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Leper Lepellier's Functions as a Minor Character

Oct 08, 1999 1379 Words
Upon returning to his school fifteen years after graduating, Gene Forrester, recalled his days at the Devon School in a surreal sense. In his own words, "In the deep, tacit way in which feeling becomes stronger than thought, I had always felt that the Devon School came into existence the day I entered it, was vibrantly real while I was a student there, and then blinked out like a candle the day I left." Helping embellish this reality were his friends, including Leper Lepellier, who appeared in only five scenes in A Separate Peace. Elwin "Leper" Lepellier's role as a minor character was vital to the story, although not nearly as visible as Gene's or Finny's. His appearances stole the attention of the reader, altered each character's own perceptions of the war, and forced the main character to act and think in ways he would not have otherwise. <br>

<br>Chapter Ten's journey to Leper's Christmas location is a trip away from Devon both physically and emotionally. Leper steals the scene by inviting Gene to his home, proceeding to unsettle the reader to the extent that he cannot concentrate on the other characters. Quiet and subdued, Leper spent much of his time outdoors, sketching snails and trees, photographing beaver dams. He was what Brinker so scornfully called a naturalist. This gentle hobby extracted virtually no interest from the reader, besides a knowledge of Leper's eccentric and lonely personality. Because he predictably behaved this way, reading the few tortured pages of his hallucinations in the army elicits strong emotion and reader interest; Finny and the Devon group of friends were insignificant compared to the horrific images Leper conjured in the reader's mind. Gene felt the same emotions as the reader: "Don't tell me who's got me and who hasn't got me. Who do you think you're talking to? Stick to your snails, Lepellier." Shocked at what his friend has become, Gene mentions his naturalistic manner, hoping to straighten him out. At this point, the reader is as helpless as Gene, wondering why Leper has changed, what the hallucinations mean, and most importantly, what will happen to between them in the pages to come. Leper also directs the reader back to Finny's accident, pointing a guilty finger at Gene when he says he and everyone he knew were all "savages underneath." When Gene finally runs out of Vermont and away from Leper's insanity, the reader now has another view on Finny's accident. This confrontation is the beginning of the destruction of any romantic notions Gene has held about the War. Leper directs the reader's care to the question of Gene's innocence, and to himself, rather than Devon. <br>

<br>Leper's enlistment enlightens Devon's students and brings the war close to home. Everyone has his own hazy views on war, clouded by a lack of its relevance to daily life. Finny is faced with his own personal struggle: the bitterness of being a cripple and attempting to live in a world where sports and enlistment in the army are no longer a possibility. To make the transition to invalid easier, he insists there is no war, it is "a hoax organized by the fat old men of the world to keep young people in their places." Although vocal about his desire to enlist, Brinker doesn't dare do so without the company of his classmates. Gene says the war creeps into their lives subtly like the snow that year, which falls playfully and then disappears before coming on in full force. Until Leper suddenly enlists, the boys do not know how to treat the war. The days after he is gone they remain silent, until Brinker begins joking that wherever there is a major battle, Leper was involved. Through Leper's enlisting, the boys find a way to bring the war to Devon. Attempts on Hitler's life were Leper's doings, the Tunisian campaign became "Leper's Liberation." In Gene's words: "In the silences between jokes about Leper's glories we wondered whether we ourselves would measure up to the humblest minimum of the army." While the boys are pondering how army life will be for them, Finny decides to hold a Winter Carnival; sports, ski jumps, slalom races and holly wreaths are all that matter, not Leper or the war for that brief time. All are intoxicated with life itself. Gene thought, "It wasn't the cider that 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, and separate peace." During this perfect, snowy afternoon of snow crystals and Olympics, they found their own peace from the war. It was as far from it as they ever could have gotten; a reach almost to the heavens, free of the troubles and stress they were used to, a utopia of friendship. Nothing could poison their peace, nothing until Leper's telegram. Once again, Leper jolts the war's reality back to them. His character is necessary to continue reminding the others of the impending truth. When he hides in the shrubbery beside the chapel, Finny reflects, saying "then I knew there was a real war on." The war is real to Devon's students only because Leper makes it so. <br>

<br>Gene Forrester, the main character in A Separate Peace, is swayed in thought and action by Leper's character. Gene's envy towards his joyful, eloquent, athletic best friend reaches its dark pinnacle when Finny interrupts Gene's studying to announce Leper's official leap to join the Super Suicide Society. As a result of the author infusing Leper's meek character with a desire to jump from the tree at that specific time, Gene concludes that Leper would never jump and Finny is trying to sabotage his scholastic efforts. The placement of Leper's character at that moment turns Gene's thoughts from studying to those of fierce competition with Finny. In the Renaissance Room, the Senior Class watched a film of the United States ski troops. This brought "a recognizable and friendly face to the war"; a face Leper could identify with. Gene guessed that the film was a turning point in Leper's life because of the extent to which he was talking. He said, "You know what? I'm almost glad this war came along. It's a test, isn't it, and only the things and the people who've been evolving the right way survive." Gene was touched, and thought, "You usually listened to Leper's quiet talking with half a mind, but this theory of his brought me to close attention. How did it apply to me, and to Phineas? How, most of all, did it apply to Leper?" Leper's strategically placed theory drove the story to a higher level, forcing not only the reader to consider its meaning, but the main character as well. When Brinker held a hearing on Finny's accident, Leper moved the story in relation to Gene a third time. Finny ran out of the hearing, too loyal to hear the truth about his best friend from Leper, and re-shattered his leg. This eventually led to his death. <br>

<br>Concluding his reflections of his years at the Devon School, Gene Forrester says of Leper's war attitude "…or else, like Leper, emerge from a protective cloud of vagueness only to meet it, the horror, face to face, just as he had always feared, and so give up the struggle absolutely." From his shy composure that enveloped him in vagueness to his inability to cope with the war, Leper's character shaped and progressed the novel. His mere presence extracted actions and thoughts from the main character that otherwise would have remained latent. He brought the war close to home for all the characters and altered their perceptions on it, and he diverted the reader's attention to his character. Gene felt as though Devon "blinked out" like a candle when he left; Leper's minor character helped fuel the fire of reality when he attended.

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