Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Peeking at Eternity Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben explains that Davy would be very annoyed if Reuben tried to cast what happened in a "redemptive glow." Reuben, Davy, Dad, and Swede wait for Ted Pullet, and Reuben babbles that Davy hadn't meant to do it. Davy snaps out of his reverie and tells Reuben that he certainly meant to do it.
Davy's insistence that shooting Tommy and Israel was no accident supports the possibility that his intent wasn't to just defend his family. Reuben's initial disclaimer supports this as well, and begins to hint at Davy's sense of personal justice.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Stepping out of the narrative, Reuben says that when Dad was 28 he was picked up by a tornado. Dad was still married to Mom and attending school in Iowa, on his way to becoming a doctor. Davy was one year old. Dad had a part-time job working as a janitor in the athletic building and was working when the tornado picked him up. Mom tried to call the athletic building, but the line was dead. An hour later, a group of men knocked on the door to tell Mom that the tornado hit the athletic building. The following morning, Mom answered the ringing phone. A woman informed her that Dad was on her porch drinking coffee.
The fact that Dad survives being picked up by the tornado is another miracle in Dad's life. This is also the first time that Reuben mentions his absent mother, save for her necessary role in the story of his birth. Her absence throughout the story, except for where she necessarily shows up in the past, suggests that Mom is little more than a character in stories to Reuben. She exists in his mind to give birth to him and, in this instance, to love Dad.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
After that event, Dad finished the semester, moved off campus, and found work as a plumber's assistant. Reuben says he can only explain this logic with Dad's own words that "he was treated so gently up there." Davy, however, is bothered by the fact that Dad wasn't hurt—he insists the event shouldn't have happened. Reuben tells the reader that he eventually realized that Davy wanted life to be something someone did alone, not with the help of a fatherly God. Mom was evidently bothered as well by what happened after the tornado. She stuck around long enough to give birth to Reuben and Swede, and then left to marry a doctor in Chicago.
Davy's reaction to the story, particularly that he knows it happened but that it shouldn't have, shows that religion is powerful whether one believes in God or not. Davy cannot deny what happened even if he finds it wholly illogical. This indicates that Davy himself is subject to God's guidance, even if he doesn't want to be. Again, Reuben's tone doesn't indicate any strong emotions about his mother; she's simply a character that left the story.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Returning to the narrative, Reuben says the police put Davy in cuffs and took him to jail. The rest of the Lands spend the night in a motel and go to visit Davy the next day. At the end of their visit, Dad sends Reuben and Swede out so he can talk to Davy alone. Dad's quiet when he returns, and later that night tells Reuben and Swede that the only thing they can do is persevere.
When Dad says that there's nothing they can do but persevere, he suggests that the situation is out of human control and in God's hands. This continues to develop Dad's sense of faith that God will guide his family, and further that Reuben and Swede will follow Dad in his faith.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
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Reporters and people the Lands don't know call on them regularly, while many people they do know ignore them. Reuben lists several of these people and assures the reader that he does mean to forgive them eventually, but not yet. He remarks that Dad seemed to suffer the most in the following weeks, not Davy. Davy seemed to remain the same, just thinner. On one visit, Reuben sees certainty in Davy's eyes, and knows that he can believe in his brother.
While it's unclear exactly how old Reuben the narrator is, the betrayal by these friends evidently still weighs heavily in his mind. The fact that Dad suffers alludes to the possibility that he believes Davy did something wrong, while Davy's lack of suffering continues to support his belief in personal honor.
Themes
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Davy begins receiving mail from a number of individuals who read about him in the local papers and found his story heroic and compelling. Walt Stockard, a deputy, begins collecting them in a pink box and reads them aloud to Davy.
Reuben uses the papers' coverage and Davy's letters to show how a story can change depending on one's perspective; Davy won't remain a hero like this forever.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Dad learns that Davy will be charged with two counts of manslaughter rather than murder, because Israel and Tommy had been bent on "mischief." Swede finds this incredulous. Thomas DeCuellar, Davy's defense attorney, begins to visit. Reuben says he knew that Mr. DeCuellar was a good man because he was on Davy's side and brought home-canned pickles from his wife for the Lands.
"Mischief" does seem a generous term to describe Israel and Tommy's intentions, but it recalls Ted Pullet calling Israel and Tommy "those boys." While Davy is thought of as an adult, Tommy and Israel are thought of as children and therefore are described using childish language.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
One morning, Swede refuses to come out of her room, declaring that she's working and doesn't want to be bothered. Dad is at work, but had given Swede and Reuben the option of staying out of school for another week. Reuben says he thinks that Dad didn't want them back in school yet, as Dad himself is experiencing backlash. Superintendent Chester Holgren had decided to "scour that janitor's teeth" and is making Dad deal with the school's overflowing sewer alone rather than call a plumber.
Dad is doing his best to protect Swede and Reuben from what might be waiting for them at school, demonstrating his own brand of familial loyalty. Swede's "work" is the poem about Sunny Sundown, which indicates that Swede is working through the events of the last several days and trying to make sense out of them.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Mr. DeCuellar visits several times over the next week. Davy apparently resists all his attempts to paint Davy's actions in a kind light, insists that he wanted to shoot Tommy and Israel, and refuses to be too remorseful. As such, Mr. DeCuellar's attempt to have Davy tried as a juvenile doesn't pass. Reuben says this only made sense, as Davy had been an adult already for a long time.
Again, Davy insists on being treated like an adult, and the actual adults oblige him. This suggests that part of being adult, regardless of one's age, is simply acting like an adult. However, in this situation, being treated like an adult means that Davy might face harsher consequences than if he'd agreed to act like a child.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Swede remains in her room working on her poem. One day, Reuben finds Dr. Nokes standing outside Swede's window, looking confused at the chanting and pounding noises coming from her room. Reuben explains that the poem is giving Swede trouble, and Dr. Nokes passes Reuben a bag containing pie and freshly baked bread.
Remember that Swede writes primarily in verse—she’s writing within a structure of rhyme and meter. It appears she's struggling with the verse and rhyme, which suggests that she's attempting to make sense of the very systems that control her own world.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
That night, Swede comes into Reuben's room with a sleeping bag and asks to sleep in Davy's bed. She wonders if Davy will ever come home, and Reuben is close to tears. She finally explains to Reuben that she's been in her room because she can't figure out how to make Sunny Sundown kill Valdez. Reuben explains to the reader that after Swede's abduction, Valdez had transformed from a scrawny villain to a full-fledged monster. Reuben finally understands how scared Swede had been, and fears that now the poem won't turn out "right."
Swede's world has been turned upside down and she struggles with the knowledge that she's not in control. Sunny Sundown, as a symbol for Davy, is in trouble—Davy may or may not emerge triumphant from jail, and Swede's attackers might be considered innocent in the court of law. Reuben never defines "right," but this fear shows an inkling that Davy might not be as righteous as Reuben would like to think.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Swede reads Reuben several options for Valdez's death. Reuben thinks they sound fine, but Swede insists that just because she writes something doesn't mean it actually happened. Reuben doesn't fully understand, and he asks Swede who's in charge of the story. Swede doesn't answer.
Valdez can't receive justice yet because Swede sees so little justice in her own world. This also represents the shift from a world that Swede found predictable to one that is full of unknowns and strange systems of justice.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon