How does the tree's appearance surprise the narrator in "A Separate Peace"?
I know it's at the beginning of the book. I'm pretty sure it's Chapter 1. Didn't start answering my questions as i read the answers untill about chapter 3.
When, Gene, the narrator, returns to Devon, it is to make peace with his past. The tree is an essential element in his quest. In Chap. One, Knowles sets the scene for the narrator seeing the tree where he committed his greatest sin, the betrayal of his friend. The tree, in Gene's mind, is likened to an "artillery piece," a metaphor for the destruction it caused in both Gene's and Finny's lives.
Gene finally identifies the tree "by means of certain small scars rising along its trunk." The tree is personified much as the narrator, scarred and battle worn. Gene is scarred by his past and his avoidance of this past. The tree, paradoxically, symbolizes the youthful challenge the boys faced, and at the same time, the rivalry between the two main characters. As an adult, the tree's appearance surprises Gene, because, after all, it is just a tree and not imbued with the characteristics of power or evil which he had attributed to it as a boy.
In the narrator's mind, the tree is huge, "tremendous, an irate, steely black steeple beside the river". When he returns to Devon many years later to look for it, he is shocked to find that there is a whole grove of trees standing on the river bank, and "any one of them might have been the one (he is) looking for...unbelievable that there were other trees which looked like it here". When he finally does determine which is the particular tree he is looking for, he finds it "not merely smaller in relation to (his) growth, but...absolutely smaller, shrunken by age".
When the narrator had attended Devon as a youth, the tree had seemed a frightening thing, and the tragic events that took place in and around it were not something easily forgotten. When he sees the tree again as an adult, he is surprised by its unimposing appearance. The tree seems "weary from age, enfeebled, dry", and makes the narrator realize that "nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence". Seeing the tree and its physical insignificance now enables the narrator to realize that what had happened there so long ago is over, and it is time to let go of the guilt and trauma he still feels inside. As the narrator says so succinctly after weeing the tree again, "anybody could see it was time to come in out of the rain" (Chapter 1).