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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles
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Use descriptive writing to describe the sights and sounds at Devon Winter Carnival in chapter 9 of A Separate Peace. Use your senses to find evidence and describe Gene's surroundings.

The sights and sounds at the Devon Winter Carnival include the snow sculptures built in a circle in near a group of evergreens in a small park near a river. Brinker's cider and Finny's round table are in front of the evergreens. The boys talk and Chet blows his trumpet. The day is cold and damp. The snow statues are melting. There are no scent images, but aggressive contact images surround the stampede for the cider.

Expert Answers

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As your prompt notes, description is not telling a story (which is narrative) but using imagery that employs the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

Smell does not come into the description of the unauthorized winter carnival Finny organizes, and taste is only alluded to. As is often the case with description, the vast majority in this scene is visual.

Below I have listed some visual, aural (sound), and touch imagery that you can use to build a descriptive paragraph.

Visual: the carnival takes places in a small public park on the banks of the Naguamsett River. A series of snow statues are built around the cider buried in front of a group of evergreen trees in the center of the park. Near the cider, Finny sits behind a heavy circular classroom table at a carved black walnut chair. It looks somewhat like a throne, with lions paws carved at the ends of the arms and the legs. The paws at the bottom of the chair sit in the snow. The table and chair look out of place in this natural, snowy setting. We learn that the table is cluttered with weird prizes:

—Finny’s icebox, hidden all these months in the dormitory basement, a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary with all the most stimulating words marked, a set of York barbells, the Iliad with the English translation of each sentence written above it, Brinker’s file of Betty Grable photographs, a lock of hair cut under duress from the head of Hazel Brewster, the professional town belle, a handwoven rope ladder with the proviso that it should be awarded to someone occupying a room on the third floor or higher, a forged draft registration card, and $4.13 from the Headmaster’s Discretionary Benevolent Fund.

Behind the evergreen trees a small slope has been fashioned into a ski ramp.

Sound images: Other than the talk of the boys, the main sound image is Chet blowing into a trumpet. This makes the sound of a "barbaric call of a bullfight."

Taste images: we don't get a direct taste description of the cider, but Gene "chokes" on tasting it (a visual and aural image). Brinker's eyes bug out when Gene pours it down his throat, another visual image. Both images, however, suggest that the cider is strong and bad-tasting.

Touch images: Weather is a touch image because we feel hot or cold on our skin. The snow sculptures are described as melty, indicating it is a day perhaps hovering just above freezing. Perhaps it is cold but not bitterly so. There are visual contact images of the boys tackling Brinker to get to the cider and aggressive contact images in Gene's actions:

the circle of boys broke wildly over Brinker. He flailed back against the evergreens ... I got one of the jugs, elbowed off a counterattack .... [and] went through with my original plan by stopping Brinker’s mouth with it.

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