Illustration of two pairs of legs standing on the branch of a large tree

A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

Start Free Trial

 In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, how does Phineas and Gene react after Leper enlists in the army?

Expert Answers

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

Leper leaves the Devon school to enlist in a skiing corps that he had seen on a newsreel in chapter nine. Since Leper wasn't very popular or athletic, none of the other boys in the school rallied behind Leper by enlisting for themselves. Gene points out that had Brinker enlisted first, there probably would have been more of a patriotic eruption of enlistments at that point. Rather, there was silence, as if no one cared that Leper had gone, until the boys started talking about it one day in the smoking room. Everyone started joking about how heroic Leper would be, or turn out to be, as they smoked. Phineas, the natural positive thinker, actually responded with, "If someone gave Leper a loaded gun and put it at Hitler's temple, he'd miss"(127). Hence, Phineas reacts to Leper's enlistment with negativity and even more denial as to the existence of the war.

Gene, on the other hand realistically wonders, "I did not know everything there was to know about [the war] myself, and knew that I did not know it; I wondered in the silences between jokes about Leper whether the still hidden parts of myself might contain the Sad Sack, the outcast, or the coward"(127). By these two accounts, it seems that Phineas reacts with denial and Gene reacts with realistic inquisitiveness about his possible future role in the war. Phineas even goes as far as to create a winter carnival to pass the wintertime blues away in a more positive attitude. Phineas does not want to face the facts of the war at all; nor does he want to spend time wondering about something that more than likely won't happen for him. The war's realities seem to face the boys more directly when Leper leaves, but the fact remains that the boys are still seniors in high school waiting for their time to be called into enlistment.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial