A Separate Peace


Summarization and Analysis by Section

Chapter 1

The story is narrated by Gene Forrester, who opens the novel by recalling events that occurred to him and his friends at Devon School in New England 15 years earlier. Gene is not simply recalling events; he is actually physically revisiting the place and observing the changes in the physicality of the prep school. These changes reflect changes that have happened to him and to the world. For example, he had been a boy at Devon during the days of World War II. Now he has returned. He is mature, “more perpendicular and strait-laced,” which are, ironically, not the words he uses to describe himself but rather the school.

Gene is disturbed by Devon School’s appearance: It makes him feel as though he were in a museum. It has lost the “life” it seemed to possess when he was there as a student. The school meant something more in those days: It was life—and now it is only a memory. Gene’s return to the school acts as a framing device and allows his story, his bildungsroman, to be recalled from the depths of his imagination.

His first stop is just inside the doors of the school at a marble flight of stairs. The significance of these stairs is not entirely divulged. In actuality, the stairwell is the setting of one of the final scenes of Gene’s narration. For now, however, he simply recalls that he walked these stairs everyday of his life at Devon—and that now they look exceptionally hard. Gene goes outside after this observation. The stairs, apparently, are no place to begin his tale (appropriately so, since the paramount scene of his tale takes place there and he must still travel further back in his memory before beginning).

Outside, he approaches his second destination, which is a tree near the river. Gene observes how it (unlike the school) has aged poorly. The figurative reason for this shall be made clear throughout the course of the novel. Here it shall suffice to say that the fantasy of freedom and power that the tree symbolized has collapsed...

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Essays About A Separate Peace