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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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How do natural settings contrast or complement themes in certain scenes?

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Knowles uses contrasts between natural settings or events to add to the highlighting of differences between the seemingly peaceful surroundings of Devon School and the youth of its students with the expanding wartime mentality of the outside world.

For Gene, Finny, and the others attending Summer Session, jumping out of the tree into the river was the initiation rite and the official opening ritual for the nightly meetings of the Super Suicide Society - an act of youthful exuberance. When the Winter Session started, however, the Seniors would jump out of that same tree for a very different reason: they were practicing what to do if they were on a troop ship which had been torpedoed.

The first snow of the Winter Session provided another opportunity to demonstrate the many ways in which natural events were interpreted in varying ways by various individuals. The arrival of the snow was beautiful and harmless in appearance.

suddenly there were big flakes twirling down into the quadrangle, settling on the carefully pruned shrubbery bordering the crosswalks, the three elms still holding many of their leaves, the still-green lawns.

When the snow continued and closed the railroad, many of the Devon students seized the opportunity to earn some money and avoid classes by volunteering to shovel out the tracks. Not Leper, of course - on their way toward the train that would take them to the work site, Gene spies Leper skiing in the snow, reveling in the activity and searching for a beaver dam.

Gene and the boys who work shoveling out the train tracks quickly get hot and dirty. The moment of celebration when the tracks are finally cleared ends with a sobering realization.

All of us lined both sides of the track and got ready to cheer the engineer and passengers. The coach windows were open and the passengers surprisingly were hanging out; they were all men, I could discern, all young, all alike. It was a troop train.

As the Devon boys came to grips with the fact that this was what was in their future, the sense of adventure from the beginning of the afternoon finished disappearing. Leper enlisted because he wanted to be part of the ski troops, perceiving that option as an evolutionary step beyond the touring he loved.

It's all right to miss seeing the trees and the countryside and all the other things when you've got to be in a hurry. And when you're in a War you've got to be in a hurry. Don't you? So I guess maybe racing skiers weren't ruining the sport after all. They were preparing it, if you see what I mean, for the future.

Unfortunately, Leper wasn't prepared or able to handle a future spent in the Army. His mental breakdown in the face of the requirements and expectations and regimentation of the military is in stark contrast with the white beauty of the snow he thought he was going to experience.

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