Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3: Beauteous Are My Cakes Indeed


The land family returns home from their camping trip to find that their front door has been tarred, presumably by Israel Finch and Tommy Basca making good on their threat. Instead of reacting violently, Jeremiah proceeds to strip the tar from the door by burning it off with kerosene. He notices that Reuben, still plagued by breathing problems, is not able to breathe properly.

As Reuben sits with his face over a pot of boiling water and a rag cover both him and the water to open up his lungs, Jeremiah proceeds to tell him how he came upon Finch and Basca attacking Dolly. Although Swede has already informed Reuben of the general events, Jeremiah explains that they are at war--but they must act carefully.

Later, Reuben gets the full story from Davy instead of a lecture about war. Dolly and a few other members of the Plainsmen’s pep band had gone to the band room to return their instruments, abandoning the unexciting game in favor of bowling. Dolly went to the girls’ locker room on her own to retrieve an extra pair of shoes. At the same time, Jeremiah was performing his janitorial duties in the boys’ locker room after the half time talk. He heard some noise coming from the girls’ locker room and decided to investigate the suspicious sounds.

From Dolly’s account, everyone learned that Finch and Basca attacked her once the lights were out. Dolly had fought back, but she was losing. Just as she was about to give up, Dolly said that Jeremiah entered the locker room. Though all of the lights were out, Jeremiah’s face glowed. Jeremiah thrashed the boys, face still alight, and Dolly felt an unusual fit of laughter wash over her as she watched. Though he is happy that his girlfriend was not further harmed, Davy is angry with his father for only slightly scaring the two attackers rather than taking more drastic measures.

However, Jeremiah understands the risk of escalation in violence and does not exact any revenge on Finch or Basca. Reuben remains a bit worried about the two boys escalating their attacks on his family, but he loses interest after a few days and no action. Three days after returning from the hunting trip, Reuben attends their new Methodist church with Jeremiah. Without Swede at his side, Reuben is not looking forward to attending the ceremony, especially with the new, dull preacher.

Reuben’s attention is perked up once he sees his crush, Bethany Orchard, and he follows her downstairs into the church kitchen while the rest sings endless church songs. The two share an orange and Reuben takes this to mean a lot in their relationship. Bethany and Reuben begin to make cakes, but they are interrupted by the noise on the floor above coming from the sermon.

The two run upstairs to find most of the congregation on the floor and Reverend Latt calling upon some churchgoers to reveal what God is saying to them. Johnny Latt expounds upon the wonderful smells that fill him and Reuben is amused that his cakes could have such an effect on him. Reuben is troubled by the sight of his father lying on the ground and feels that he is communicating with God once the reverend touches his shoulder. Despite the feeling of his lungs opening up for the first time in a way that is neither wonderful nor uncomfortable, Reuben is brought back to reality when Jeremiah announces they must return home immediately.


The enigma surrounding Jeremiah grows, as Dolly’s account of the attack paints him as a mysterious hero with supernatural elements working in his favor. This is the first time that Jeremiah performs a miracle of sorts - though Reuben does not qualify his father’s actions as miracle worthy - that is beneficial. It is clear from both Jeremiah’s actions of saving Dolly and the way in which he speaks about not retaliating against the attackers, that Jeremiah is a good person.

Davy serves as a foil to Jeremiah. Where Jeremiah is calm and thoughtful about his actions, Davy is angry and reactionary. The two are in a silent fight because Davy is displeased that Jeremiah did not do more to the attackers. When the Lands arrive home and find that their front door has been tarred, Jeremiah calmly proceeds to remove the tar and Davy turns his anger inward and refuses to talk.

The mood of the chapter changes in urgency level; whereas the last chapter was languid in both language and action, the third chapter is higher paced and there is a sense of urgency for something that is unknown. From the way that Reuben’s lungs act up to the events that unfold at church, the reader can understand that something is on the verge of happening, but it is not yet known.

Similar in the way that shooting down the goose served to demonstrate Reuben coming of age, his interactions with Bethany Orchard serve to show his increasing maturity. Jeremiah brings Reuben and not Swede because he thinks that Reuben is old enough to handle it, demonstrating the growing distance between Reuben and Swede.

The religious tones in the novel, which had been previously limited to Jeremiah’s strong beliefs, become more apparent. When Reuben returns to the sermon after spending time with Bethany, he feels a strong connection to God when the reverend touches his shoulder. Reuben is not sure of the feeling, whether it is good or bad, but this only serves to illustrate Reuben’s uncertainty with religion. It is strange that Reuben - and the reader, to some extent - accept Jeremiah’s miracles in the world of magical realism, but have less confidence in the purely religious aspects of the novel.