What was hanging in Leper’s window in A Separate Peace? What did it signify?

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dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Behind the front window in Leper's house, there hangs a gold star. The star announces to the world that "a son of the house (is) serving the country."

Gene notices the gold star when he journeys to the Lepellier residence after being summoned by a cryptic telegram from Leper. Leper, enchanted by the descriptions of life in the ski troops branch of the military, had recently enlisted, and Gene and his Devon School classmates had not heard from him until Gene received the telegram. The telegram said,

"I HAVE ESCAPED AND NEED HELP...I AM AT CHRISTMAS LOCATION...MY SAFETY DEPENDS ON YOU COMING AT ONCE."

Understanding that by "Christmas location," Leper is referring to his home in upstate Vermont, and Gene goes there immediately. As he approaches the "brittle-looking Vermont house, white...with long and narrow windows like New England faces," Gene notices the gold star in one window, and Leper himself standing in another. The juxtaposition of the two images, the star and Leper, communicates an ominous fact. Leper, a "son of the house," is supposed to be serving in the military, but obviously, he is at home.  Something is very much awry, and Gene is soon to learn that Leper, unable to handle the reality of war and soldiering, has suffered a mental breakdown, and is away without leave (Chapter 10).

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