A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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Chapter 6 Summary

With the beginning of the Winter Session, peace officially deserts Devon. Formality and order replace the easygoing aura of summer, and at the first chapel service, the masters sit in their stalls in front of and at right angles to the student body, as if "they (have) never been away." Continuity is the keynote of the ceremony, although five of the regular teachers are missing because they have gone to war, and it is announced that maids will be unavailable "for the Duration." Gene reflects that the assertion that the traditions of Devon have never been broken is a fallacy; during the summer, "all rules (had been) forgotten." Still, that halcyon time had ended with Phineas's accident, and Gene recognizes that perhaps that tragedy proved the necessity of rules after all. The summer has changed Gene irrevocably, and he is loathe to give up the innocence and freedom of the time, as symbolized by Leper Lepellier's "creeping ivy and snails," to reenter the world of power and intrigue, as represented by the neat and orderly files of the year's "dominant student," Brinker Hadley.

All students are required to participate in a sport during the term, and Gene signs up to be the assistant manager of the crew team. The job is a "nonentity," usually filled by boys with some kind of physical disability. Gene, wounded in spirit by the knowledge of his culpability in Finny's accident, reflects that his trouble cannot be detected by the naked eye. Gene finds that his hopes of simply performing his duties "like the automaton (he) wishe(s) to be" are not to be fulfilled, when he is challenged by the crew manager, Cliff Quackenbush. The two boys fight, falling into the brackish Naguamsett River, and Gene is dismissed from his position as assistant manager before he even begins. As he trudges away from the Crew House, wet...

(The entire section is 634 words.)