In Chapter Nine of A Separate Peace by John Knowles, the dismal world that the boys seem to inhabit under the umbrella of war is evident both in phrases and in tone as the boys wonder who will go off to war. Such phrases as
And all of us, influenced by the vacuum of his [Brinker's] absence, would have felt the touch of was as a daily fact.
...in the silences between jokes about Leper...the Sad Sack, the outcast or the coward.
The sky is an empty hopeless gray and gives the impression that this is its eternal shade.
Winter's occupation seems to have conquered, overrun and destroyed everything, so that now there is no longer any resistance movement left in nature; all the juices are dead, every sprig of vitality snapped, and now winter itself, an old corrupt, tired conqueror, loosens its grip on the deolation, recedes a little, grows careless in its watch; sick of victory and enfeebled by the absence of challenge, it begins itself to withdraw from the ruined countryside.
Only Phineas refuses to recognize the gloom and depression of the atmosphere. Gene states that Finny saw no war, no winter. Declaring the winter delightful, he inaugurates the Winter Carnival.
Chapter 9 concerns the boys' inability to grasp the reality of war. As Gene states,
Not that I ever believed that the whole production of World War II was a trick of the eye manipulated by a bunch of calculating fat old men, appealing though this idea was. What deceived me was my own happiness; for peace is indivisible and the surrounding world confusion found no reflection inside me. So I cease to have any real sense of it.
Even though Gene does not buy Finny's myth that the war is an illusion, his own happiness, later called "separate peace," makes him unable to fathom the reality of war.
The boys occupy themselves with stories about Leper's escapades in the ski troops while the war is raging. Finding quotes, therefore, that connote the negative aspects about war are difficult to find in this chapter.
However, their world at Devon is portrayed as bleak, especially since Chapter 9 occurs in the winter.
Saturday afternoons are terrible in a boys' school, especially in the winter.
This section goes on to describe the "dismal gurgling of dirty water seeping down pipes," shrubbery that "stands "bare and frail," a sky that is "an empty hopeless gray." In many ways this weather serves as a metaphor for the war. It is the reality that the boys attempt to escape through the Winter Carnival. The Winter Carnival is analogous to Devon. Devon, like the Winter Carnival, is a temporary escape for the harshness the boys will inevitably have to face.
Even as Finny tries mightily to create his "separate peace" in Chapter 9, reminders of the dismal implications of the war cannot be escaped. The narrative is peppered with references to the war and the gloomy weather, which serves as a metaphor for the bleak backdrop of what is going on in the world outside of Devon School. In the first paragraph of the chapter, while Gene begins his explanation of Finny's unique vision of peace, he acknowldges
"the surrounding world confusion"
which exists, but has no reflection inside him in light of Finny's alternate interpretation of the universe. Shortly thereafter, Gene describes
"the vacuum of his absence"
in talking about the void that will be left when their peers will inevitably leave or be summoned to participate in the dirty work of the war.
Gene goes on to delineate the boys' current liaison with World War II by using a series of phrases connected to the war,
"Hitler's life...the Tunisian campaign...the torpedoing of the Scharnhorst...Allied success(es) (at)...Stalingrad...Burman Road...Archangel...the Big Three."
Beneath their lighthearted facades, the boys wonder,
"whether (they)...would measure up to the humblest minimum standard of the army...(and) whether the still hidden parts of (them)selves might contain the Sad Sack, the outcast, or the coward."
The weather is reflective of the dismal world situation that hangs over them all. The
"late winter...snow has lost its novelty and its shine,"
"the dismal gurgling of dirty water,"
"the sky is an empty hopeless gray...battleship gray" (Chapter 9).
There is a particular passage in Chapter 9 that captures the bleak and dismal atmosphere at Devon. In it, Gene is describing the very end of winter before the arrival of spring. These excerpts from the passage are noteworthy:
- "a dismal gurgling of dirty water"
- "a gray seamy shifting beneath the crust of snow"
- "patches of frozen mud"
- "shrubbery . . . bare and frail" and "undernourished"
- "an empty hopeless gray" sky
Gene likes winter to an occupying army that has "conquered, overrun and destroyed everything." At Devon, "all the juices are dead, every sprig of vitality snapped . . . ."