In A Separate Peace, what does Gene say causes him surpass himself in the Decathalon?
This event, which occurs in Chapter Nine, indicates the way in which the boys tried to create their own microcosm of a peaceful world based on liberty and illusion. Gene records how he surpassed himself in the athletic events the boys practiced together. Although they had some cider to begin with, he is very careful to explain that whilst this cider fed into the carnival atmosphere, this was not the reason for his athletic excellence, which he explains in the following way:
It wasn't the cider which made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the grey encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.
Gene's surpassing himself is therefore, by his own admission, a result of this "illusory, special and separate peace." The boys, trapped in a world that is consumed by talk of the war, have managed to carve out for themselves in this decathlon a kind of peace that gives them hope and allows them to achieve great things. However, it is important to note that this peace is only "momentary" and "illusory." They are not able to keep back the war forever.
Gene attributes surpassing himself in the decathlon where he and his friends, in the winter carnival they had organized, built for themselves a space of peace outside of the concerns of the outside world; namely, the Second World War, which they are experiencing the looming possibility of fighting in. A Separate Peace centers on the themes of finding a space of peace outside of the world and in this, escape from the realities of the war they will have to fight in once they reach adulthood.