Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Boy Ready Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben tells the reader that his breathing overall is getting much worse at this point in the tale. One night, Swede tells Reuben to go upstairs and not help with dishes. Reuben tries to distract Swede by asking about Sunny Sundown, but she sends him upstairs anyway. Reuben struggles to climb the stairs and sits on the landing to catch his breath. Swede wakes him up some time later—he'd fallen asleep. Swede is worried and settles Reuben upstairs with a pan of steam.
Again, Swede must behave like an adult and care for her family when they suffer. Reuben's desire to not go upstairs is very childish in comparison to Swede's behavior. This again makes Swede's love of fiction seem like a coping mechanism, as it's the one way she's able to be a child.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Swede sits with Reuben reading Psalms. She tells Reuben that Dad is off courting Roxanna, and Reuben realizes that his family hadn't experienced a miracle since they arrived at Roxanna's house. He thinks he has no chance if Dad can't work a miracle.
Reuben must confront the possibility that Dad's faith isn't going to guarantee Reuben's life. Reuben has felt separated from God several times since arriving at Roxanna's, suggesting that his family is making a choice between Roxanna and God's guidance.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Reuben decides to tell Swede about Davy, but when he opens his eyes Swede is reading her newest Sunny Sundown poem out loud. Sunny, still waiting in his valley for his wife, sees her approaching with a posse some distance behind her. Reuben tells Swede that nothing seems to go right for poor Sunny, and asks if Swede can make something turn out right for him. Swede, alarmed at Reuben's emotion, tells him what happens—Sunny, of course, sweeps up his bride, fights the posse, and detonates his stick of dynamite, sealing the valley off against any more intruders.
Reuben certainly fears for Davy's wellbeing and sees Sunny's difficulties as a direct translation of Davy's difficulties. Swede's happy ending, however, represents what she thinks should happen in Davy's life, which Reuben likely understands can never happen for Davy. Davy will remain on the run; there's no idyllic valley waiting for him. Here then, fiction isn't comforting because it deviates so far from reality.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben still doesn't feel any better. All he can think of is Davy in the shack, and Reuben feels convinced that his lungs won't get better. As he asks Swede if she'll get mad if he tells her something, they hear Dad come through the door. Dad enters Reuben's bedroom with a doctor, Dr. Nickles. Dr. Nickles examines Reuben and deems the steam treatment wholly ineffective. He says he'd hospitalize Reuben if the hospital weren't full of flu patients, and instead gives Reuben a shot of adrenaline.
While the West has been dangerous in a number of ways, it's proving most dangerous to Reuben's lungs. This continues to shatter Reuben's idealization of the West, as Reuben can barely experience any of it due to his illness. Though Dad takes Dr. Nickles at his word about the ineffectiveness of steam, it doesn't provide Dad or Reuben any comfort.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
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After Dr. Nickles leaves, Dad comes upstairs and asks Reuben if the steam helps. Reuben insists it does. Dad asks how the adrenaline is working, and Reuben tells the reader that it's a strange sensation of alertness. Reuben is unable to truly sleep that night because of the adrenaline, and suffers noisy, scattered dreams.
Even if the adrenaline is supposed to work, its side effects suggest that there's merit in methods like steam, provided they offer comfort. As the steam treatments mirror the idea of faith, this leads too to the idea that the comfort religion provides is possibly more important than its effectiveness.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
The next morning, Reuben goes down to the kitchen to find Mr. Andreeson sitting at the table drinking coffee with Dad. Reuben wants to hate Andreeson, but can't quite bring himself to feel that way. Andreeson tells Reuben that people have sighted Davy. He promises Reuben they won't hurt Davy. Reuben thinks he wants nothing from Andreeson, and tells him, "you can't hurt what you can't find." Andreeson smiles and leaves.
Reuben finally has to contend with the possibility that Mr. Andreeson isn't a one-dimensional villain. The fact that Dad is working with him gives Reuben even more evidence that Andreeson isn't a terrible person, though Reuben chooses to behave like a child and not accept Andreeson's peace offering.
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 prays throughout the day and sneaks outside several times, hoping to see Davy. Finally, in the evening he hears a horse neigh. Reuben goes with Davy to the shack that night and tells Mr. Waltzer that Andreeson is closing in. Mr. Waltzer is shoeing a horse and seems unconcerned. He shifts Reuben's attention to the coals of the forge and shows him how to work the bellows and shape the horseshoe. Reuben drives several nails into the horse's hoof.
