Peace Like a River

Sunny Sundown Symbol Analysis

Sunny Sundown Symbol Icon

The cowboy Sunny Sundown is a character invented by Swede, and the hero of her epic poem. Over the course of his journey, Sunny Sundown transitions from staunch lawman to misunderstood outlaw. He acts as a symbol for Davy and, specifically, how Swede and Reuben view Davy. Until Reuben begins to question the righteousness of Davy's crime, Davy is truly a man of the law in the eyes of his siblings. He honorably shot Tommy and Israel to protect his family, and early excerpts from Swede's poem draw a number of parallels between Sundown and Davy in this regard. When the court doesn't agree that Davy is an honorable man, Davy is pushed to run away and become an outlaw, and Sundown's plot follows a similar path. The end of Sundown's story is particularly illustrative of Swede's unwillingness to accept the reality of Davy's situation. Sundown's story ends with him safely enclosed in a beautiful and impenetrable valley with his lovely and faithful wife. This is far from what Davy's life on the run is actually like, and therefore represents a wishful imagining of what could have been, and, in Swede's mind, what should have been.

Sunny Sundown Quotes in Peace Like a River

The Peace Like a River quotes below all refer to the symbol of Sunny Sundown. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Atlantic edition of Peace Like a River published in 2002.
Peeking at Eternity Quotes

"Just because I write it doesn't mean it really happened."

Related Characters: Swede Land (speaker), Reuben Land
Related Symbols: Sunny Sundown, Valdez
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

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A Boy on a Horse Quotes

"She wasn't his wife!" Swede flared. Past tense, you notice—history, even the fictive kind, being beyond our influence.

Related Characters: Reuben Land (speaker), Swede Land (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sunny Sundown
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

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Sunny Sundown Symbol Timeline in Peace Like a River

The timeline below shows where the symbol Sunny Sundown appears in Peace Like a River. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Beauteous Are My Cakes Indeed
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Your Toughened Heart
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reuben offers an excerpt of a poem Swede has been working on, in which Sunny Sundown prepares to destroy his adversary, Valdez. At home, Davy is in the garage working... (full context)
Peeking at Eternity
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
A Boy on a Horse
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...a third noose. Swede comes into Reuben's room as he reads. The poem shifts to Sunny Sundown shooting two men who had threatened Sunny's wife. Sunny is then faced with the... (full context)
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...to Valdez. Tears well up in Swede's eyes as she admits that she couldn't write Sunny's victory over Valdez. Reuben feels terrible, and wonders if Valdez is more than just a... (full context)
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...love story and lists the qualities of the "right kind" of girl. Reuben asks whether Sunny's wife is the right kind of girl, which Swede doesn't take well. (full context)
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reuben keeps reading new installments of Swede's epic poem. A woman who isn't Sunny's wife rescues him from his unjust execution, which Reuben finds very problematic. When Sunny kisses... (full context)
At War with This Whole World
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Winning Her Hand
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...one point he wakes to see Swede sitting next to him rifling through a new Sunny Sundown poem. Reuben reminds the reader of Sunny's arc from lawman to "misunderstood outlaw." Sunny... (full context)
Boy Ready
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...singing. Reuben then goes back inside, where Roxanna is making dinner and Swede is writing Sunny Sundown's happy ending. (full context)
The Red Farm
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...one point Davy looks ready to leave, and Swede goes and fetches her binder of Sunny Sundown poetry. She reads the entire poem out loud, and Davy listens attentively. He deems... (full context)