reuben says he worried for a day and a half before routine took over. Reuben struggles through schoolwork while Swede tries to sidestep long division by composing epic poems about the cowboy Sunny Sundown for her teacher. On Wednesday, Reuben is especially excited to attend church, as the Reverend Johnny Latt will be preaching (and is far more thrilling than their usual Pastor Reach), and Bethany Orchard, Reuben's crush, will be at the service. Swede and Davy stay home, and Reuben thinks it quite convenient that he'll be able to talk to Bethany without Swede watching.
Swede is already attempting to use her writing to escape from and skip engaging with the real world, even now when her worst enemy is long division. Reuben indicates that despite his immaturity, he is beginning to grow up, experience crushes, and crave independence from Swede in these matters. He's starting to seek these things himself instead of having them forced on him.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reverend Johnny begins the service with very loud music featuring a trumpet. After an hour Reuben notices that Bethany is no longer in her seat, and he gets up to find her and take a break from the music. Reuben finds her in the downstairs kitchen, where she offers to share an orange with him. She feeds him half of the orange and they move on to making pancakes. Reuben remarks that she's infinitely more mature than he is. They abandon their cooking and run back upstairs when they begin to hear thumps and shouting. When they reenter the sanctuary, people are speaking in tongues and lying all over the floor.
Despite the fact that Reuben now has a crush (an adult milestone), this passage does little but make it very clear to Reuben how immature he still is compared to Bethany. However, both of them act as though what they witness in the sanctuary is beyond their level of understanding. This shows that though Bethany is older and more mature than Reuben, she's still very much a child as well.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Reuben and Bethany watch for a moment, and Bethany points out that Jeremiah is on the floor too. Reuben approaches his father, who looks very peaceful. As Reuben kneels beside him, he feels a jolt hit his shoulder and he breathes easier. Jeremiah suddenly wakes, looking alarmed, and says that it's time to leave.
Once again, Jeremiah simply knows where he needs to be, which mirrors what happened at Reuben's birth. This indicates that there's something happening at home that requires Jeremiah's attention.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon