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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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Chapter 9 Summary

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Although Gene does not ever believe Finny's assertion that "the whole production of World War II (is) a trick of the eye manipulated by a bunch of calculating fat old men," he is drawn into Finny's "vision of peace" nonetheless. The happiness he derives from the delusion is so great that he is not even shaken when Leper Lepellier, an unlikely candidate, becomes the first to enlist among his classmates. Early in January, a recruiter from the United States ski troops had come to Devon and shown a film depicting "the cleanest image of war (Gene) had ever seen." Leper, who will shortly turn eighteen and lose his chance to choose the branch of the military in which he will serve, is enchanted by the images of "skiers in white shrouds" winging their way down pristine slopes; he makes his decision, and is gone. Leper's enlistment at first makes the war seem even more unreal to the classmates he has left behind, as they cannot reconcile the idea of the quirky, gentle-spirited boy becoming a soldier. Soon, however, Leper becomes their "liaison with World War II." Under the leadership of Brinker, they imagine Leper as being intimately involved in the key events reported in the news. Everyone begins to contribute to the tales of his great exploits except Phineas. Finny fastidiously avoids any talk having to do with the critical events of the times, and creates a world of his own where there is no war, drawing only Gene along with him.

Late winter Saturday afternoons are especially boring and depressing at the school, and to alleviate the dreary mood, Finny organizes the Devon Winter Carnival. Although the students have become increasingly apathetic about anything civilian, they succumb to Finny's unbounded enthusiasm for the project and grudgingly take part. On the Saturday of the scheduled event, the necessary props are set up by the boys at the small park on the bank of the Naguamsett River. Their most "cautiously guarded treasure" includes several jugs of "very hard cider" which they have somehow managed to obtain, and which they have buried in the snow at the center of the park for safekeeping. Around the cider, "sloppy statues" made of snow and parodying the various masters are arranged, along with a large, circular classroom table on which an eccentric variety of prizes are to be displayed. The prizes include Finny's old icebox, a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary "with all the most stimulating words marked," and a copy of the Iliad with the English translation of each sentence conveniently provided. Phineas sits in the place of honor at the table, completely preoccupied with the task of arranging the prizes. After an abstracted word from him, the now anxious boys gather around in anticipation and rush at Brinker, who is guarding the cider. Momentary chaos ensues, and the games open with the uproarious imbibing of alcohol and the ritualistic burning of the copy of the Iliad as a symbolic representation of the Olympic torch. Intoxicated by the cider and their own exuberance, the boys celebrate the event with abandon, as Finny leaps upon the table, "springing and spinning from one bare space to another" among the prizes in an unfettered "choreography of peace." At the end of this demonstration, he directs "our Olympic candidate Gene Forrester" through a variety of paces designed to qualify him for the future event, after which Gene is crowned with a wreath made from the boughs of an evergreen tree.

The Winter Carnival is a resounding success, expressing a liberation "torn from the gray encroachments of 1943." From the shadow of war, the boys have achieved a "momentary, illusory, special and separate peace." The mood is suddenly and irrevocably shattered, however, when a telegram arrives for Gene. It is from Leper, who has "escaped and need(s) help...(his) safety depends on (Gene) coming at once."

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