A Separate Peace By John Knowles Summary and Analysis Chapter 9

Summary

The chapter opens with the enlistment of Leper Lepellier, who decides to join the ski troops. The first recruit from the class, Leper simply makes up his mind and goes quietly, without any fanfare. Brinker begins to connect any triumphal news of the war with Leper, and the Devon students imagine their former classmate — at least in their jokes — as a war hero.

Only Finny refuses to imagine Leper as a legend. When he sees that talk in the Butt Room always revolves around Leper's imaginary heroism, Finny forbids Gene to go there, on the grounds that smoking is bad for athletes. Gene finds himself isolated from the rest of school life, alone with Finny in a world where the 1944 Olympic Games seem more real that World War II.

To liven up a dull winter, Finny invents the Devon Winter Carnival, an event that takes place on the banks of the Naguamsett River and includes sports, snow statues, food, and music. Finny presides over the action, which includes a ski jump, a prize table, and jugs of hard cider, guarded by Brinker. At the signal, Chet Douglass blows his trumpet, and the boys attack Brinker to raid the hard cider. In the midst of the riot, Gene pours cider down Brinker's throat, and Brinker declares the Games open.

Finny, however, objects. He officially opens the Games with "the sacred fire from Olympus" — a copy of the Iliad doused with cider and set ablaze. The boys, excited by the cider, throw themselves into the games, while Finny, atop the prize table, dances on one leg. Gene surpasses himself athletically, freed by the Carnival's imaginative escape from the realities of war.

When a telegram arrives for Gene, Finny grabs it, announcing it must be from the Olympic Committee. But, instead, the telegram is from Leper, who explains that he has escaped and needs Gene to come to him immediately — "at Christmas location."

Analysis

As this chapter opens, Gene explains that his own happiness, rather than a belief in Finny's conspiracy theory, created a kind of peace for him during that winter when the rest of the world was at war. This theme of a personal sense of peace — the "separate peace" of the title — will reach its climax with Finny's Winter Carnival.

Even Leper's sudden enlistment seems not to affect the separate peace of Devon — at least for a while. When Leper watches a war recruitment film, he becomes dazzled by the angelic images of soldiers skiing across the virgin snow. Once a dedicated, slow-moving "touring" skier, Leper now longs to speed downhill, despite the danger. In fact, he changes his mind not only about the war, but about skiing, too, drawing the connection between sports and war that Finny has been fighting for months.

When Leper enlists as the first volunteer from Devon, he disappears, almost without a word, into the world of war. The silence surrounding Leper's leave-taking and the lack of information about his part in the war encourages wildly imaginative tales that Brinker weaves into the Leper legend. The hapless Leper, Brinker jokes, must be the hero behind all the victories the Devon boys read about in the papers — a kind of ubiquitous Kilroy.

Only Finny — who refuses to acknowledge the war, anyway — does not join in celebrating the Leper legend. In contrast to Brinker's sarcastic mock-sagas of the Devon hero, Finny makes his own spontaneous plans for the Winter Carnival, emphasizing energy and freedom — the creation of a new world apart from the world at war.

With the Carnival, Finny re-emerges as the spiritual leader he was during the Summer Session, making up rules according to his own whims. Indeed, he inspires the other boys — including the straitlaced Brinker — to organize the winter carnival in much the same rebellious way that he once organized the game of blitzball and the Super Suicide Society.

Significantly, though, the Winter Carnival takes place near the marshy Naguamsett, not the clear Devon of the summer. Even Finny's fun, it seems, is moving toward the outside world, like the salty Naguamsett that flows into the sea. Again, the water imagery makes poignantly clear the loss of Edenic isolation: The splendid Devon, so calm and clear, is no longer a place for the boys; instead, they now play near a river that will carry them inevitably to the sea, and adulthood.

Finny, it seems, can hold off the war — but only for a while.

Still, with the Carnival, he performs his magic once more, creating, through the sheer force of his personality, an afternoon of escape from the worries of the draft and enlistment, an imaginative refuge from the world at war. Appropriately, the Carnival opens with the ritual burning of Homer's Iliad — the poetic account of the Trojan War — as a gesture that represents the symbolic destruction of the idea of war itself.

With the Winter Carnival, Finny conjures up out of his magical concoction of cider, sport, and music, an alchemy of peace — his own imaginative version of the 1944 Olympics. In keeping with Finny's Olympic vision, Gene sees himself as the center of glory, crowned with a ceremonial wreath. For a moment, Gene even becomes the embodiment of Finny's athletic aspirations, imagining himself taking off from the ridiculously low ski jump and soaring in flight — "hurtling high and far through space."

The real highlight of the Carnival, though, comes with Finny, who climbs up on the prize table and dances on one leg, recreating his balancing act in the canoe from the summer on the Devon. Graceful even in injury, Finny seems once more, for this almost magical moment, a kind of god creating an imaginative world of his own, full of high spirits and joy, as he dances out a "choreography of peace."

When the outside world suddenly invades with the arrival of a telegram for Gene, Finny tries, imaginatively, to transform the telegram into Gene's invitation to the 1944 Olympics — the confirmation in reality of an enduring dream. But Gene himself opens the envelope, and any idea of the Olympics vanishes. The message, in fact, comes from Leper and urgently calls Gene to join him "at Christmas location" — an odd code name, whose very secretiveness seems to evoke the dangers of war.

As unavoidable and uncompromising as a draft notice, then, Leper's telegram brings the Winter Carnival to an end, taking Gene away from dreams of Olympic glory and Finny's world of peace.

Glossary

Archangel seaport in northwestern Russia, at the mouth of the Northern Dvina River. It is icebound for six months every year.

Burma Road "Burma," the old name for Myanmar, country in southeast Asia on the Indochinese peninsula. Here, the supply route for the Allies beginning in Burma and extending far into China, where American and Chinese troops fought the Japanese.

Big Three the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, the most powerful Allied nations in World War II.

Bolsheviks originally, a member of a majority faction (Bolsheviki) of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party, which formed the Communist Party after seizing power in the 1917 Revolution. Here, Finny means the Soviet Union.

Free French inhabitants of the part of France and its colonies not invaded by Germany in 1940.

de Gaulle Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), French general and statesman; president of France (1959-69). Here, the reference is to de Gaulle's leadership of the Free French during World War II.

Giraud Henri Honore Henri Honore Giraud (1879-1949), French general, de Gaulle's rival for leadership of the Free French.

Ruhr river in west central Germany, flowing west into the Rhine; major coal-mining and industrial region centered in the valley of this river. Here, it refers to the industrial region heavily bombed by the Allies in World War II.

Scharnhorst a German battleship torpedoed by British destroyers and then sunk by the battleship Duke of York in December, 1943.

Stalingrad old name of Volgograd, city in the south central part of the Soviet Union, scene of a decisive Soviet victory (1943) over German troops in World War II.

Tunisian campaign Tunisia is a country in north Africa, on the Mediterranean. The Tunisian campaign was the series of battles between the Allied forces and the combined German and Italian forces in North Africa (January to May, 1943).

Sad Sack (slang) a person who means well but is incompetent, ineffective, etc., and is consistently in trouble. Here, the kind of person Gene fears he might become under the pressure of combat.

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