Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Peace Shall Destroy Many, set in an isolated area of northern Saskatchewan in 1944, details a young Mennonite’s growing awareness of the conflicting demands among his Christian faith, his church community, and his country at war. The novel is Rudy Wiebe’s first, and it aroused considerable controversy among North American Mennonites.
In the spring of 1944, Thom Wiens, working on his father’s farm and awaiting his military call, begins his quest for the truth within and beyond “the traditions of the fathers.” The acknowledged leader of the Wapiti Mennonite Church and community is Deacon Peter Block, who financed the trip and land for the Mennonites he brought to Canada from Russia. He controls the church and community with an iron hand, having led them to this isolated region where they can live separate from worldly influences and raise their children in peace. Thom, encouraged by the teacher Joseph Dueck, starts to question some of the trappings of their faith: their extreme position of nonresistance, the requirement of speaking German in all church services, and their disdain of their Indian and mixed-race neighbors.
As summer, fall, and winter proceed, Thom confronts his feelings about the war. He questions the practice of allowing others to fight and die so that he can live in peace. Simultaneously, events in the community affect his understanding of the Christian faith, and he wonders where truth is to be found. Joseph...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Peace Shall Destroy Many, Wiebe’s first novel, is about the moral failures and triumphs that define the life of the human community, in this case the small Mennonite community of Wapiti in northern Saskatchewan.
The backdrop for the story is World War II. Military planes fly training missions above the town, disturbing the peace of the community, causing stillbirths among the cattle. Young Thom Wiens, plowing the fields under those planes, resents their intrusion and the violence with which he knows they are connected. The novel traces Thom’s growing awareness that pacifism may be self-serving, that the apparent peace of a community may be artificial and mask the violence lurking beneath, and that peace and violence are often inextricably entangled.
Thom’s mentor in his moral and intellectual awakening is Joseph Dueck, a teacher, whose penetrating questions and progressive views disturb the community’s peace as much as do the planes overhead. Representing the orthodoxy of the community is Deacon Peter Block, the founder of Wapiti, an authoritarian moral watchman, and a forceful preserver of tradition. Thom discovers that this tradition includes a smug superiority that allows the Mennonites to think of and treat the Métis and Indians among them as subhuman. The tradition does not allow for active participation in war but feels free to profit from that war by selling the community’s produce to the soldiers. The tradition...
(The entire section is 445 words.)