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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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In Knowles's A Separate Peace, what would be the significant ideas, or universal meaning, of the paragraph that starts, "We reached the beach late in the afternoon..." (38)? I need help understanding why Knowles put this paragraph in the book as it is supposed to have a purpose. I am also not sure what he wants the reader to take away from this paragraph. The paragraph is describing Gene being in the ocean and describing the power of the waves. I have absolutely no idea what the paragraph is supposed to mean?

The waves in this paragraph are compared to the adult life that Gene is about to face. The waves are strong, and it is almost like he cannot control them. This represents the aspects of life over which man has no control that can confront us at any time.

Expert Answers

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Knowles uses weather and nature to symbolize elements in life over which man has no control. Humans can make choices to lead their lives in directions that will make them happy; but, there are uncontrollable elements that can be obstacles for those choices. In this paragraph, the waves are the natural element that Gene cannot control. His choice is to have some fun riding the waves, but they are too strong and practically spit him out on the shore. The waves could represent the adult life that Gene is facing at age 17. Life, to Gene, may see a bit stronger for him to tackle, just like the waves. Sometimes, when we strive to find a bit of peace and relaxation in a moment, we are reminded that there are always natural elements of life that can confront us at any time. These elements can be natural, but they can also be social or political--such as friendship and war-- that are also present in the novel. Many teens face the same feelings that Gene felt while playing in the ocean; "it was immeasurably bigger than I was" and they discover how small they are compared to the world around them.

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