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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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Chapter 10 Summary

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By the time Gene was to have become a soldier, the war would be in its closing stages, and his "chief war memory" would be traveling back and forth "through unknown parts of America" in an endless "nighttime ricochet." The first of these excursions is his trip to Leper's home in the austere, frozen landscape of upstate Vermont. The Lepellier home is not far from the nearest town, but as there are no taxis or other means of transportation there, Gene must walk the last leg of his journey. When he arrives at his destination, he finds that Leper is waiting for him, standing in one of the "long and narrow windows" that adorn the front of the house. When Gene enters the doorway, Leper beckons him to the dining room which he says, without preamble, is the place where he spends most of his time. Leper finds the dining room to be comforting, as opposed to the living room, because "you never wonder what's going to happen" there.

Gene finds that Leper's demeanor is markedly changed; he no longer exhibits "the careful politeness" and innocence that characterized him at Devon. Leper's face has a "dull expression," and there is an involuntary tic on the left side. Leper is quickly reduced to tears as he bitterly confesses that he did not receive a "pass" to come home; he has instead deserted in a desperate attempt to avoid a Section Eight discharge, which would have declared him mentally unfit for duty and stigmatized him for life. With an attitude of complete despair, Leper tells Gene that his experiences during the past weeks have forced him to admit a lot of things to himself, including the fact that Gene, whom he had always thought of as "a swell guy," is really "a savage that time (he) knocked Finny out of that tree."

Gene reacts violently to Leper's blunt accusation, knocking the hysterical boy's chair over while he continues spewing forth damning comments about the incident, simultaneously laughing and crying with wild incoherence. Leper's mother, alerted by the uproar, comes in at this point, and Gene apologizes, saying that he had better be going, but Leper, still chuckling, asks him to stay. Too ashamed now to leave, Gene stays for lunch and, to his further embarrassment, finds that he is famished, and consumes a great deal while Leper eats "almost nothing." Mrs. Lepellier, mollified because Gene apparently likes her cooking, suggests that the boys take a walk after their meal. As they tramp across the snow-covered fields, Leper, with a tone of bitter irony, relates to Gene how military life turned out to be nothing at all like what he had expected it to be.

Leper had been sent first to a "reception center" and then to boot camp, where he had been unable to adjust to the rigors of the strictly regimented schedule. The food had been completely unpalatable, and at night, he had been unable to sleep because his bunkmate coughed "like his stomach was going to come up." Leper had found himself paradoxically starving at all times except during meals and falling asleep everywhere except on his cot at night. Exhausted and traumatized in a harsh, demanding environment that was alien to his nature, Leper had begun to hallucinate. His breakdown became complete when his corporal began speaking to him one day, but he had been unable to make out what was happening. Before his eyes, his superior's face "kept changing into faces (he) knew from somewhere else." When it changed into a woman's face, he began screaming so that others would see it too. Leper goes on and on, describing psychotic visions of misplaced body parts and utter confusion, until Gene can take it no more. Gene shouts at Leper to "shut up," telling him that the things he is talking about have nothing to do with him. Completely discomfited, Gene runs out of the house and back to town. He never wants to hear such a terrible and gory account of reality again.

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