A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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In A Separate Peace, who is the first boy at Devon school to enlist in the war?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Leper Lepellier is the first Devon student to enlist in World War II. As Finny explains earlier on in the novel, Leper is seventeen and should be a year ahead of the rest of the class. He is eligible to be drafted before the end of the school year.

Leper takes advantage of this eligibility to leave school early and enlist. He likes to long distance ski—Gene comes across him preparing to do this one day—and is taken by the idea of joining army skiers.

It is surprising that he is the first to enlist, and this makes the war seem even more unreal to Gene. He can hardly reconcile the idea of Leper, who studies snails and beaver dams, in the army. As it happens, Leper cannot bear the army and goes AWOL. He tells Gene he has left because he was going to get a Section Eight discharge as a "psycho."

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In a rather unexpected move, it is Leper that enlists in the war first.  Leper, enchanted by the war films about the "ski rescue troops," enlisted in the army, with hopes and dreams about skiing throughout Europe, enjoying the scenery and slopes, all in the glorious pursuit of rescuing lost souls from the war.  Leper, the nerdy kid who loves science and nature, watching beavers and being alone, seems like the last person cut out to fight in a war and fight against other people, but he is the one that is the first to join, enthusiastically.

As time will tell, Leper is indeed not cut out for the rigors of war.  His time in the army is not filled with peaceful journeys throughout winter wonderlands; basic training is hard, difficult, frightening and strenuous.  As with many young men who join up in the war effort with rather naive ideas about the time they will spend there, Leper realized that reality was much different than his expectations.  I hope that those thoughts help a bit; good luck!

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