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The Dichotomies of A Separate Peace

The definition of dichotomy is a division into two opposing parts. This novel shows dichotomy in several important ways.

War and Peace is the most obvious. The ideas of war, WWII and blitzball exist side by side with peace as seen on the Devon campus and the game of badminton.

Winter and Summer is another dichotomy which can be seen not only in the seasons but also in the winter and summer terms. This 163rd winter term is marked by the academic studies and adherence to the rules and traditions of Devon while the summer session, Devon’s 1st, is filled with fun and spontaneous ideas with little studying being done. The traditions have been replaced by the spontaneity - jumping from the tree, missing supper, spending the night at the beach.

Rules and Anarchy is a very important dichotomy for the understanding of this novel. Rules simply means the idea of following the laws or rules. Anarchy is a government or society characterized by the lack of any control. Finny’s life is ruled by anarchy. In other words, he has little regard for authority or control- he jumps from the tree, misses supper, and spends the night at the beach which shows not only Finny’s lack of regard for authority but also the lack of consequences for disobedience during the summer session. The first day of the winter term was marked by a sermon, the point of which, according to Finny, is, “If you broke the rules, then they broke you” (66). Notice also that the dichotomy of rules and anarchy can also be seen here. Blitzball is noted for the anarchy used in the game which was created to replace the monotonous game of badminton.

The last dichotomy gets us back to the imagery and symbolism of water. This is the dichotomy of water as shown between the Naguamsett River and the Devon River. Look at the descriptions (67). The Devon River is clean and pure, innocent of the world’s waste. It is controlled by the familiar hills even though it later joined the Naguamsett. The Naguamsett is full of mud and seaweed; controlled by the Gulf Stream, Polar ice cap and the moon which are all far away and unfamiliar. The symbol of the Devon is of innocence (Finny) which is contrasted with the Naguamsett which is the guilt and sin of the adult world. The Devon School is astride the two rivers.

Now look at the symbolism of these two rivers. The purity and innocence of the Devon River, fringed by thick pine and birch (a pure natural state) is like the innocence of youth and indicates Phineas as a godlike figure. Why did they spend their time on the Devon? Because the boys were innocent (Phineas still was) just like the Devon was innocent. The Naguamsett however is below the dam and is a tidewater river fringed with marsh, mud, and seaweed which is like the adult world. Where is the Crew House? On the banks of the lower river, the Naguamsett River. What does that tell you about Gene? Why is Gene now connected to the Naguamsett instead of the Devon? Why is Finny still connected to the Devon? Heaven and Hell. Remember when Gene said he was "damned if he would climb the tree"? Connect the ideas.

Different Places to Go for Info

A Seperate Peace
Summary of A Separate Peace
Various miniprojects listed for A Separate Peace
The Life and Times of John Knowles
World War II info and links

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