Peace Like a River The Little Man's Country Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River The Little Man's Country Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That night, Reuben fearfully walks out past the barn. He tries to think of storybook characters to give him strength, but finds he's still afraid. Finally, he calls out for Davy and a snort from a horse answers. Davy pulls Reuben up behind him and they head off. They then stop at the top of a hill and look at the stars. Reuben wonders out loud how God arranged the stars in the sky, and Davy accuses Reuben of "waxing poetic." They continue on and make small talk. Reuben offers Davy gingersnaps and asks if he and Jape live in a tepee. Davy turns around and tells Reuben in a serious tone to call Jape "Mr. Waltzer," and says that the girl with him is named Sara.
Davy shows disdain here for Reuben's belief that God arranged the stars in the sky, indicating again that he finds the idea of God annoying and not worth his consideration. Davy's insistence that Reuben refer to his friend using his title creates a sense of tension about what exactly this friend is like. Reuben's comment about the tepee is indicative of Reuben's engagement with the situation as though it's romantic fantasy, rather than potentially dangerous real life.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Davy and Reuben ride silently and Reuben loses track of time. Finally they come upon a valley like the one where Roxanna took the Lands to picnic, but this one is far less impressive. Reuben is disappointed to see a lit window of a cabin instead of a tepee. As they ride towards it, Mr. Waltzer steps out. He helps Reuben off the horse and makes him feel welcome. Reuben notices that Davy has disappeared and catches sight of Mr. Waltzer's eyebrows, which scare him. Reuben answers Mr. Waltzer's questions—he's not tired, his toes are cold, and he means to do right by Davy.
This entire experience makes it very clear that Reuben is neither child nor adult, but somewhere in between. Though Mr. Waltzer succeeds at making Reuben feel very adult as he welcomes him by not treating him like a child, Reuben's fear betrays to the reader that Reuben is still subject to childish fear. However, Reuben attempts to show Mr. Waltzer that he does possess a mature sense of loyalty to Davy.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Mr. Waltzer leans down to Reuben and asks Reuben what he'd say if he was told that the hills will turn to dust, water will flood the land, and sea creatures will swim in the water. Reuben tells the reader that he didn't even know he needed to be careful at the time. Reuben tells Mr. Waltzer that he'd want to know what day, and Mr. Waltzer invites him inside. The cabin is sparse and sheets hang in the corner, marking out a partition.
Mr. Waltzer obviously engages with his own brand of fiction in the real world, which draws a comparison between him and Swede. However, Mr. Waltzer's engagement with this fiction seems to be an extreme version. He's allowed fiction to entirely obscure his sense of reality and therefore appears as a crazy person.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Mr. Waltzer invites Reuben to sit at the table in the cabin, and tells Reuben to ask him anything. Reuben can't think of anything to ask except why Mr. Waltzer lives here. At that, Mr. Waltzer calls for Sara to pour Reuben coffee. Sara emerges from behind the sheets and pours coffee before returning to her hiding place.
Mr. Waltzer's invitation works to make Reuben feel adult, although he recognizes that his critical thinking skills aren't developed enough to come up with questions that probe any deeper.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
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Mr. Waltzer answers that this place is a good one to wait for the world to change. Reuben asks if the world is changing the way Mr. Waltzer wants it to, and Mr. Waltzer replies that it is. Reuben doesn't know what to make of any of this, so he asks how Mr. Waltzer knows Davy. Mr. Waltzer describes being in a cafe and hearing the fry cook answer a call about a Studebaker. Mr. Waltzer then asks Reuben about how children at school are punished, and he suggests that Reuben feels happiness knowing that punishment is being dealt to someone else. Mr. Waltzer says that's how he felt sitting in the cafe, knowing that someone else was going to get in trouble and it wasn't him.
