Peace Like a River


Leif Enger

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Themes and Colors
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Peace Like a River, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Youth vs. Adulthood

At eleven years old, Reuben exists somewhere between childhood and adulthood. He still possesses a childish understanding of the world of adults, but he recognizes the vast differences in maturity between himself and his younger, sister, Swede, as well as between himself and his older brother, Davy. Reuben fixates on the differences between himself and Davy in particular, and these comparisons influence how Reuben conceptualizes what it means to be grown up.


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The Lands are an extremely religious family, and the logic of the novel is rooted in Christian belief. The family's deep faith propels their behavior, beginning with Jeremiah's decision to drop out of college to become a plumber after being picked up by a tornado and surviving unharmed—a truly miraculous event. This event situates miracles and religion as the central concern of the novel and asks the reader to question miracles, faith, and how…

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Fiction, Reality, and the American West

The plot of the novel uses many tropes and motifs often found in traditional Westerns: murder as self-defense, particularly in defense of one's family; escaping the law on horseback; and a loveable, misunderstood hero on the run. Both Swede and Reuben, as lovers of the fictionalized American West, use these tropes to borrow meaning and assign it to the events they experience throughout the novel. This turns the novel into a critical study of…

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Loyalty and Family

The members of the Land family are extremely loyal to one another. Reuben and the reader are led to believe that it's Davy's loyalty to his family and his girlfriend Dolly that leads him to heroically kill Tommy Basca and Israel Finch in the first place. However, as Davy and the rest of the family move westward, the very idea of loyalty—what exactly loyalty means, and who's deserving of it—is tested and questioned.


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Justice and Consequences

Peace Like a River focuses intently on the idea that all actions, thoughts, and beliefs (noble or otherwise) have consequences. Reuben and Swede watch this play out through Davy's trial and subsequent escape, and Reuben experiences the consequences of his own actions in North Dakota after he reconnects with Davy. Yet justice—the notion that such consequences will be fair—doesn't always mean the same thing to different people, and much of Reuben's growing up happens…

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