A Separate Peace

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The Tree Symbol Icon
The giant tree from which Finny falls looms in Gene's memory. As an adult, he imagines it as a "huge lone spike" or an "artillery piece," but when he sees it up close during his return visit to Devon, it looks small and unthreatening. Though the tree stayed the same, Gene realizes he has changed and grown past its ability to define or scare him. The tree is therefore a symbol of both the carefree joy and particular fears of boys growing into men, and a symbol that in time men can leave those fears behind.

The Tree Quotes in A Separate Peace

The A Separate Peace quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Tree. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War and Rivalry Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of A Separate Peace published in 2003.
Chapter 1 Quotes
"This was the tree, and it seemed to me standing there to resemble those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but that they are absolutey smaller, shrunken by age....[for] the old giants have become pigmies while you were looking the other way."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

As Gene Forrester explores his alma mater, the prestigious prep school Devon, he returns to a tree by the river. We do not yet know the significance of this tree, but the nostalgia that colors Gene's encounter with it alludes to its thematic importance in the novel. The tree, as Gene explicitly describes, serves as a symbol of "the giants of your childhood" -- the individuals that one views with unbridled admiration during your adolescence. Now, the tree seems physically smaller to Gene because it itself has shriveled, Gene has grown, and Gene's perspective has changed. Viewing this tree causes then Gene to become further "changed"; it provides him with an opportunity to reflect on this novel's themes -- finding an identity in relation to others, transforming as you are growing -- and begin the novel from a perspective of wisdom and introspection.

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"Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence. Changed, I headed back through the mud. I was drenched; anybody could see it was time to come in out of the rain."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

The shrunken tree reminds Gene of the scenery after a battlefield, the scenery which becomes colored with "death by violence." These descriptions and observations -- of a "drenched" Gene moving "back through the mud," of the fact that "nothing endures" -- evoke martial imagery and the despair of war. Gene is very briefly described like a soldier, and this alludes to the central importance of World War II in the novel. In this moment, Gene recognizes that he needs to "come in out of the rain," and this physical movement parallels the internal transformations of coming to greater knowledge and perspective that will occur during the novel.

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