In A Separate Peace, what effect does the war have on Devon?
At first, Devon serves as a sort of escape from World War II for the main characters. They are too young to enlist, so they continue with their studies in relative peace. Gene looks back on an idyllic summer at Devon in which he and Phineas (Finny) became best friends. Later, of course, readers learn that Gene is possibly to blame for an incident that paralyzes Finny and strains their friendship. The following fall semester at school is more tense, and outside of Devon, the war is intensifying and growing closer, both literally and figuratively for the students. Some of the students declare that they will enlist. Wanting to escape the guilt he feels, Gene is drawn to the idea of enlisting in the war. Some of the other boys at the school also say they will enlist when they reach the minimum age. A member of Gene's social circle named Leper goes to war and then is affected by (possibly) PTSD. When Gene visits him after the war, it seems Leper has lost his mind. He seems irretrievably broken by his war experiences. War is connected to the drama between the characters, as well, because of the fact that Finny cannot enlist in the war. It was a time when most Americans wanted to do their part in the war effort. Finny was formerly very athletic and potent, and he would have been a natural solider. However, his injury makes him ineligible, so Gene's actions also cost Finny a chance to contribute to the war. Late in the novel, students become involved in the war effort by doing small tasks near campus. Although the war is mostly in the background of A Separate Peace, its looming effects are seen on the characters.
World War II has a profound effect on the entire campus of Devon throughout the novel. Initially, Gene and Finny enjoy their last summer session at Devon before entering the draft like the class before them. Since the war does not directly affect Gene's class—they are too young to be drafted—they enjoy a carefree summer. However, when they return to Devon, they notice that five of the younger teachers have gone to war. Knowles writes, "Peace had deserted Devon" (35). The atmosphere around Devon also begins to change as the faculty make the students participate in the "Emergency Usefulness" policy. Everyone volunteers, with the students harvesting apples and shoveling railroads in order to help the war effort. Gene and the other students at Devon contemplate leaving school early in order to enlist in the Army, something that Leper does and subsequently regrets. The war is also a common topic of conversation throughout the campus. Certain students focus on becoming future war heroes, while others, like Finny, attempt to dismiss what is happening overseas. By the end of the school year, the Far Common transforms into a hub for recruiting. Jeeps are stationed throughout the Far Common as different branches of the armed forces attempt to attract future soldiers. At the end of the novel, Gene says,
"I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there" (Knowles, 110).
The war's effect on Devon is similar to its effect on the boys. When Gene returns to Devon after his break and after visiting Finny, he observes that some of the younger professors are gone--called up for the war.
Most importantly, Gene mentions that "peace had deserted Devon" (72). While this is partly a result of the war, it is also caused by Finny's absence and the brewing "war" within Gene.