Mr. Waltzer's lack of concern regarding the consequences of Andreeson finding him suggests that he's either truly crazy and doesn't understand, or he already knows how to escape those consequences. Reuben maintains his viewpoint that there's one true good and evil at play, which doesn't allow him to truly consider whether Mr. Waltzer himself is evil.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Over dinner, Mr. Waltzer refuses to speak of Andreeson. Mr. Waltzer tells the table about his own amazing sense of taste. He asks Reuben to describe what he tastes in their pork (Reuben declares it dull), and then Mr. Waltzer describes the taste of the pig's diet. As Davy saddles his horse later, Mr. Waltzer points out constellations to Reuben. Reuben has never heard of the constellation "Boy Ready," and Mr. Waltzer tells Reuben the accompanying legend. It has a sickening plot twist, and as Reuben listens to other legends he finds that all of Mr. Waltzer's stories have similarly horrifying outcomes.
Mr. Waltzer demonstrates again his own twisted view on the intersection between fiction and reality. He's created these legends and found the accompanying constellations in order to give his own worldview credibility. This shows Reuben that though Mr. Waltzer might be helping Davy, he's not a good person or someone worthy of his trust. The legends force Reuben to consider if he's misplaced his trust in Mr. Waltzer.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Mr. Andreeson calls Roxanna's house the next morning with news that the man who was supposed to accompany him to Davy never showed. Dad suggests prayer. When Dad hangs up, he asks Reuben if there's something he needs to share. Reuben nervously says there isn't. Dad goes to the trailer to pray for Davy.
Dad evidently still believes that Mr. Andreeson is in need of religion rather than "spookism," even though Dad is helping him. This demonstrates how Dad handles moral ambiguity, and suggests that the cure is prayer.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
For two days, the Lands hear nothing from Andreeson. A chilling wind picks up outside, and Reuben, thinking of Davy and Sara, wonders out loud to Swede how long it'd take to freeze in the wind. Swede launches into several gruesome descriptions of what happens to the human body in the cold. She mentions cannibalism, which Reuben finds especially disconcerting, since Mr. Waltzer also once mentioned cannibalism. Reuben wonders if Mr. Waltzer would eat Davy or Sara first. Reuben finally goes to the Airstream to find Dad.
Though Mr. Waltzer is a terrifying individual in his own right, he's growing and transforming in Reuben's mind into something far worse. This mirrors what Valdez did in Swede's mind. As the novel begins to suggest this connection, it also suggests that Mr. Waltzer will possibly follow in Valdez's footsteps and prove himself uncatchable.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben sits outside the trailer and listens to Dad plucking away on the guitar and singing. Reuben then goes back inside, where Roxanna is making dinner and Swede is writing Sunny Sundown's happy ending.
Reuben's loyalty to Davy prevents him from experiencing happiness like it seems the rest of his family experiences during the waiting period.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
When the wind finally ends, Dad, Swede, and Roxanna go outside to shovel and Reuben is tasked with waiting by the phone. Reuben continues to worry about Davy in the cold. Dad calls Andreeson's motel in the afternoon. The desk clerk tells Dad that he took a note for Andreeson several days ago, from a man waiting for Andreeson in a café. Andreeson left to meet the man and hasn't yet returned.
As Reuben worries about the cold, the West itself becomes the enemy, more so even than the people that populate the West. Now, Andreeson and Reuben share an enemy, as Dad seems to think that Andreeson is stuck in the storm rather than struggling with someone like Mr. Waltzer.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
A horrible thought grips Reuben. Dad asks Reuben what's wrong, and Reuben says that Andreeson is in trouble. He thinks of Mr. Waltzer's lack of concern at hearing about Andreeson, and Andreeson's happiness that he'd found someone who'd seen Davy. Reuben tells Dad that Andreeson's man is called Jape Waltzer, he's with Davy, and he’s surely going to kill Andreeson.
Finally, Reuben is able to see Andreeson as a person deserving of life, regardless of his intentions. However, this shift of loyalty isn't portrayed as glowing or heroic like it might look in a film or a novel. Instead, it's painful for Reuben, indicating that even when someone makes the "right" decision, the consequences aren't always pleasant.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon