"Those Who Wish to Stay the Same Change the Most After All" a Separate Peace: Transformation Motif

Topics: World War II, World War I, War Pages: 6 (2314 words) Published: June 24, 2013
A Separate Peace: Transformation Motif
It is important to confront reality, no matter how harsh it is. People will always face difficult situations, but avoiding them is often more dangerous than the situation itself. In his novel, A Separate Peace, Knowles explores what can happen when a person or even an institution tries to avoid painful circumstances. In the story, Gene, the protagonist, and his friends are students at the Devon boarding school; and the troubling issues they face are wars, the external, World War II, and the intimate conflicts that often arise between close friends. Knowles uses the motif of the transformation of Devon, Finny, and Gene to show the importance of confronting head-on the wars within and around them.

Devon boarding school shields Gene and his classmates from the hardships of World War II. Gene’s class, the “Upper Middlers,” are too young for the draft. This causes the teachers at Devon to see them as the last evidence of “the life the war was being fought to preserve” (29). The teachers are afraid to expose the boys to the terror of war and so they hide it from them. While throughout the country, others participate in the war effort, Gene and his classmates remain apart and spend their time “calmly reading Virgil” (24). Because of this separation, the war becomes “completely unreal” (24) to the Upper Middlers. The entire world appears to be churning in the upheaval of the war, but Devon tries to remain the same, shielding the boys from its hardships. Unfortunately, when the effects of the war inevitably come to Devon, its attempts at avoidance result in a negative transformation with bitter and unintended consequences.

In its efforts to deny the war’s existence, Devon changes from idyllic and relaxed in the Summer Session to rigid and uncompromising in the Winter Session. In the summer at Devon, the boys play games on the “healthy green turf brushed with dew” to the calming sounds of “cricket noises and the bird cries of dusk” (24). Such imagery makes Devon seem like a peaceful oasis for the Upper Middlers. However, this relaxed atmosphere of the Summer Session ends with Finny’s fall from the tree at Devon River. Jumping from the tree was an activity originally designed to prepare soldiers for war and Finny’s injury from it represents the boys’ first experience with the pain that war brings. To Devon, Finny’s fall proves that the relaxed atmosphere of the Summer Session could not protect the boys from the reality of war. As a result, Devon rejects the carefree environment of the Summer Session and changes into a strict school where “continuity is stressed” (73) in the Winter Session. This transformation proves negative as evidenced by Knowles stark change in his description of the Winter Session. For example, while in the Summer Session the boys freely roamed the “healthy green turf” of Devon’s fields, they crowd into the dark “Butt Room” a smoking room that Gene compares to a “dirty dungeon...in the bowels of the dormitory” (88). Where once the boys played in beautiful fields, they are now confined in close, dark rooms. Gene further classifies the transformation as negative by immediately remarking that “peace [has] deserted Devon” (72) when he returns for the Winter Session. In attempting to avoid the effects of the war, Devon sacrifices its status as a haven for the boys.

When the reality that the world is at war inevitably strikes Devon, its transformation makes it less able to deal with the effects of the war. Gene compares the inexorable arrival of the war to the snow that blankets the school grounds. He calls the snowflakes “invaders” that cover the “carefully pruned shrubbery bordering the crosswalks” and likens them to the “invasion of the war on the school” (93). In making this comparison, Gene seems to show that just as Devon’s “carefully pruned shrubbery” cannot escape the snowfall, its structured atmosphere cannot escape the war. In fact, it is that structured...

Cited: Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.
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