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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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In A Separate Peace, what does Gene attribute his Decathlon success to?

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Gene attributed his success in the Decathlon of Devon's Winter Carnival to the completely uninhibited freedom the boys captured for that afternoon. For that brief span of time, they were able to escape the effects of the war, their impending involvements in it, and alll the cares and conflicts it created.

It wasn't the cider which made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.

For that period of time, the boys were able to act as carefree boys without needing to devote their efforts to preparing to assume their roles in the war. They didn't need to be planning which branch of the military they would enter, they didn't need to give consideration to what type of involvement would give them the greatest chance of survival. For that afternoon, they were still free to dream.

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In A Separate Peace, what does Gene say causes him surpass himself in the Decathalon?

This event, which occurs in Chapter Nine, indicates the way in which the boys tried to create their own microcosm of a peaceful world based on liberty and illusion. Gene records how he surpassed himself in the athletic events the boys practiced together. Although they had some cider to begin with, he is very careful to explain that whilst this cider fed into the carnival atmosphere, this was not the reason for his athletic excellence, which he explains in the following way:

It wasn't the cider which made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the grey encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.

Gene's surpassing himself is therefore, by his own admission, a result of this "illusory, special and separate peace." The boys, trapped in a world that is consumed by talk of the war, have managed to carve out for themselves in this decathlon a kind of peace that gives them hope and allows them to achieve great things. However, it is important to note that this peace is only "momentary" and "illusory." They are not able to keep back the war forever.

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In A Separate Peace, what does Gene say causes him surpass himself in the Decathalon?

Gene attributes surpassing himself in the decathlon where he and his friends, in the winter carnival they had organized, built for themselves a space of peace outside of the concerns of the outside world; namely, the Second World War, which they are experiencing the looming possibility of fighting in. A Separate Peace centers on the themes of finding a space of peace outside of the world and in this, escape from the realities of the war they will have to fight in once they reach adulthood. 

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In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, to what does Gene attribute his surpassing himself in the Decathlon?

In chapter nine of A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Finny does what he does best--he creates excitement and fun where there normally is none. It is winter at the Devon school, and Saturdays are typically pretty dreary and boring. Finny decides to orchestrate the Devon Winter Carnival. 

The boys are not particularly enthusiastic about the endeavor, but they eventually participate and even enjoy themselves, partially helped by the illegal cider. Their activities are varied and their prizes are, well, unique. The day belongs to Finny, and one of the things he wants is for Gene to perform a series of actions which will demonstrate Gene's fitness to participate in the next Olympics--the one that even the boys should know is never going to happen because of the war. 

It is a decathlon, of sorts, and Gene performs admirably. Finny rewards him by crowning him with his version of a laurel wreath. Gene is the narrator of this novel, and he tells us that it was not the cider which caused him to perform so well. Instead, he says,

[i]t was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peaceā€¦.

The specter of war is looming over all the boys at Devon (and presumably everywhere else in the country), and this diversion was a time of freedom from that. Gene was not weighed down by the heaviness of dread nor by Finny's insistence that Gene must train for an Olympics that is not going to happen. For a time he is free, and this freedom allows him to be successful and happy, forgetting that the future is rather dismal and uncertain.

Of course this kind of elation is short-lived because at the end of the Carnival a telegram arrives which announces that Leper, the only boy from the group who is actually in the war, has gone AWOL (absent without leave) and in trouble. 

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