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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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In chapter 10 of A Separate Peace, Gene says, "Fear seized my stomach like a cramp." What's he describing in this simile?

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In chapter ten of A Separate Peace, Gene visits his friend Leper who has gone AWOL (absent without leave) from the army. The telegram that Gene received from Leper in chapter nine says that he "escaped" and asks that Gene visit him at his home. Curious, Gene takes a train up to Vermont to see Leper and discovers that he's definitely not himself after experiencing the army for a few short weeks. At the beginning of their conversation, Gene naturally asks questions to discover the meaning behind Leper's odd telegram and behavior. He asks what Leper means by "escaped" the army because it isn't normal to escape the army. Leper responds as follows:

"Normal . . . You're thinking I'm  not normal, aren't you? I can see what you're thinking—I see a lot I never saw before. . . you're thinking I'm psycho" (143). 

The context behind what Leper says is rather complex for Gene to digest. He quickly thinks of the word psycho and thinks Leper got that word somewhere far from Devon or Vermont. It's this creepy word psycho that sends Gene to thinking, "Fear seized my stomach like a cramp" (144). This simile seems to show Gene's adrenaline rocketing into his stomach in response to the fear he feels; and just as a cramp hurts, it can also cause one to stop what he's doing at the moment in order to relieve the pain. Therefore, Gene's reaction to this fear is felt in his stomach, which then stops him like a cramp. Another way to put it is Gene experiences the abstract feeling of fear mentally and physically, as if it were in his stomach, paralyzing him.

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