A Separate Peace

by: John Knowles

Elwin “Leper” Lepellier

Characters Elwin “Leper” Lepellier

A quiet, peaceful, nature-loving boy, Leper shocks his classmates by becoming the first boy at Devon to enlist in the army; he shocks them again by deserting soon after. Both of Leper’s decisions demonstrate important properties of the war: to the students at Devon, it constitutes a great unknown, overshadowing their high school years and rendering their actions mere preparations for a dark future. Leper’s decision to enlist stems from his inability to bear the prolonged waiting period, his desire simply to initiate what he knows to be inevitable. Later, his desertion of the army again demonstrates a horrible truth: despite their years of expectation, the boys can never really be ready to face the atrocities of war.

Leper’s descriptions of his wartime hallucinations constitute one of the novel’s darkest moments. He proceeds to outline to Gene, with terrifying detail, the hallucinations that he suffered in the army, disproving Gene’s belief that he, Leper, cannot possibly descend into bitterness or angry flashbacks when walking through his beloved, beautiful outdoors. This tension emphasizes the contrast between the loveliness of the natural world and the hideousness of the characters’ inner lives. Most of Leper’s visions involve transformations of some kind, such as men turning into women and the arms of chairs turning into human arms. In a sense, then, Leper’s hallucinations reflect the fears and angst of adolescence, in which the transformation of boys into men—and, in wartime, of boys into soldiers—causes anxiety and inner turmoil.