In A Separate Peace, why do you think the author used an all-boys' prep school as a setting for the story, and why did he use the time period?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A look at the author's background might provide at least a partial understanding about why the author used an all-boys' prep school as a setting for his story, and why he set the story in the time period of World War II. John Knowles attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, a prestigious all-boys' school upon which Devon School is based. Having been born in 1926, Knowles himself was of military age during the War years, and would have been intimately affected, like the boys in A Separate Peace, by the climate of the times. Although the book is a work of fiction, many of the characters and events are based upon Knowles' real-life experiences. In an interview with the New York Times, the author acknowledges that there really was a group called "The Super Suicide Society" at Exeter during his tenure there, and that the members of the society really did jump from a high tree into a river.

That having been said, I believe it should also be noted that the setting of an all-boys' prep school and a time frame during World War II are eminently effective in advancing the story's major theme, which involves growing up in times of war. Because they are, for the most part, the ones who are expected to do the actual fighting, young men's lives are particularly and uniquely impacted by events during wartime, and by using the boys at Devon School, the author is able to explore in depth multiple facets of this phenomenon, including themes of courage, belonging, peer pressure, and awareness of reality

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A Separate Peace

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