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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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What does the phrase "a separate peace" mean in the context of A Separate Peace, particularly in relation to the Devon Winter Carnival?

Finny organizes his own version of the Olympic games as part of his Devon Winter Carnival. After finishing a decathlon, Gene says, “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.”

Quick answer:

The phrase "a separate peace" is used to describe the feeling of freedom and specialness the boys feel on their Winter Carnival day. The use of the word "liberation" and the specific call to attention of 1943's encroachments makes me think the quote is specifically referencing World War II.

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The phrasing of this question makes the answer subjective and up to individual readers. Your answer needs to explain what "a separate peace" means to you. The quote provided appears about two-thirds of the way through book. It's possible to take a couple different angles as to what the phrase might mean. I think it is definitely possible that you could apply the phrase to Gene and Finny's relationship at certain points in the novel, but I don't think that makes sense based on the quote. The usage of the word "liberation" and the specific call to attention of 1943's encroachments makes me think the quote is specifically referencing World War II.

The boys at Devon know about the war. They know that they are likely to participate in it. They know people that have or are participating in it. The world is completely focused on the horror that is happening in Europe, and the fear is oppressive and constant. Devon itself exists in a metaphorical bubble. The boys at the school are shielded from a lot of the war and war knowledge. Their campus and Winter Carnival function as a security blanket that keeps them isolated and separate from the rest of the world's troubles. Their peace is real, but it is only real because of how separated from the war being at Devon makes them.

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A Separate Peace is the freedom or the liberation as to which your question referred of being a teenager. These are your years of not being bound by the war of life. While in the 40s, being 18 or older literally meant you were entering war one way or the other, the only and perfect opposite of that was the peace of being 17 or less, careless of the world's issues.

 "Peace lay on Devon like a blessing, the summer's peace, the reprieve, New Hampshire's response to all the cogitation and deadness of winter. There could be no urgency in work during such summers....Or perhaps that was only true for me and a few others, our gypsy band of the summer before."

This might be a good quote to use as summer represents everything childish. It's the time to play and kids only practice at being adults really occurs during the school year. I think you could use the summer as a sample Separate Peace and link it to the idea of just being a kid as discussed above.

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