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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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What role does Leper play in A Separate Peace and how does his relationship with Gene and Finny suggest about his character?

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There are several questions being asked here, so this answer will focus on Leper. While some readers might consider him a minor character, I would support the idea that he holds much of the story together and is a powerfully symbolic character. In a lot of ways, he mirrors Finny. He lives by his own set of rules, and he isn't all that afraid of what other people think about him. That's why he can spout off on how skiing is being ruined and feel confident in not jumping from the tree. He's also an innocent and peaceful character, and he is able to maintain a certain amount of distance from being caught up in the war hysteria. That's very much like Finny, and readers are shocked by Leper's enlisting.

On one hand, his enlistment shows that he is growing up, developing, and adapting with a changing world. That's why he is able to change his mind about the skiers after watching the skiing video. Unfortunately, Leper isn't quite able to adapt to everything the war throws at him, and that is why he is eventually discharged. Leper's enlistment and discharge are important pieces to Finny's changes. Leper's departure and return really cause the war to become real for Finny. Unfortunately, Finny isn't quite capable of ever moving far enough away from his fun loving, fantasy world that he exists in, and Leper knowingly/unknowingly predicts Finny's death by saying that things that don't evolve don't survive.

"You know what? I'm almost glad this war came along. It's like a test, isn't it, and only the things and the people who've been evolving the right way survive."

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Leper, who loves to ski, is so taken by newsreels of ski troops in Europe in World War II that he enlists. However, the socially marginal and sheltered Leper is unprepared for the realities of the army and deserts, gaining a discharge for mental instability.

Leper is close to Finny and Gene. He takes their side against Brinker in the trial that Brinker stages over how Finny fell from the tree. He exposes Brinker as the bully he is and as the figure of orthodox authority. He tells him:

"I’m important too. You be the fool,” he gazed shrewdly at Brinker, “you do whatever anyone wants whenever they want it. You be the fool now. Bastard.”

Leper has stood up to Brinker and his faux authority as he stood up to similar authority in the army by simply refusing to play the game.

Brinker is the big man on campus, popular, and in favor of the established lines of justice and authority in his society. As his mock-trial shows, he is willing to be brutal to impose law and order. Leper, like Finny, stands for humanity and the values of kindness and loyalty over adherence to an abstract rule of law. He won't do what the system wants if it hurts other people.

Leper, though he loves skiing, is much more representative of the summer freedom of Devon, while Brinker is at home in the cold winter, when Devon's full authority and tradition are in play.

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Leper is a minor character whose role in the novel is to show the boys at Devon the harsh realities of war. No young man wanted to get out of serving his country in WWII, and Leper joins up on an impulse, thinking only of the romanticized view of war rather than the realities of war. He leaves boot camp when he suffers a nervous breakdown, and Leper never fully recovers during the novel.

Brinker Hadley is "the big name on campus". He is straight as an arrow in his thinking and in his political beliefs. He's law-abiding and very conservative in his thinking and in his beliefs. He makes sure to keep order at Devon, and he always uses logic to make his decisions. However, he's totally insincere in his behavior toward people. Brinker arranges the mock trial that leads to Finny's second fall and his death, even though Brinker isn't totally serious. This does lead to a confrontation between Finny and Gene where Finny tells Gene he knows Gene caused his accident on purpose. Brinker is cold, much like the winter. His behavior and thinking is cold and calculated.

Finny is the school's best athlete, both handsome and self-confident. He's also naive and innocent. He never gets in trouble for the things he does. He is carefree, a person other people gravitate toward. Finny represents the carefree, fun days of summer because that is his personality.

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