Children, growing up and learning the most from their parents, they often believe everything passed on by parents and older siblings. Ideals such as manners, faith, and morals are ingrained from a young age and believed true. Reuben Land, of Leif Engers’s ‘Peace Like a River’ is no exception. He was raised to believe in and pray to God, following the example of his father, Jeremiah Land. His older brother, Davy, however, did not hold the same respect towards Jeremiah, making Reuben’s loyalty to both of them rather strained. When Davy shoots and kills two boys, Reuben becomes confused about his feelings towards Davy. Reuben uses his admiration towards his brother to aid him in believing Davy’s innocence, ultimately clouding Reuben’s own judgment.
Reuben already sees Davy as a role model, making everything Davy does something Reuben wants to strive for and achieve himself. Reuben associates Davy as a figure of strength, and consistently wants to prove his own worth in Davy’s eyes. The first time this is apparent is while the Land family was out hunting, and Reuben was extremely cold and tired, yet denied himself to admit these things, for he didn’t want Davy to think he was weak. When Reuben failed to shoot a goose, Davy’s ‘present’ (7) to him, he states he was ‘blind with despair’ (7) and from the ‘tears’ in his ‘eyes’ (7). Reuben obviously holds a deep want for Davy’s acceptance, going so far as to deny his own needs so he can cater to what he thinks is Davy’s expectation.
Later, when the villains Israel and Jeremy come to their house and Davy confronts them, Reuben is automatically supporting his brother even as he holds the Winchester right in front of him. He goes on to think, “Israel had no chance,” “Not that he deserved one.” (49) Before anything had even taken place Reuben had already placed all of his faith in Davy, knowing he was capable, and that Davy was going to shoot. Reuben shows his further disgust towards Israel when he describes him as “Confused,” “Pinkeyed,” and “Sweaty” (49) When Davy does shoot, Reuben is sure to note that Israel first raised his bat, and Davy’s show followed. Reuben continues to hold Davy on this imaginary pedestal, and even though he just murdered two people in front of him, Reuben still believes Davy to be the one in the right.
Rueben begins to question what Davy did right after the event. He even says, “Two boys were dead in our house and there was no bright side to the matter.”(51) His disgust at them being dead is there, but he still seems unable to connect Davy to that disgust. He begins to defend Davy, “It would be alright, that he had not meant to do it.”(51) At this Davy snaps at Reuben, telling him he meant what he did and to not say it. Reuben seems to be rather shocked, at both the events and the fact that Davy had acknowledged that he was incorrect, reducing him to a nodding mess who eventually pegs Davy as ‘impatient’ (51). Reuben has many instances where he believes himself to be disloyal simply because of a slightly negative thought he has about his brother.
With what Davy had done, he forced Reuben into deciding if Davy is really what he had grown up believing. Of course Reuben is too young to make this decision, and so he continues to believe that Davy is perfect and can do no wrong. Reuben had to question what had been ingrained into him his whole childhood and make the decision himself to either correct it or keep it as fact. It’s not until Reuben matures at the end of the book that he can look at Davy with the eyes of an adult. Leif Enger shows with this story how children have to question what they are taught eventually, and it’s not until children mature that they can find the answer to the questions they ask.