While there are many motifs in Leif Enger's Peace like a River, three of them are consistent, unmistakable, and connected. The first motif is breathing, and the other two—miracles and dreams—are connected to that.
The narrator of the story is Reuben Land, and literally from birth, breathing has been a miracle for him. The opening line of the novel says this:
From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and air to fill them with.
Reuben was born but did not breathe for twelve minutes, and he was like a boy made of clay. During those twelve minutes, his father, Jeremiah, was outside pacing; when God speaks to him, he rushes into the hospital and commands his son to breathe.
“Reuben Land, in the name of the living God I am telling you to breathe.”
And he does. Throughout the novel, Reuben struggles with asthma attacks and breathing. He describes them vividly for us
Sometimes when the breathing goes it goes like that—like smoke...
(The entire section contains 528 words.)