Mr. Waltzer's cryptic answers beg the question of what kind of a world he'd like to see. While most of the particulars remain unclear, it's safe to assume that Mr. Waltzer's ideal world is one where he is able to move freely and not face consequences for whatever wrongs he committed. This mirrors what Reuben and Swede want for Davy, but it seems much more sinister coming from Mr. Waltzer. This suggests that even if such a world is possible, it might not be desirable.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Mr. Waltzer calls for Sara to prepare dinner as Davy enters the cabin. Davy offers to help Sara, and she smiles at him. Mr. Waltzer continues his story, and explains how he whisked Davy into the woods on his horse. Sara prepares the meal without fanfare while Mr. Waltzer talks, and Reuben can tell that Mr. Waltzer isn't an easy person to please.
Reuben begins to understand that the power dynamics at play in the cabin likely aren't in Davy's favor; he must dance carefully around Mr. Waltzer like Sara does. This suggests that even Davy's dreams of moving through life alone haven't come true.
Themes
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben suddenly feels very tired and looks down. Mr. Waltzer accuses him of praying to God for the food, and says that Reuben needs to thank him, not God. Reuben does, and notices that Mr. Waltzer is missing two fingers. Mr. Waltzer asks Reuben how his family ended up in this part of North Dakota, wondering if they've been all over, and Reuben says they came straight here. Mr. Waltzer asks who led them and Reuben realizes he thinks that Davy tipped them off. Reuben thinks that God led them, but asks Mr. Waltzer what kind of "leading" he means. Mr. Waltzer's reply makes Reuben think he would actually believe Reuben's claim about God leading them, but Reuben says instead that they just had great luck.
Reuben must quickly decide what kind of story to tell and where to place his loyalty. He chooses to share what is really a fictionalized version of events, as Reuben truly believes that God led them and luck had little to do with anything. Mr. Waltzer appears to view God as a powerful guiding force, though like Davy, Mr. Waltzer wants credit for his own actions. It's clear though where Reuben's loyalty and belief truly lies; he's a follower of his father through and through.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Suddenly, a loud squeal comes from behind the sheets and a small screeching pig runs into Mr. Waltzer's lap. Mr. Waltzer calms the pig and calls for Sara. She emerges from behind the sheets and Reuben wonders why she was in there instead of eating with them. Mr. Waltzer asks Sara to explain what happened. She says she accidentally stepped on the pig's tail. Mr. Waltzer asks her to apologize to the pig.
Again, Mr. Waltzer insists on giving proper credit, or in this case, proper apologies. This situation continues to develop a sense of absurdity, though it's implied that despite how absurd everything might seem, it's real and potentially very dangerous.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Mr. Waltzer asks Reuben what he wants to do with his life, and Reuben answers that he'd like to breathe. Davy explains that Reuben has lung trouble. Reuben's breath is worsening, and Mr. Waltzer tries to instruct Reuben on how to properly breathe. Reuben's lungs tighten and he asks to be excused. Mr. Waltzer is incredulous. Davy tells Reuben to lie down, Mr. Waltzer tries to "help," and Reuben tells Mr. Waltzer to shut up as he struggles for breath and faints.
Reuben's answer shows just how much his asthma rules his life--he can't even consider what else he'd like to do except be able to breathe and keep living. The reader is reminded then that Dad's initial miracle isn't all-encompassing; it comes with a price.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben dreams of the man with the skin bag again and wakes to Mr. Waltzer's face close to his own. Mr. Waltzer explains that Davy is getting his horse ready to take Reuben home. He tells Reuben he cannot tell anyone about this place, and as Davy rides up, invites Reuben back so he can show Reuben how to breathe. Davy pulls Reuben up in front of him and Reuben sleeps some on the way back.
Mr. Waltzer engaged with Reuben's asthma as though it was a fictional ailment, but fiction became reality before his eyes. However, Mr. Waltzer seems to believe that Reuben himself is capable of taking control of this reality, showing that he believes he has an exaggerated sense of control over his reality.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon