Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Winning Her Hand Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben explains that Teddy Roosevelt had asthma as a child. His father would gallop down the street with Teddy sitting in front to try to get air into his lungs. Reuben thinks of this as he rides in front of Davy and feels better. Davy lets him off behind the barn. Reuben wakes several hours later with a horrible fever and Roxanna's hand his forehead. Roxanna pins a quilt over the window to dim the light.
Here, another absurd-seeming tale provides Reuben comfort in his real life. Used in this way, fiction once again creates positive change in the real world. Roxanna already cares for Reuben as though he's her son; this reinforces the strength of her relationship and her loyalty to Dad.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Reuben sleeps off and on all day. At one point he wakes to see Swede sitting next to him rifling through a new Sunny Sundown poem. Reuben reminds the reader of Sunny's arc from lawman to "misunderstood outlaw." Sunny now finds himself in a beautiful valley with one entrance and a stick of dynamite to seal it. Reuben points out that this sounds a lot like another Western novel, and Swede says these things need to be written about so they don't fall out of circulation. Sunny hasn't yet set off the dynamite because he wants his wife to live with him in the valley.
Remember that Sunny Sundown's story arc mirrors that of Davy. Swede evidently believes that Davy is on the verge of finding paradise in exile. Further, she still views Davy as a "misunderstood outlaw," not as someone who's done anything truly wrong. Davy is truly a fictional character in Swede's mind, while Reuben has come face to face with the truth. He understands that Davy's life is nothing like Sunny's.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben finally wakes in the evening feeling much better. Roxanna deems him recovered and feeds him soup. As she rolls out piecrust, Reuben asks when Dad is coming home. Roxanna shares that there's been no big news, and Reuben sees that she's scared for Davy. Roxanna tells them they must be steadfast and have faith, and Reuben notes that she's using Dad's language. Swede says that if Dad says they have to leave she won't let him, and Roxanna agrees with Swede.
Roxanna is truly becoming a convert and another disciple of Dad's. She also places her loyalty not just in Dad, but in Davy as well. Here she seems to even overtake Reuben as Dad's disciple, as she uses what she's learned from Dad to comfort Reuben. Her language also suggests that while events regarding Davy are out of human control, she herself might have some sway over Dad.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Later that night, Swede and Reuben see Dad appear by the gas pumps. They bounce excitedly in the window. Dad looks strangely at the gable in the house, not at the window, and Swede and Reuben stop bouncing. Swede's face mirrors Dad's strange but happy expression and she shushes Reuben when he grouses about Dad not coming inside right away. Finally, Dad straightens his coat and approaches the door. Reuben tries to go to the hallway to open it, but Swede won't let him. Then Roxanna comes down the stairs smelling of perfume. When she opens the door, she and Dad hold hands and Dad laughs. Reuben thinks that Dad looks stronger than ever.
Dad's first point of loyalty has evidently shifted from his children to Roxanna. Swede's interest indicates that she finds this change exciting, while Reuben demonstrates again his somewhat selfish immaturity as he struggles to understand exactly what's going on. However, he does notice that this newfound love and loyalty is beneficial to Dad. This again suggests that love is capable of healing, as Dad is still recovering from pneumonia.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
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Dad moves out to sleep in the Airstream that night. Swede tells Reuben that it's "for honor," which she finds quite romantic. Reuben asks why they're not moving out there too, since they also love Roxanna. Swede snips that he should go ask Dad if he's so concerned.
Reuben's youth is humorous here as he struggles to differentiate between romantic love and the familial, yet platonic love he and Swede feel for Roxanna. To Swede, the romance between Dad and Roxanna surely seems straight out of a Western, indicating again that Roxanna is the "right kind" of woman.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
In the barn, Reuben tells Dad that he liked it better when Mr. Andreeson was an enemy. Dad leads Reuben in questioning what role Mr. Andreeson plays in what Davy did. Reuben admits that he'd like for Davy to escape consequences even if he did do a "wrong thing." Dad says that he himself has to listen to God but suggests that Reuben can keep viewing Mr. Andreeson as an enemy. He then asks Reuben what God said about enemies. Reuben thinks of the Old Testament, where enemies of God suffered all manner of gruesome fates. Dad quotes Jesus instead: "love your enemies."
Interestingly, Dad aligns himself with Jesus, while Reuben's thought process recalls his earlier remark about the prophets' "childish tendencies" towards thoughts and actions that aren't as right or moral. For Reuben to truly understand how one can champion Jesus' teachings while still finding value in the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament, he must embrace the moral ambiguity.
Themes
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
That afternoon, Reuben spots Davy on the hillside. Davy is waiting for Reuben behind the barn again that night with the news that Mr. Waltzer is gone for the night. Reuben is relieved; he'd been dreading seeing Mr. Waltzer again. Reuben asks Davy to come home and bring Sara, but Davy refuses.
Reuben clings to the childish hope that he might yet be able to convince Davy to come home, even though he's said himself that doing so is surely impossible. This shows Reuben mimicking Swede's method of relying on fiction to hopefully become real.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Reuben tells the reader that he made the trip with Davy three more times and struggled to justify deceiving Dad. One night, Reuben mentions how sad Mr. Finch looked and asks Davy if he feels bad. Davy says regret won't help, since he has to go on anyway. On another night, Davy explains that Sara isn't Mr. Waltzer's real daughter—he "got her" from a man in Utah. Reuben can't fathom why a man would give his daughter away, and Davy explains that Mr. Waltzer is raising her to be his wife when she's old enough. Reuben deems this "the pukiest idea in the world."
For Davy, regret and repentance serve no purpose. His life's purpose is survival and evasion of the law, and that requires he maintain a sense of his own personal honor code that justifies running away from the law. Essentially, admitting what he did was wrong would rob the life Davy's chosen of any purpose. This fact about Mr. Waltzer and Sara's relationship makes Mr. Waltzer seem even more dangerous and scary.
Themes
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben asks Davy if he's afraid of Mr. Waltzer. Davy says he isn't, he just listens closely when Mr. Waltzer is around. Davy says he doesn't know if Sara's afraid either. Then Davy points out an owl hunting. Reuben can't see the owl and thinks that he can't ever see what Davy sees.
Reuben again sees the oceans of maturity that separate Davy from Reuben. This reinforces the idea that Davy operates alone, while Reuben requires the guidance of God and family to exist.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
On Reuben's second visit, Sara asks if Mr. Waltzer showed Reuben his missing fingers. She explains that his fingers were damaged when a tow chain slipped. She says that it was her fault, and her punishment was to watch him cut off his own fingers and then dispose of them herself.
Mr. Waltzer shows that he's very good at psychological punishment here. Sara didn't suffer physical pain, but she has to live with the reminder that she failed and the memory of her punishment.
Themes
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Reuben wakes up around noon the next day, barely able to breath and feverish again. Dad offers to fetch some aspirin, and Reuben notices that Dad is wearing nice clothes. He asks why Dad is dressed up. Dad admits that he's going to court Roxanna and asks Reuben's opinion on his chances. This makes Reuben feel very adult, and he tries to assure Dad that Roxanna feels more than "respectfully" about him. Dad spends his days outside in the Airstream and when he does enter the house, knocks and offers Roxanna carnations from a small nursery in Grassy Butte. One day, the man at the nursery offers Dad a guitar. Dad insists "he's no musician," but his face lights up holding the instrument.
Reuben is physically punished again for betraying and deceiving Dad. By continuing to go out to Davy, Reuben is sacrificing his health in exchange for seeing his brother, which shows how loyal Reuben is to Davy. In this conversation with Dad, Reuben embraces being treated like an adult. This conversation with his father is an example of a marker of adulthood, and Reuben rises to the occasion. The fact that he's not embarrassed by the conversation shows how much he's growing up.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon