A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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Chapter 1 Summary

Gene Forrester returns to the Devon School fifteen years after his matriculation. He is surprised that the school seems more "sedate" and "shiny" than he remembers it. He attributes this observation to the fact that when he was a student at Devon, there had been a war going on. It is a dreary November day, and Gene feels "fear's echo," a remembrance of the mood that overshadowed everything in those days. He is surprised to discover that, somewhere along the way, the fear has left him, without his even noticing. There are two places Gene particularly wants to see again; the first of these is the foyer of the First Academy Building. Gene notes the hardness of the marble floor in the foyer and the staircase leading down to it. It is unchanged, but he himself is "taller, bigger," successful now, and secure. Everything about the environment seems to have achieved a sense of harmony with the past, and Gene hopes that perhaps he too has reached that level of growth and reconciliation within himself.

Gene exits the First Academy Building and walks past the Field House and across the Playing Fields. He comes to the second place he had wanted to visit—the river, and a particularly tall and forbidding tree that grows on its bank. Gene is surprised to find that the tree he is searching for no longer stands out, and when he finally identifies it, it looks "weary from age, enfeebled, dry." Gene is thankful to have seen it and to realize that it no longer instills fear within him. He heads back, "changed;" it is time to let the fear go.

The tree had once been "tremendous, an irate, steely black steeple beside the river." Wooden pegs had been set on its trunk to allow for easy climbing, and from one particularly substantial limb, one could, "by a prodigious effort," jump out far enough to land safely in the water. Only Phineas, brash and charismatic, would have thought to suggest jumping from the tree that long ago summer of 1942. Gene and three others had been present when Finny boldly scrambled up the wooden pegs, stepped out on the branch, and leaped into the river. Goaded by...

(The entire section is 561 words.)