Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4: Your Toughened Heart


While Jeremiah and Reuben are away at church and Davy is working in the garage at home, Swede is briefly kidnapped by Israel Finch and Tommy Basca. Only when she is returned home twenty minutes later does Davy realize she had been gone. Reuben does not attempt to describe the events that unfolded in Tommy Basca’s Chevy, but Swede is clearly shaken up when she returns.

Later that evening after Reuben and Jeremiah have returned from church, Ted Pullet, the local cop, stops by. Reuben listens intently from his room to hear Pullet tell Jeremiah that he is reluctant to take action against the boys, in part because Jeremiah already frightened them in the locker room but mostly because Tommy Basca and Israel Finch are known troublemakers, devilish beyond their teenage years.

The following day is Swede’s 9th birthday and the rest of the Lands do their best to make it a cheerful day. Knowing that Swede is obsessed with Westerns and writing, Reuben gets her a Western book, Jeremiah gifts the young girl a type writer, and Davy tops all of their presents with a refurbished horse saddle. They shower Swede in delicious food and even cast off a giant red balloon into the sky.

Around dinner time, as Jeremiah is cooking his famous red-potato chowder with northern pike, Tin Lurvy – a sometimes salesman and full time talking approaches. Jeremiah is too kind to turn his friend away even though Swede does not want her birthday ruined by the man who will surely eat all of their cookies and soup. Lurvy does end up staying for many hours, but surprisingly the soup never runs out. Reuben does not acknowledge the mysteriously appearing soup as a miracle, but he is in wonder of it.

When Lurvy finally leaves, Reuben and Swede go to bed. As he peers into Swede’s room to make sure that she is okay, Reuben notices that her refurbished saddle no longer has a rip in it. The young boy acknowledges that there had been a rip when Swede had opened it, but after Jeremiah had brought it into Swede’s room, the rip disappeared.

Reuben wakes up in the middle of the night when he hears the back door creaking open. Struck with fear as the strange footsteps approach their room, Reuben turns on the lights when Davy tells him to. The lights reveal Tommy Basca and Israel Finch with a baseball bat standing in their bedroom. Just as Israel lifts the bat to hit one of the brothers Davy fires his gun. Finch goes down and Tommy Basca attempts to flee, but Davy shoots him as well. Though Finch had died immediately, Basca continues to struggle away, and Davy shoots him point blank in the skull as Reuben and Swede look on.


From the title - “You Toughened Heart” - comes the primary theme of the chapter and a major theme of the novel: the loss of innocence. All three of the Land children do some growing up in the fourth chapter. Swede is taken from her home and abused by Israel Finch and Tommy Basca, Davy in turns kills Finch and Basca when they return to the Lands’ home, and Reuben, ever the narrator, observes this all and see the changes in his siblings.

Of particular note is the contrast between Swede’s loss of innocence and the childlike birthday celebrations. The bruises that Finch and Basca leave on Swede’s stomach, a reminder of the kidnapping and hurt, greatly differ from the joy and innocence of Swede’s 9th birthday the day after her attack. Swede finds joy in the Western-themed gifts she receives and, like a child, does not want to share her cookies with Tin Lurvy.

Jeremiah’s gift of the red paper balloon that the whole family casts off into the sky is symbolic of the family’s loss of innocence. Once an amicable family with little trouble, they find themselves in the midst of turmoil with the town’s biggest troublemakers. The balloon drifts away with the last of the Land’s peace.

Reuben’s fascination with his father’s miracles continues in the fourth chapter. Though he does not claim the never ending soup or the fixed saddle to be true miracles, it is clear that Reuben believes them to be the work of his father. Like Jeremiah’s previous miracles, Reuben is the only witness.

As a narrator Reuben breaks down the “fourth wall” to introduce the miracles. Breaking down the fourth wall is a literary term for a third person narrator directly addressing the reader. It comes from theater productions, which have three walls for the set and an invisible one separating the audience from the stage. When a character directly addresses the audience, he or she is said to break down the fourth wall. Reuben does this when he describes the never ending soup and the fixed saddle as he encourages the audience to “Make of it what you will” (p. 47). This simple device both draws in the reader to the story and boosts the reader’s trust in Reuben as a narrator in the same way that his skepticism did in the first chapter. Giving the reader agency to decide whether they judge the acts to be miracles aligns the reader further in to Reuben’s state of mind.