Describe the structure of the sentences in the first two paragraphs in A Separate Peace. Why are they effective? Use quotes from the book to explain.
The first two paragraphs of the book are marked by a first person narrator, who speaks in long, complex sentences. This establishes one point of view from which the story will be told. It also constructs a stream-of-consciousness technique, in which the audience is witness to Gene's thoughts as they occur. For example:
I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before. It seemed more sedate than I remembered it, more perpendicular and straight-laced, with narrower windows and shinier woodwork, as though a coat of varnish had been put on everything for better preservation. But, of course, fifteen years before there had been a war going on. Perhaps the school wasn’t as well kept up in those days; perhaps varnish, along with everything else, had gone to war.
In this first paragraph, Gene is reflecting on his experiences at the school through the technique of description. The length of the sentences shows how he is thinking through each detail, building a picture of Devon in his mind to contrast what he sees before him. He also personifies the school, which suggests that it too may act as a character in the novel.
The next paragraph carries this length, while contrasting with the picture in the first:
I didn't entirely like this glossy new surface, because it made the school look like a museum, and that's exactly what it was to me, and what I did not want it to be. In the deep, tacit way in which feeling becomes stronger than thought, I had always felt that the Devon School came into existence the day I entered it, was vibrantly real while I was a student there, and then blinked out like a candle the day I left.
These sentences are almost run-on, like Gene's thoughts are tripping over themselves as he struggles to explain what the school meant to him. The simile of "blinked out like a candle" implies some kind of sudden change or transformation in the school, and foreshadows Finny's sudden death. Overall, these two paragraphs establish Gene's style of narration, and clue the audience into the fact that he may not be telling the complete truth.