Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River His Separate Shadow Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben says he thinks of his own survival as his father's first miracle. The second miracle is that Reuben didn't suffer brain damage, and the third miracle happened when Reuben was 11, in the middle of North Dakota, on the hunting trip where Reuben shot his first goose. At the time, the tension was so great between Dad and Reuben’s brother Davy that on the way to August Schultz's farm in North Dakota, Reuben fell asleep immediately to avoid it. Davy and Dad sat in front silently, while Reuben and Swede snuggled in the backseat.
The tension Reuben describes foreshadows the first primary conflict of the novel, which is between Davy and Jeremiah. The car's setup is indicative of the age divisions Reuben notices so acutely; he and Swede sit in the backseat because they are children, while Davy, an adult, sits up front. Further, Reuben is excluded from knowing what exactly the conflict is because of his age and lack of maturity. This provides a starting point for Reuben to grow up from.
Themes
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On the morning of the hunt, Dad, Davy, Reuben, and Swede settle into the field amongst their decoys. Reuben and Swede are too young to actually shoot, but are there "for seasoning." The morning is freezing and Davy tells Reuben to not fall asleep. Reuben does fall asleep, but is jerked awake by Davy as a lone snow goose flies towards them. Davy grabs Reuben, rolls him onto his back, and puts his Winchester in Reuben's hands. Reuben misses two shots, but the third hits the goose.
Reuben never expected to have this very adult experience; it was thrust upon him. This introduces the idea that growing up doesn't necessarily happen how and when someone thinks it will. Reuben seems to believe that growing up is marked by these very concrete milestones and he has a timeline in mind for when these things are supposed to happen, an idea that will be challenged again and again going forward.
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Swede races after the goose, which finally falls to the ground 80 yards away. The goose, apparently recovered from being shot, sees Swede and runs. Swede corners it when it reaches a fence, but the angry goose turns to Swede and begins to chase her back towards Reuben, Davy, and Dad. Dad laughs, and as Swede and the goose run past, Davy grabs the bird and wrings its neck. He hands it to Reuben and Dad keeps laughing.
Davy demonstrates his adult skill and strength by grabbing the goose and saving his younger sister from it. However, by giving the goose to Reuben, Davy is able to make Reuben feel mature and adult for shooting the goose. Davy demonstrates that he's skilled at doing things that allow his brother to feel powerful.
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Back at August's farm, Davy asks Reuben if he wants Davy to show him how to gut the goose. Reuben insists on doing it himself, since he's now a hunter. Davy leaves Reuben and Swede to the task. Swede sits on a grain truck and asks Reuben to forgive her for running from the goose. Reuben does, and then gives Swede the feet from the goose.
Davy's kindness pays off—Reuben at least feels as though he must fully embrace this marker of adulthood. This exchange shows the type of relationship Swede and Reuben have. They rely on each other for affirmation and comfort.
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Reuben says that he doesn't understand what's going on with Dad and Davy. Swede explains that she heard in the car last night that Israel Finch and Tommy Basca "had" Dolly, Davy's girlfriend, in the girls' locker room during the football game the night before. Reuben can't conceive of a reason why boys would go into the girls' locker room. Swede gives Reuben a dark look and explains that Israel and Tommy beat up Dolly, but Dad, a janitor at the school, caught them "in time." Reuben doesn't understand why Davy's still mad if Dad caught Israel and Tommy, but doesn't think he can ask Davy. Reuben finishes cleaning the goose and he and Swede head inside for pancakes.
Reuben's reaction here continues to establish his immaturity and innocence. He doesn't understand that what happened was likely sexually violent, while Swede's dark look indicates that she, though younger than Reuben, might understand. Further, Reuben's belief that justice has already been served suggests a very simplistic view of justice in a tit-for-tat kind of way. It also creates distance between Reuben and Davy, as Reuben understands this is a touchy subject and fears asking.
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Davy misses pancakes, but Dad doesn't comment. After pancakes Dad, Reuben, and Swede nap, but Reuben wakes to see Davy sitting on his bed oiling his gun. Davy explains that they're going back out to "crawl up" on a bunch of Canada geese, and then asks Reuben if he heard the conversation about Dolly in the car the night before. Reuben says he didn't hear, but Swede did. Davy explains that Israel Finch and Tommy Basca threatened to hurt the Land Family. Reuben thinks that they'd never had an enemy before besides Russia, but Davy reassures Reuben and suggests they keep this information from Swede.
