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The Winter Carnival creates the "special illusory and separate peace" that lends the novel its title. The boys create an escape through sports that removes them not only from the reality of the war, but from there lives at Devon as well. The games, along with a little spiked cider create a feeling of happieness and comradery that, although fleeting, highlights the innocence of the boys. Leper's telegram interrupts this celebratory feeling, literally penetrating the sheltering walls of the school as the war will soon. The telegram is ironic because Leper should have been among the boys at the carnival; instead he is traumatized by his brief experience with the army. The telegram is cryptic but Gene understands that Leper is home in Vermont. Gene travels to Vermont by train in the next chapter - notice the language Knowles uses to describe this journey into the cold night.
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