In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, to what does Gene attribute his surpassing himself in the Decathlon?  

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter nine of A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Finny does what he does best--he creates excitement and fun where there normally is none. It is winter at the Devon school, and Saturdays are typically pretty dreary and boring. Finny decides to orchestrate the Devon Winter Carnival. 

The boys are not particularly enthusiastic about the endeavor, but they eventually participate and even enjoy themselves, partially helped by the illegal cider. Their activities are varied and their prizes are, well, unique. The day belongs to Finny, and one of the things he wants is for Gene to perform a series of actions which will demonstrate Gene's fitness to participate in the next Olympics--the one that even the boys should know is never going to happen because of the war. 

It is a decathlon, of sorts, and Gene performs admirably. Finny rewards him by crowning him with his version of a laurel wreath. Gene is the narrator of this novel, and he tells us that it was not the cider which caused him to perform so well. Instead, he says,

[i]t was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace….

The specter of war is looming over all the boys at Devon (and presumably everywhere else in the country), and this diversion was a time of freedom from that. Gene was not weighed down by the heaviness of dread nor by Finny's insistence that Gene must train for an Olympics that is not going to happen. For a time he is free, and this freedom allows him to be successful and happy, forgetting that the future is rather dismal and uncertain.

Of course this kind of elation is short-lived because at the end of the Carnival a telegram arrives which announces that Leper, the only boy from the group who is actually in the war, has gone AWOL (absent without leave) and in trouble. 

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A Separate Peace

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