How did Leif Enger take the non-universal experience of hunting in the freezing cold and render it a universal “moment” in Peace Like a River?

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

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In Leif Enger's Peace like a River, the Lands' family hunting experience in frigid North Dakota happens in two parts; they get up early in the morning to hunt and, after breakfast and a nap, they go back out to hunt. Several elements of their experience are universal, even to those who have neither hunted nor been in North Dakota.

First of all, the family hunts together. Nearly every family, at least occasionally, does something they enjoy doing together. They work as a team, the older often teaching the younger (as Davy does with both Reuben and Swede). There is often a certain rite of passage involved, as there is when Davy allows Reuben to take the first shots.

Secondly, people everywhere have shared the experience of getting up early to do something fun and following it with a deliciously satisfying nap. Reuben says:

That's how goose-hunting is--you rise early and do the cold, thrilling work; then come in and eat; then fatigue sneaks up and knocks you flat.

This feeling does not apply only to early-morning hunting, and it is something most of us have experienced at some point in our lives.

One final point of universality in the Lands' hunting experience is the injection of shared humor. When Reuben merely wounds a goose, it lands and Scout runs after it. Her father and brothers are amused as they watch.

Did you ever see an angry goose up close? It's a different bird from those you've watched flying south or waddling in city parks. An adult goose in a wrathful mood can stand up and look a third-grader right in the eye, and that's what this fellow did to Swede.

The Lands' experience is as much about being together and sharing an experience as much as it is the actual hunting; the same thing happens in families all over the world, making this hunting trip a universal experience. 


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