Reuben's comment about Russia likely refers to the Cold War with Russia and the Cuban Missile Crisis specifically, which took place in October 1962. It's obvious that in Reuben's mind, this is the first time the enemy has been someone concrete and not just theoretical. This conversation with Davy again shows how Davy builds Reuben up and makes him feel more mature, specifically by sharing secrets.
Themes
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Reuben explains that a "crawlup" entails belly crawling up to unsuspecting geese. Swede pretends to be a Sioux “brave” sneaking up on a cowboy, and Reuben says he would've played along if he hadn't felt so mature after shooting the goose that morning. When Reuben, Swede, Dad, and Davy reach the crest of the hill, the geese are waddling away from them. Reuben is crushed; he'd hoped that Davy would let him shoot again.
Reuben is feeling the effects of Davy's adult treatment and refusing to engage in child's play. The sense of adulthood that Reuben feels here will stand in stark contrast to the maturity he gains later. Concrete milestones define this simplistic sense of adulthood: shooting, not playing, keeping adult secrets.
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The geese panic and take flight. Dad begins to rise but Davy instructs him to wait. Davy points out a goose that broke off from the group and is heading their direction. Davy appears to melt into his hiding spot and Reuben thinks that Davy seems to be hunting alone. When the goose flies over the rock pile, Davy shoots it out of the sky.
At this early point in the novel, it's already evident that Davy stands apart from his family. He seems to hunt alone, and he doesn't agree with Dad and Reuben that Israel and Tommy have been punished thoroughly. Even when he's physically a part of his family, he operates on the edge of the unit.
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That night, Reuben and Swede lie snuggled under mounds of quilts. Swede wonders if Davy will fight Israel Finch and Tommy Basca. Reuben thinks justice has been served already. He explains to the reader that to call Finch and Basca "town bullies" doesn't come close to describing what they really are. Reuben and Swede fall quiet and listen to the talk from downstairs as Dad and August, friends from childhood, hash through their old stories.
Reuben seems to have a very clear sense of justice in his mind, since he seems to believe that the conflict is finished and resolved. This thought, however, is dependent on Reuben's idolization of Dad. This suggests that Davy might not idolize Dad the same way that Reuben does, further separating Davy from the rest of his family.
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Swede decides to go back to her own room. After kissing Reuben, she remarks that he's "almost like Davy now" since he shot the goose. Reuben thinks that Davy's shot during the crawlup had made it very clear that Reuben isn't actually a man yet, and that Davy has knowledge that Reuben will never have. Reuben tells Swede, though, that he's definitely almost like Davy.
Reuben finally understands that adulthood is about having knowledge, rather than passing particular milestones. Swede still believes that adulthood is about the milestones exclusively. By allowing Swede to continue to believe this and maintain her childish understanding, Reuben is actually acting in a very mature way.
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Reuben wakes just past midnight from a horrible nightmare. Scared to go back to sleep, he realizes he needs to go to the outhouse. Once Reuben is outside he feels better, but as he approaches the barn, he hears footsteps that stop abruptly and then pick up again. He recognizes the steps as Dad's, but he is confused by the abrupt stops and starts. Reuben creeps to the door and sees his father pacing on the flatbed truck, praying with his eyes shut tight. Reuben watches Dad reach the edge of the truck, walk right off the edge, and keep walking on thin air before turning and heading back for the truck. Reuben decides he cannot possibly walk past Dad, who's obviously walking on the hand of God, to get to the outhouse, and he runs to a willow thicket instead.
Reuben's own sense of religious piety and respect comes into play here—he can't conceive of interrupting Dad's experience with God. While Dad walking on thin air is relatively minor in terms of Dad's miracles, it serves to create an even greater sense of awe in Reuben. Walking on air also mirrors Jesus walking on water, which continues to create a connection between Dad and Jesus and bring Dad's Jesus-like qualities to the forefront.
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