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Explain Roxanna's role in the novel Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.

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JoeyTschida | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 26, 2013 at 11:22 PM via web

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Explain Roxanna's role in the novel Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 29, 2013 at 10:48 PM (Answer #1)

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In Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, Jeremiah Land has two sons (Davy and Reuben) and a daughter, Swede. Jeremiah's wife left him and her children, so the family has been without an adult female presence for some time. 

When Davy gets in trouble and escapes from jail, the remaining Lands see it as their duty to go find him. It is an exhausting journey, filled both with miracles and misery. When Jeremiah finally pulls their Airstream up to the only open gas station in the unfamiliar area, he has no idea what else he is about to find.

Her name is Roxanna Cawley, a woman of the earth who greets them with a goat in her arms. She graciously allows the family to stay with her, and it is not long before Jeremiah begins to court her. She is not just a mother to Reuben and Swede but also serves as a mother figure to the fugitive Davy and an equally fugitive girl with little connection to the family.

Reuben and Swede, particularly Reuben, are a bit distrustful of Roxanna at first, but Roxanna is a quiet, steady presence in their lives and soon they are won over. On the first night they meet, she helps Jeremiah get Reuben through an asthma attack, and it seems as if she is part of their family from that moment on, despite the children's misgivings. 

The authorities eventually descend on Roxana's home (because of the Lands, of course); and "from the first, Roxanna offered them fragrant breads or pastries and otherwise kept her silence." She is a wise and comforting woman, but she is also tough and durable for the hard things that will come. When she leaves everything behind to leave with her new family, Reuben is impressed by how easily Roxanna makes the transition from her old life to her new one.

It then occurred to me that this leaving--which to me ached with failure and despair--was for her the commencement of a gallant endeavor. Who isn't scared by as whole a redirection as that on which she now embarked? Adhering to us must've seemed a risk demanding the deepest reserves of joy and strength....Glad though I was to have her along, it would be years before my gratitude approached anything like proportion.

Roxanna is a woman who has been hurt but still knows how to love, and that makes her a perfect match for the Land family. When Jeremiah is gone not very much later, Roxanna is deeply entrenched in the family and is able to be the connection the children need to each other and to their father. 

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Lori Steinbach

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