Peace Like a River

by Leif Enger

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What role do miracles serve in the novel? Examples of miracles?

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There are several examples of miracles that happen throughout the story. The first miracle that takes place in this novel is when Reuben’s father Jeremiah saves him. He was born not breathing and his father brought him back to life after twelve whole minutes. In another, less eventful moment, the family is celebrating Swede’s ninth birthday. Jeremiah’s friend, Lurvy joins them and rudely eats all the soup. However, somehow the soup never runs out. Later on Davy escapes from jail. It is not made clear if this is a miracle or the work of genius. In another scenario the family is running from the police for their failure to help the police in finding Davy. They don’t stop at any of the gas stations that are manned by police. They somehow manage to never run out of gas. In the final scenes of the book there is a shooting and Reuben has a vision of himself in a field where he sees Jeremiah one last time.

Miracles propel the lengthy and wandering plot forward. Structured somewhat like an epic, the story takes the reader through the multiple quests of the various characters. The miracles serve often to resolve the conflicts that arise in the story, many of which, seemingly could not be solved without some type of divine intervention. Furthermore, the miracles are most often performed by Jeremiah who is given a godlike position. He is a highly religious man and is described as being very close with god. This closeness has presumably enabled him with the ability to perform the miracles described above. The miracles expand his characterization and make for a very interesting story.

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There are a couple of interesting points to note about the idea of miracles in this novel.  First, it is Jeremiah, a humble janitor, who is able to perform them.  Second, Reuben, the narrator, is the only one who seems to witness (or even notice) the miracles.

In most reviews and according to critical analysis, Peace Like a River is most often considered a coming-of-age novel.  However, it is told in such a way that it also resembles an epic, a western, and sometimes even poetry.  There is a quest.  There is a hero (Davy).  The story is riddled with Biblical allusions and language, and even involves the creative writing within of Reuben's sister Swede.  Jeremiah's miracles enhance Reuben's admiration and reliance on his father, but rather than paint him as the hero, show him to be something more of a legend.

The miracles also heighten underlying messages of faith and fate.  Reuben is unsure of whether his father prays for miracles or if they just happen.  He does know, however, that his father is a strong man of faith.  Likewise, Reuben believes it was his fate to survive and to live, in order to bear witness to his father's gift.

In the way of plot development, according to Reuben, the miracles began after Jeremiah was picked up by a tornado and deposited four miles away, unharmed.  Similarly, Reuben owes his own life to a miracle.  When he was only minutes old and not breathing, his father commanded him to breath, which he does.  Even after twelve minutes without oxygen, Reuben has no sign of brain damage.

The major conflict of the story directly involves a miracle.  Davy's girlfriend is attacked by two troublemakers in the locker room, and Jeremiah, the janitor, saves her.  His face is described as "luminous" in the dark of the locker room.

More than anything else, the miracle motif serves to enhance this story's classification as an epic, a legend, or an adventure.  Though the plot is not dependent on them, they add dimension to the characters and whimsy to the story itself.


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