A Separate Peace


Story Symbols and Themes

Devon SchoolThe prep school is a reflection of life itself. During the war, it has none of the gloss or veneer that it receives in the post-War years. It is a beautiful place, in fact, and has an organic feel to it. It exists in harmony with the world around it, and the narrator hopes in the first chapter that he, too, can achieve such harmony. The school, then, is his measure.

Yet, there is something deceptive about the school. It is as though it presents a false exterior and hides a secret interior. However, if this is the case, the school becomes a double for Gene, whose own soul has a secret.

Sarcasm—Sarcasm is a ploy used by Gene throughout his “sarcastic summer” to hide or cover what he genuinely thinks and feels. Hidden secrets and unconfident souls have much to do with the story and Gene’s process of maturation. His sarcasm, however, is one of the things that illustrates the conflict at the heart of Gene: He is in a struggle with himself. He suffers from jealousy, pride, ambition, and fear—all of which compel him to harbor a secret hatred for his friend Phineas, who seems to suffer from none of these faults. Sarcasm helps Gene hide the defects in his soul, but in the end, the cover must be dropped—which is, of course, the ultimate lesson of the novel. To grow up, one must squarely face oneself and the ugly things that hide inside.

War—War is an important theme in the novel for two reasons. First, it serves as the backdrop for the narrative. The events at Devon School unfold in the middle of World War II, a war that has very real consequences for the whole world but is seen by the boys as almost something otherworldly and apart from them. Nonetheless, each of them (in different ways) imagines his role in the war. Finny, for example, sees the war as an adventure and his role in it as heroic. Gene sees it as ominous and his role in it as uncertain.

The second way war serves as a theme is in a moral sense....

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Essays About A Separate Peace