Identify the use of symbols in "A Separatre Peace".

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is really several questions in one, I think, so I will address one literary element, that of symbolism.   There are two prominent symbols in the novel, the tree and the steps. You will no doubt find that different people have different interpretations of these particular symbols, but that is why the study of literature is so interesting! 

The tree operates as a symbol in many ways.  It symbolizes Finney's ambivalence toward his new friend, Finney, it symbolizes Finney's fears, and it symbolizes Finney's courage and magnificent athleticism.  The tree is also, I think, a symbol of growth and maturity, and, of course, the tree is a symbol of death in the story and, it is to be hoped, a symbol of regeneration of hope.

The steps are a symbol of death, too.  But on another level, since they go up and down, they operate as a symbol of our hopes of reaching the top and our fear of falling.  In other words, the upward and downward direction of steps is a symbol of life itself, isn't it. 

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A Separate Peace

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