What are some examples of Knowles's use of weather conditions in A Separate Peace to create a mood or atmosphere?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Weather used to reflect mood or emotion in a work of literature is called the pathetic fallacy. A fallacy is an example of false logic, so the term encompasses the idea that there is no logical connection between an emotion like sadness, and, say, rainy weather; but writers nevertheless love...

Get
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Weather used to reflect mood or emotion in a work of literature is called the pathetic fallacy. A fallacy is an example of false logic, so the term encompasses the idea that there is no logical connection between an emotion like sadness, and, say, rainy weather; but writers nevertheless love to use this fallacy because it makes intuitive, if not rational, sense.

Knowles uses the pathetic fallacy in the novel's opening when he writes:

—the icy clamp of winter, or the radiant New Hampshire summers, were more characteristic of it—but this day it blew wet, moody gusts all around me.

The wet, "moody" gusts Gene experiences are an outward manifestation of his mixed feelings and emotional turbulence as he returns to Devon after fifteen years. Moody gusts can be visualized as gray and misty, and Gene is about to descend into the misty realms of memory. (Mist often is associated with moving back in time in films.)

But weather can also act a symbol. Snow, for example, becomes, among things, a symbol of the "noiseless invader conquering" the illusory peace of Devon. Two examples of this are, first, Leper being lured into the disastrous decision of enlisting in the army because of the lure of films that convince him he can be part of a ski patrol, gliding through snowy landscapes in the midst of World War II. This turns out to be an illusion. Second, a snowball battle, seemingly innocent and childlike fun (and in which Leper is evoked) is a last moment of illusion in the novel as well as the harbinger of the mock "trial" that immediately follows.

Overall, Knowles uses weather to create an idyllic mood around Devon, as if it is protected from war and conflict, and at the same time shows this mood is illusory.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The novel begins with Gene's return to Devon after fifteen years. Knowles' description of the weather that day creates a somber tone and emphasizes Gene's emotional state. The day is cold and wet with gusty winds coming off the river. Gene walks through muddy ground. A fog hangs over the river, enveloping Gene and isolating him from everything except the river and the trees beside it.

In Chapter 4, Gene wakes up at the beach while Finny still sleeps. The dawn is not beautiful; it is strange and gray, "like sunshine through burlap." The ocean looks dead, the gray waves look dead and the beach looks gray and dead--a tone of foreboding. In sleep, Finny also looks dead, an example of foreshadowing.

In Chapter 6, fall comes to Devon. "Fall had barely touched the full splendor of the trees, and during the height of the day the sun briefly regained its summertime power." Yet there is an "edge of coolness to imply the coming winter." The atmosphere is one of quiet transition; summer still echoes, but the coming winter (literally and figuratively) cannot be avoided.

In Chapter 7, winter settles in as Devon is buried under several snows: "[T]he ground had been clamped under snow for the winter." The arrival of real winter parallels the arrival of the "real" war" at school: "In the same way [that winter arrived] the war . . . commenced its invasion of the school. The early snow was commandeered as its advance guard."

Finally, with the conclusion of the novel, summer returns to Devon with "a beautiful New England day."  Knowles writes that "Peace lay on Devon like a blessing, the summer's peace, the reprieve . . . ." The novel begins in cold rain and fog (Gene's emotional quest), but it ends in the warmth of another summer; Gene had survived the terrible year.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team