Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River The Last Thing He Would Do Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
August and Birdie are able to offer the Lands details on Davy. They say he looked good but skinny, and August admits that he wasn't dressed warmly enough. Swede asks if Davy misses them, and Birdie tells her that Davy said being without his family is like having no sun. Reuben says he thought it was a funny thing for Davy to say, since he wasn't known for poetics, but Birdie's stern look at August meant that Davy must've said it. After a few more tasty details, August sends Reuben and Swede to bed.
Even if it's not obvious to Reuben, it's certainly obvious to the reader that Birdie is telling Swede and Reuben something that isn't true, but that she knows will make them happy. This shows that using fiction this way can be a good thing. Davy likely misses his family, but the particulars of how he said so don't matter as much as the fact that he does indeed miss them.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Swede feigns exhaustion, but Dad sees right through it. Reuben explains that Dad is well aware that the children's assigned bedroom has a floor vent that makes it easy to eavesdrop on conversation in the kitchen. Reuben and Swede listen as Birdie tells Dad that Davy doesn't understand how much trouble he's in. August mentions Andreeson's visit, and Swede whispers "ratfink" in Reuben's ear, which makes Reuben giggle. Dad says the papers got the story right, but that Reuben saw "it" and Dad would "trade with Reuben" if he could.
Dad wants to mitigate his children's suffering wherever he can, hence wanting to trade the experience of witnessing the murders with Reuben. While wanting this is a very normal parental desire, it's also very Jesus-like, which continues to strengthen the connection between Dad and Jesus. Davy is evidently still following his own honor code, as he can't grasp why the formal law is so interested in him.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben doesn't understand what Dad wants to trade, and finds that most of the conversation is beyond him. He says that his primary response to witnessing the shooting was missing Davy. Reuben's mind wanders, but Swede tells him later that Birdie said Davy would never turn himself in.
Reuben understands that his youth is preventing him from fully understanding the adult conversation. For him, being a witness matters very little, as the result of losing Davy would've been the same whether he witnessed the shooting or not.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben is the first one up the next morning and he smells something different in the air. He goes downstairs and lights the coffee pot in darkness. August, dressed in a nightshirt, joins him not long after. August asks Reuben if he smells the fog, and Reuben realizes that was the difference he smelled. August tells Reuben that whenever fog rolls in like this, he tells Birdie "happy birthday," as she was born on a foggy day. Reuben realizes he's never been with August alone, and understands the gift of being with Dad's best friend. August suddenly stands and suggests they take a ride.
The fog here functions like the tramp did in the woods. It heralds a change in Reuben's relationship with August. August gives Reuben the gift of being treated like an adult confidante and equal instead of a child. This shows that Reuben isn't just feeling more grown up; adults are taking notice of the fact that he's maturing and giving him the opportunity to participate in adult conversation.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
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August saddles their two horses, Laurie and Brit, and instructs Reuben to mount. They walk down through the pasture. Reuben is scared; he has to haul on Laurie's reins to keep her at a walk. Eventually they reach the river and head upstream. They pull off into a fallow pasture, and August asks Reuben if Dad is okay. Reuben thinks that Dad is certainly on the mend.
Riding a horse is something that both Reuben and Swede have likely spent time romanticizing, but here, Reuben doesn't find it as fun or as freeing as he expected. This starts to break down the myth of the Wild West and illustrate that the West is a more difficult place to live than fiction might suggest.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
As the fog begins to lift, Reuben can pick out a small house in the distance with a big black turkey lurking around it. August tells Reuben that Dad grew up in this house, and Reuben is ashamed he didn't recognize it. August describes how wonderful the house used to look. Reuben thinks it looks sad now. The two continue to discuss the past. August wonders out loud what the turkey is up to, as it's still circling the house.
As August introduces Reuben to Dad's childhood home, Reuben is asked to think of his father as a whole person with a past and not just a dad. This provides Reuben an initial exercise to practice seeing people as people, not one-dimensional characters defined simply by their roles.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reuben asks August how long he thinks it'll take them to find Davy. August only says that he's sure they'll find Davy, and then points out the little boy who just appeared in the doorway of the house holding a pan of oatmeal. August and Reuben watch as the turkey skillfully ambushes the boy, scaring him and taking the oatmeal for itself. August laughs as a collie comes out of the house and scares off the turkey. When it fixes its gaze on August and Reuben, August suggests they head home.
August is putting his faith in Jeremiah, just as Jeremiah puts his faith in God. August has evidently witnessed the turkey ambush before. Reuben describes it in terms that are very stylistically Western, which continues to thread the myth of the West through Reuben's real life. Here, the myth proves very satisfying, as the ambush is perfect and humorous.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Over breakfast, August winks several times at Reuben while Swede pouts at having been left out. Dad calls Reuben "Natty Bumppo" (a character from Last of the Mohicans) and Reuben ruminates on Dad's health. Dad inquires how the house looked, and Reuben sugarcoats his answer. August suggests Reuben tell Dad about the turkey.
The fact that August pointed out Dad's poor health alerts Reuben to the possibility that Dad might not be as well or invincible as he thought. Reuben behaves in a very adult way as he tries to protect Dad's emotions regarding his childhood home.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon