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Final Reflections on Peace Like a River October 24, 2006

Posted by heatherelle in Peace Like A River by Leif Enger.

I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, so here are some discussion questions I’ve gathered from various sources.  Feel free to use them as a guide when giving your parting thoughts regarding this novel!  And, of course, feel free to ignore these and just talk about what you enjoyed or didn’t like about the book!  Thanks to all of you for participating in the comments throughout the month!  It’s great to be able to hear different perspectives and to have things pointed out that others might have missed.  You’ve got a week to wrap this up, and then it’s on to The Poisonwood Bible.  All right, here goes:

1.  Finishing his story, Reuben notes: “You should know that Jape Waltzer proved as uncatchable as Swede’s own Valdez.”  What do the characters of Jape and Valdez represent in this novel?  Compare and contrast Peace Like a River with the traditional morality play – the symbolic drama based on the eternal struggle between Good and Evil.  How does the ending of this novel fit into this eternal conflict?

2.  Prayer is described in many ways and on many occasions in Peace Like a River.  How does prayer function in the novel for each of the characters?  How does it change for some of them over time?  Discuss the impact prayer has on Reuben, and how it transforms him.

3.  Consider the details of the double homicide committed by Davy.  Does Reuben see Davy as a murderer, or as one who acted in self-defense?  Does he want Davy brought to justice, or does he think justice has already been served?  What about the other main characters; how do they feel?  And what about you, the reader?  How was your impression of Davy influenced by his actions?  Discuss how the novel explores the idea of loyalty.

4.  Discuss the themes of perseverance, acceptance, loss, love, and faith.

5.  Peace Like a River contains a variety of landscapes.  How do they enrich the story and interact with the characters’ lives?

6.  Discuss the meaning and nature of family, as portrayed in Peace Like a River.

7.  Discuss the character of Jeremiah Land.  What is the center of his moral compass?  What are his strengths as a person and a parent?  What are his weaknesses?

8.  Swede is a remarkably clever, honest girl in an all-male family.  How does Enger make her character so sharp and alive?  How does being motherless affect her life?  And how, at times, does she seem like a matriarch?

9.  What do the dark characters of Jape Waltzer and Valdez symbolize in the novel?  Do you wish that Davy’s situation would have had closure?  Why do you think Enger ended the novel this way?  Would you have concluded the story differently?  How and why?

10.  What sections of the story were most enjoyable to read and ponder?

11.  The law versus family loyalty is a theme that runs throughout the story.  Recalling the circumstances of the intruders’ deaths, can you justify the actions of Davy?  Discuss the various ways in which each member of the Land family feels about Davy.

12.  How does the saga of Sunny Sundown, as written by Swede, comment on or parallel the adventures of the Land family?  What purpose does Swede’s epic poem about the cowboy serve in revealing characters or plot?

13.  Consider some of the Biblical allusions present in the novel.  How do they enrich the story?  How do they relate to the Land family story?  How do they lead the family into and through their experiences at home and their adventures on the road?

14.  The miracles performed by Jeremiah, or at least those witnessed by Reuben, seem to decrease in number over the course of the book.  Reuben says that since arriving at Roxanna’s house, there had been “no miracles whatever.”  What is the significance of this in terms of the narrative?  Is it true, or perhaps only a matter of witnessing?

15.  Reuben often has to make an effort to breathe.  How does this serve as a metaphor in the novel?  Can you give examples of where breathing takes on special meaning in the narrative?

16.  How does the novel’s title relate to the story?



1. Bethany - October 24, 2006

These are great questions Heather I am going to print this out and work on it the next few days. Thanks for leading.

2. anneswanson3 - October 25, 2006

They are great questions, and I want to spend some more time looking and thinking about them too.
I really liked the last question:
How does the novel’s title relate to the story?
I will work on that one first ! 🙂

More to come

3. Michelle - October 26, 2006

Ok. Totally been blurking this entire month. Sorry– you all just had such great comments and quotes.
This is my second time reading the book and I think I liked it even better this time around– something about knowing what is going to happen helps you to see things differently.
In an effort to say something more profound than “I liked it!”, I’m going to think through one or two of heathers quesitons and pop in later with something. 😉

4. Ashleigh - October 28, 2006

16. How does the novel’s title relate to the story?

When I think of the title of this novel in relation to the story, my mind immediately turns to the lyrics of “It Is Well With My Soul.”

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

In this book, the Land family faces what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. Yet, they perservere. I really think that throughout the story Jeremiah is the one who models what it means to have “peace like a river” when “sorrows like sea billows roll.”

5. Ashleigh - October 28, 2006

11. The law versus family loyalty is a theme that runs throughout the story. Recalling the circumstances of the intruders’ deaths, can you justify the actions of Davy? Discuss the various ways in which each member of the Land family feels about Davy.

As a reader, I wanted to justify the actions of Davy, but I couldn’t. Especially after I learned that he had taken it upon himself to provoke the two boys by breaking the car windows. He couldn’t accept his father’s decision that they would not esculate the situation further. Instead he choose to and was prepared with the gun when his provocation was answered.

Throughout the story both Davy and Jeremiah seem to accept plainly that Davy committed the crime. Although, I do think it takes Jeremiah some time to accept that Davy will have to face the penalities of the law and this is when he agrees to help Mr. Andreeson. Prior to that he is simply set on finding Davy.

Reuben and Swede don’t want to believe that their brother is guilty and should be punished, despite the fact that Reuben saw the shootings happen. Honestly, I don’t blame them for wanting to see their brother go free. The boys were terrorizing their family and the law didn’t want to do anything about it. It isn’t until the books nears its end that Reuben begins to see what Davy did as wrong.

6. Ashleigh - October 28, 2006

It’s funny, when I read this questions, I also felt like I was back in college and it was a homework assignment I hadn’t adequately prepared for! 🙂 Like I had missed so much in the reading of the book. Because there is so>/i> much that can be pulled out of this book. I feel like I need to read it a second and perhaps third time to really grasp more fully what Enger is saying.

7. Ashleigh - October 28, 2006

Opps! I forgot to close my html tag. Sorry about the weird formatting.

8. heather - October 30, 2006

Oh, my! Please don’t see this as a homework assignment! That makes it sound yucky! Honesty, I didn’t intend for my questions to be too heavy or to require too much work. I just was attempting to get beyond “I liked it” to something a little deeper. These are probably the type of questions that are easier answered in person, at a “real” book club versus a “cyber” one.

As you can tell, even I, the supposed leader of this particular book, have yet to leave my final comments! I’ve been busy helping my daughters research Venezuela, come up with recipes for a South American party, and jamming a read-aloud of Savage Sam into 2 days. Oh, yes, and I can’t forget my husband’s annual Fall Dinner, 3 dental appointments, and a too-short visit from my sister and her husband! And the two “betweener” books I’ve been trying to cram in before I start the next bookclub selection!

I know everyone’s busy, so please don’t feel pressured to have to answer one of these. I’ve enjoyed the great discussions we’ve had all along! Grace, everyone, grace!!! And don’t worry, I’ve heard I’m an easy A! Ha ha!!

9. Ashleigh - October 30, 2006

Heather, I didn’t mean the homework assignment as something “yucky.” More as it was challenging — which can be a good thing. 🙂

10. bethany3boys - November 1, 2006

I have had one of those weeks too…being alone with the kids this week I haven’t had much time for anything. I am still working on some answers to some of your questions. They are great questions.

11. bethany3boys - November 3, 2006

Ashleigh I agree with you on your analysis of the Title of the Book. I also thought the title was fitting for those reasons and in the chapter where he describes Heaven and that river of people flowing towards the city. To me the imagery of that description related to the title and the peace he felt in that moment and the being carried by the river. It is a perfect title in so many ways.

12. Jaree - November 6, 2006

I finally finished late last night … shew!! Running just a little behind … now I can ponder the questions in earnest …

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