In A Separate Peace, describe the dramatic setting and tell what it symbolizes.Specifically, Knowles uses the first building, its marble staircase, and the assembly room as a dramatic setting.

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jessecreations eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The marble staircase is significant because of several things.  First of all, the marble itself is old, but not overly worn in; this symbolizes the age of the school and the traditions, but also the way it seems like it's all new when you are a student there.  The most significant part of the staircase is Finny's fall after the trial. 

In the beginning of the novel, Gene goes back to the school and sees the staircase, noting that the marble is extremely hard.  In an episode of foreshadowing, he says that "it was surprising that [he] had overlooked that, that crucial fact" about the hardness of the marble (p. 11).  Later, we see how that staircase caused Finny to break his leg a second time, and the hardness of the marble would have played a role in that incident.

Later in the book, but before Finny's accident, Gene realizes the danger of the campus for someone on crutches or using a cane.  He says that "everywhere, except in the dormitories, the floors and stairs were of smooth, slick marble, more treacherous even than the icy walks" (p. 111).  Again, we have a moment of foreshadowing to clue us in that Finny's injuries are not over yet.

Finny falls down that staircase after the trial, after learning of Gene's treachery.  It is as if he has lost the best part of himself - his vigor and athleticism - when he finds out the truth about his best friend.  His fall seems to symbolize that loss, and his devastation upon learning the truth.

brooke-logan15 | Student

The first building symbolizes the school's age, the marble staircase symbolizes the schol's traditions, and the assembly hall symbolizes a courtroom.

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A Separate Peace

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