Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River The Red Farm Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben tells the reader that Dad and Roxanna got married in March. They returned to Roofing at the end of February, after Reuben spent a brief stint in the hospital for his failing lungs. Dr. Nickles told Dad to "take this boy home" and they left the next day. Reuben says that though he was glad to have Roxanna along, it took him a long time to appreciate what the move must have meant for her. He says that she was "all but their mother" by this point.
In Reuben's mind, Roxanna has completed her process of becoming Dad's partner, both in a romantic sense and in a religious sense. Like God, she provides Reuben and Swede comfort as they leave the West and return to Roofing. While the West didn't give the Lands what they thought it would, they still return changed. This underscores the transformative power of the myth of the West.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
A few days after the wedding, Dad tasks Reuben with cleaning out the Airstream (which Dad had sold to Dr. Nokes months ago) while Swede helps pack for their impending move to a farm owned by Pastor Reach. It's a beautiful place to "rest and wait." Swede returns to school, but Reuben stays home. He thinks of Dr. Nickles' voice telling Dad to take him home, and spends his days looking out the window, waiting for Davy. A number of investigators stop by over the next few months, but Andreeson is never heard from.
Reuben makes it very clear that he's dying and there's no hope or prayer that can save him. Further, everyone else also seems to have given up on Reuben's health, as there's not even a mention of steam. Reuben mourns the loss of Andreeson and takes the time to consider what he learned about loyalty and justice in the West.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben tells one investigator that Mr. Waltzer surely put Andreeson's body in a lignite vein, but the investigator seems uninterested. Swede snappily tells Reuben that that's not satisfying for the investigators, and Reuben explains Swede's clipped response by saying that she hasn't yet forgiven him for his betrayal.
Now that Reuben has seen different types of justice up close, he must now discover how forgiveness functions. Swede's inability to forgive points to her own blindness to the muddy morality of Davy's crime and Reuben's betrayal.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben says he wasn't waiting for a miracle anymore. He figures that Roxanna was God's parting gift to the Land family. Reuben spends his days sleeping and listening to Dad play the guitar. One day, a boy from school brings Reuben the Spartacus model Reuben had wanted for Christmas. The classmate tells Reuben that his brothers put a skunk in Mr. Holgren's basement and the results were spectacular.
Finally receiving the Spartacus model isn't as satisfying as it might've been for Reuben. This suggests that Reuben's act of loyalty when he bought groceries is more fulfilling in the long term than a toy would've been. It also shows how much Reuben has grown up that he doesn't find the toy fulfilling, as he's actively choosing to not engage in childish pursuits.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
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Bethany Orchard and her family visit in May. Reuben realizes that Bethany isn't truly interested in him, as she soon leaves him to be with the adults. Swede comes to Reuben that night, takes his hand, and sits with him.
Though Bethany still appears far beyond Reuben in terms of maturity, Reuben's acknowledgement that nothing will come of his crush on her points to his own maturity.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
In June, a Ford pulls up the driveway bearing Davy and Sara. The reunion is joyful. Though they don't mention Mr. Waltzer by name, they share that he'd decided it was time for Sara to be a “wife.” Davy was unwilling to let that happen, so one morning when Mr. Waltzer was out they drove away in Mr. Waltzer's car. Davy asks if Sara can stay with Dad and Roxanna. Swede asks Davy if he'll stay too, but Davy tells her he can't. Reuben thinks that Davy actually looks his age as he says this.
By leaving Mr. Waltzer, Davy demonstrates again that he wants to move through life alone. This time, however, taking Sara with him is truly the honorable thing to do. By doing this, he allows Sara the opportunity to experience family in a way that Davy never again will. Davy alludes to this when he tells Swede he can't stay. Evading the law means that he has to be alone, even if he doesn't want to be.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Throughout the evening, Davy regales his family with the story of his escape from jail and his following exploits eluding the law. He doesn't mention Mr. Waltzer, and Reuben believes this is Davy being considerate of Sara, who owes Mr. Waltzer for the last six years of her life.
This time, truth is as fascinating and exciting as any of Swede's fiction, especially since Davy's tale borrows so many tropes and motifs from Westerns. Here, reality and fiction blend to create a compelling and useful tale.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Nobody mentions Andreeson, but Reuben thinks about him. After 11 pm, Reuben goes upstairs with Dad to make Sara's bed. Roxanna and Sara go to bed while Davy, Swede, Dad, and Reuben stay up talking. They talk about everything except Davy's current predicament. At 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 Valdez a perfect villain and likely uncatchable. At dawn, Roxanna makes her uncle's cinnamon rolls and the family walks outside to see Davy off.
Davy's remark that Valdez is uncatchable suggests that even though Davy knows he must remain faithful to his own system of personal honor and justice, he understands that the world doesn't follow one true justice system. The Land family's happy reunion recalls Sunny Sundown's final chapter in the valley. Their night together stands as a bright point in a string of dark and muddy events.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Jape Waltzer sits with a rifle beside the farm's granary. The Lands don't see him, though he isn't trying to hide. They hear a gunshot and Dad falls across the car. Roxanna tries to restrain Reuben on the porch, but he breaks free and runs towards Dad. Mr. Waltzer then shoots Reuben. Reuben tells the reader that he supposes that Mr. Waltzer "led" him. He feels the "old country" gather itself.
Mr. Waltzer seeks to employ his own system of justice to punish Davy, Sara, and Reuben, all of whom betrayed him. Mr. Waltzer himself represents the West as a dangerous and transformative force for those who tangle with it. However, Reuben again attributes the "leading" to all of this being part of God's guidance, showing that God is greater than even the West.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon