Over the course of the novel (Peace Like a River by Leif Enger), Reuben's attitude and his physical descriptions of Roxanna change. In what ways does his view of Roxanna change?

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

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Reuben Land is the young, and rather precocious, boy who serves as the narrator for Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. Miracles have consistently happened in this family since the day Reuben was born; in fact, Reuben is only alive because his father's prayers were answered.

His family--father Jeremiah and sister Swede--are on a quest to find his older brother, Davy, who is on the run from the law. The family is traveling in an Airstream trailer in the bitter cold, looking for a place to buy propane and gasoline, when they stop at an isolated farmhouse with two pumps out front. This is where they meet Roxanna.

Though Reuben is not particularly unkind toward Roxanna, it is clear from his descriptions of her that he has some doubts and is reserving judgment. He is wryly taken aback when Swede responds immediately to Roxanna, and then he says (to the readers):

It may surprise you, after [learning about] the goats in the bathroom, that Roxanna Cawley set a pleasant and even cultivated table.... I suppose it was a meal intended to impress, though you don't think of a woman like Roxanna worrying about how her hospitality comes off; she hadn't seemed at all ashamed about the goats.

While this kind of commentary implies that he expected her to be more rustic and uncouth, he also reveals his grudging respect for her. 

As Reuben learns more about Roxanna, he realizes that he and Swede have much in common  with her. Things change drastically that night when Reuben has a breathing episode. Roxanna thumps his back as Jeremiah instructs her and then sits next to Reuben on the bed afterward; before she left, "she bent and put her cheek to mine. Her hair was in a single thick braid and moist coils of it had come free--they clung to my face as she pulled away."

From this point on, Reuben loves Roxanna. When she and Jeremiah fall in love, Reuben is happy for them and for the addition of Roxanna to their lives. At one point, however, Reuben writes:

At this a dread realization occurred: Since arriving at this house, we'd had no miracles whatever.

This is a horrifying realization for Reuben, and he suffers for a time from this knowledge as well as guilt over his discovery of Davy and then jealousy because Roxanna opens her heart to others. In the end, though, it is at Roxanna's house that Reuben experiences another transformational miracle: his father dies in his place. Roxanna will be part of Reuben's life forever, now, and he will love her like a true mother. 

 

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