What are some specific allusions in A Separate Peace?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An allusion is a literary device that makes a brief and generally indirect reference to a person, place, or significant historical event. An allusion shouldn't describe its reference in detail because it assumes that a reader has enough knowledge to identify the reference and understand its importance.

A Separate Peace ...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

An allusion is a literary device that makes a brief and generally indirect reference to a person, place, or significant historical event. An allusion shouldn't describe its reference in detail because it assumes that a reader has enough knowledge to identify the reference and understand its importance.

A Separate Peace contains multiple allusions throughout the text. Already in chapter one, Knowles is dropping allusions in front of readers. Gene is telling his readers about the summer session differences between the juniors and seniors. The seniors are being prepped for the draft and the war, while Gene and his friends are being subjected to reading Virgil. The final paragraph of this same chapter references Thomas Hardy and tells readers that Finny is amused by the names of specific characters.

. . . amused that there should be people named Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene.

Chapter 9 has an allusion to one of the various assassination attempts against Hitler. While readers can't possibly know which exact attempt this would refer to, Knowles is assuming that this information shouldn't come as a shock to readers.

One day in the Butt Room he read aloud a rumor in a newspaper about an attempt on Hitler’s life.

Chapter 4, paragraph 2 has a biblical reference to Lazarus after Gene watched Finny sleeping for a moment.

Phineas, still asleep on his dune, made me think of Lazarus, brought
back to life by the touch of God.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Knowles uses literary and Christian allusions (references) in A Separate Peace, showing that the students at the exclusive Devon school are steeped in Western culture.

Gene, for example, alludes to singing "A Mighty Fortress is our Home," a hymn by Martin Luther, and also mentions the German composer Beethoven, noting that Finny loved all kinds of music, from hymns to Beethoven. These allusions also suggest that though the US was at war with Germany, it was not traditional German culture the students felt they fought against, but the Nazis.

Finny asks Gene to read him some of the translating he is doing of Julius Caesar's work. Finny reads his translation of a part of Caesar's campaign against Gaul, summarizing it by saying "“He won it, if you really think there was a Gallic War . . . ” Although the text does not specify, Gene is probably reading Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico. As Gene mentions, Finny does not "believe" in Caesar or his wars—or in World War II.

As for further Christian allusions, Gene likens Finny to Lazarus, brought back to life by God's touch, and, in the same passage, likens the beach to paradise: "white and stainless, as pure as the shores of Eden."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Because the novel is set during World War II and is intrinsically connected to the war, historical allusions play a major role in the book.

Historical allusions: In Chapter 2, Finny discusses the bombing of Central Europe with the professors and their wives (26). Similarly, when Finny creates his own game in the same chapter, he decides to name it "blitzball" (37) in connection with the Blitzkrieg (Germany's lightning-fast invasion of Poland). Later in Chapter 7, Brinker teases Quackenbush about "Mussolini's" army, being a "kraut" (German), and Pearl Harbor (all references to America's WWII enemies or attacks--98). In Chapter 8, as Finny rants about the stupidity of enlisting (because he can no longer enlist), he mentions Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Yellow Peril (references to China and the leaders of what would eventually be Taiwan--109).  In a similar discussion about the war, Finny tells Gene that the "fat old men" are just making up the war to keep the younger generation from taking their jobs.  He is referencing stock market gurus and other wealthy tycoons who made money from WWII industry (115).

Knowles includes other historical allusions and literary ones (when he discusses the classes/subjects that the boys study).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team