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What are some important themes in Peace Like a River by Leif Enger?

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adammisseldine | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 16, 2012 at 10:21 PM via web

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What are some important themes in Peace Like a River by Leif Enger?

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 29, 2012 at 3:45 PM (Answer #1)

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There are many great themes in this book, and it helps to start by taking a look at a potential list of those themes—love, family, religion, prayer, miracles, redemption, sacrifice, altruism—and from that list, finding several that have personal relevance in your own life.  Importance can be determined based on how helpful and applicable they are to people’s lives, and if they address current cultural issues at the time.  I can talk briefly about a couple themes to help guide you if you want to look at others.

One major theme throughout the entire book is that of miracles.  Enger asserts that miracles are real, they are capable of being enacted by the most flawed and regular of people, and that they often create inexplicably good changes in people’s lives.  This theme is evident from the very first page of the book; Enger states:

Let me say something about the word miracle.  For too long it’s been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal…Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature.  It’s true:  They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in.  Lazarus obeying order and climbing up out of the grave—now there’s a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time.  When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up.  A miracle contradicts the will of earth.

Miracles save many people’s lives in this book, and as a major theme, have relevance on many levels.  This is important because it provides hope; it asserts that despite challenges, good things can happen.  Culturally speaking, it can foster discussions about belief, faith, religion, and the possible reality of miracles in today’s world. 

Family is another major theme, and throughout the story, Enger indicates that even though they drive us crazy and make huge mistakes, we are willing to make great sacrifices to keep family members safe and happy.  Whether that sacrifice is worth it is up to the reader to decide.  Today, we all have different family situations, so Enger’s theme of family can apply to those scenarios.

In analyzing other themes for relevance and importance, first determine what Enger seems to be saying about each one, and then how that ties into people’s lives in today’s world.  I hope that these thoughts help to get you started; good luck!

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