In A Separate Peace, how does Leper's telegram contrast with the Winter Carnival?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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One of the dynamics of the novel is found in the relationship between the boys and the war. During the Summer Session, World War II seems very far away from them, but when school begins in the fall and the year wears on, the war becomes a more realistic and threatening presence in their lives; it seems to move closer and closer to Devon. The boys feel the pressure and deal with their fears in different ways. The Winter Carnival, with its games and silliness and cider, represents a brief respite from the stress, a time when they can simply be young and unburdened by the realities of the war that waits for them. Gene remembers it as a time of "liberation":

. . . it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.

Leper is not present to enjoy the Winter Carnival. As the first to enlist, he has gone to the war, and his absence is often noted. Leper is never very far away from the boys' thoughts since he has faced what they all fear. They are not thinking of Leper, however, during the Winter Carnival.

When Brownie Perkins returns from the dorm with the telegram for Gene, no one associates it with Leper. Gene describes in detail the arrival of the telegram:

. . . Finny cried hilariously, "A telegram for Gene? It's the Olympic Committee. They want you! Of course they want you! Give it to me, Brownie, I'll read it aloud to this assembled host." And it was [my sense of liberation] which drained away as I watched Finny's face pass through all the gradations between uproariousness and shock.

Leper's unexpected telegram is very distressing, and its effects are immediate. Gene's joy "drained away," and Finny moves from hilarity to shock. Leper's telegram destroys the momentary "illusion" of peace created by the Winter Carnival and abruptly returns the boys to reality.

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