Peace Like a River The Ledger of Our Decisions Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River The Ledger of Our Decisions Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Reuben sits with the posse that will ride on horseback to Mr. Waltzer's cabin and take Davy. Mr. Ford is there, as well as Mr. Juval, a federal investigator. They debate whether Reuben should go or not, and Dad argues that Reuben should go. With that decided, the posse rides into the hills.
Here, Dad hopes that Reuben's youth and immaturity will force the posse to behave in an honorable way and follow through on their promise to not hurt Davy.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben tells the reader that Swede unsurprisingly took Reuben's betrayal very badly. Swede feels betrayed that Reuben didn't tell her about Davy, and then even more betrayed that Reuben snitched. She threw a massive tantrum the night before and compared Reuben to all manner of literary and historical traitors.
Swede hasn't yet made the leap to see Andreeson as a person deserving of life. She maintains a very black and white perspective of justice and loyalty. She's likely also hurt because it looks like Davy never showed her any loyalty like he did Reuben in the West.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben and the posse ride through the snowy hills. Mr. Juval rides up beside Reuben and asks if they're going the right way. Reuben admits he doesn't know. Mr. Juval asks if Reuben feels like a turncoat, and if he wishes he'd kept quiet. Reuben insists that Davy isn't the problem; Mr. Waltzer is. Reuben explains to the reader that the night before, Mr. Juval had seemed interested and on the Lands’ side, but today he seems like less of an ally. Reuben asks what Mr. Waltzer is wanted for, and Mr. Juval says he has no idea who Mr. Waltzer even is.
Now that Reuben finds himself in a situation that seems straight out of a Western, it's becoming increasingly clear that there are no delineated good guys or bad guys. Mr. Waltzer isn't even a bad guy to Mr. Juval; he's little more than a fictional character. Davy, on the other hand, is still considered a bad guy by law enforcement, while Reuben still views him as his loveable big brother.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben begins to recognize the landscape. He questions whether he did the right thing ratting out Davy, and thinks that Mr. Waltzer is certainly crazy and therefore it's silly to ascribe meaning to his not caring about Andreeson. The posse stops and Mr. Ford asks Reuben if it looks familiar. Reuben knows that the cabin is to the right, while going left will lead them away from Davy. Reuben says they have to go left.
Reuben again gets to decide whose side he's on. Notably, he has to decide that Mr. Waltzer isn't a bad guy and is just crazy in order to justify this decision. In doing so, Reuben mimics Davy by using his own code of honor instead of the rules set down by the law.
Themes
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
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To the left is a steep and slick hill. The posse climbs the hill strung out, and Reuben feels exhilarated that he's protecting Davy. At the top, Mr. Juval and Mr. Ford trot a small distance away and look through binoculars. After a few minutes they return to the group, looking angry. Mr. Juval heads back down the slope and Mr. Ford quickly explains they went the wrong way. As the group descends, Mr. Ford's horse begins to skid, flips twice, and Mr. Ford disappears in the snow. The horse can't lift its head, but Mr. Juval angrily orders the deputies to not shoot it.
Reuben himself becomes the bad guy, and his betrayal has disastrous consequences. Mr. Ford, an innocent man, suffers because of Reuben's decision, as does Mr. Ford's horse. This shows again that the combination of the West itself and the cold are enemies to everyone, regardless of what side of the law they're on.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
The posse finds Mr. Ford, who miraculously survived the fall. He's bruised and broken but fortunately unconscious. Mr. Juval takes Reuben aside and asks if he misdirected the posse on purpose. Reuben admits he did, and Mr. Juval hits him on the side of his head. Mr. Juval pulls Reuben to his feet and explains why Reuben's character is lacking, and then hits him again.
Reuben has now betrayed everyone as well as shown everyone his loyalty, which leaves him alone in a state of complete moral ambiguity. This shows again that there are prices to pay for betrayal as well as loyalty.
Themes
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
The posse puts Mr. Ford in a thicket and tasks Reuben with staying behind to look after him. The posse heads off to the cabin and Reuben comforts Mr. Ford. Reuben goes back to the horse to look through the saddlebag for something to start a fire. He finds a bottle of whiskey, miraculously unbroken, some oil, and a book. Reuben imagines what's going on at the cabin and thinks that Davy won't be able to survive multiple gunshot wounds. He wonders what Davy will think of Reuben's betrayal, and thinks that nobody but Dad will ever forgive him.
Reuben's betrayal is punished with caring for Mr. Ford. Essentially, Reuben proved to the posse that he was nothing more than a child with a skewed sense of right and wrong, and he therefore doesn't get to participate in the adult activity of ambushing the cabin. Reuben also believes that Davy will suffer consequences because of Reuben's betrayal. Reuben is unable to consider the possibility that Davy might still escape.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Snuggled against Mr. Ford's horse, Reuben cries and prays for Davy, Andreeson, Sara, and Mr. Waltzer. When he hears Mr. Ford speak, Reuben scrambles back to the thicket. He dribbles some whiskey into Mr. Ford's mouth and answers his questions about what happened. Mr. Ford is disgusted to hear that the posse didn't shoot his horse. Reuben reads aloud from the book until Mr. Juval and the posse return, saying they found nothing at the cabin but Andreeson's hat. They shoot the horse and the posse leaves.
When he includes Mr. Andreeson in his prayers, Reuben shows the reader again that he sees him as deserving of life and God's guidance. Mr. Ford evidently thinks that Mr. Juval is the real villain for not shooting the seriously injured horse immediately. This briefly introduces yet another system of justice for Reuben to consider.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon