Gene gradually accepts Finny’s “vision of peace.” This is largely because he himself feels happy and has trouble imagining the destruction that supposedly exists beyond the confines of his own experience. In January, though, Leper Lepellier enlists in the military after watching a video that a recruiter from the United States ski troops plays in one of his classes. The video shows soldiers swishing down slopes covered in a beautiful blanket of white. This resonates deeply with Leper, who is about to turn 18 and will likely be drafted. Instead of waiting for this to happen and having no control over what branch of the military he’s in, he decides to join the ski troops. And though this shocks everyone, his enlistment only makes the war feel even less real for Gene, since he can’t imagine Leper as a soldier.
Previously, Leper represented the ignorant bliss of adolescence, since Gene saw him as an embodiment of the innocence of the previous summer. After all, Leper didn’t even volunteer to help shovel the railways when the war caused a shortage of railroad workers. Now, though, Leper has plunged into the adult world of the war, not only acknowledging its influence, but actively joining the war effort. However, Gene has reverted back to a “vision of peace,” one that Finny has helped him recapture. In keeping with this, even Leper’s recruitment does nothing to make the war feel more immediate, and he manages to frame Leper’s enlistment as yet another indication that the war is absurd and unreal.
Within a week, Leper is gone. He is the first boy to enlist, despite the boisterous claims that people like Brinker have made in the past about joining the military. After he leaves, Brinker and the other boys joke about his participation in the war, claiming that he’s behind every allied victory. In the Butt Room, they kid about these developments, but Finny never takes part, instead slowly pulling Gene away from the others in order to spend time training for the Olympics.
Although Finny and Gene have insulated themselves from the war more than everyone else, even their fellow students apparently view the conflict as a mere abstraction, turning Leper’s enlistment into a joke rather than seeing it as a sign that the war will soon claim nearly everyone they know. Despite this attitude, though, Finny still goes out of his way to distract himself and Gene, focusing on training Gene for the Olympics as a way of ignoring the influence of the outside world.
One bleak winter Saturday, Finny declares that the boys should hold “The Devon Winter Carnival.” With Gene, he assembles a crew of collaborators, including Brinker and his mild-mannered roommate, Brownie Perkins. Brinker steals hard cider from some underclassmen and tells Brownie to guard them with his life while the rest of the boys set up the games. Throughout the morning, the group surreptitiously brings various furniture and prizes from the school buildings to a nearby park. Brinker is especially devoted to helping because he sees that this event is against the rules—ever since failing to enlist, Brinker has quit the multiple committees he used to serve on, dismantling his image as a respectable and well-rounded student and taking on a new persona as an apathetic, cynical young man.
Finny and Gene aren’t the only ones who have changed in recent months. Brinker has also undergone a transformation that is apparently directly connected to the war. Once a model student, he has refigured himself into the kind of person who would put off joining the military, which is exactly what he has done, as evidenced by the fact that he has yet to enlist even though he was so eager to do so the day that he and the other students shoveled the railways. By calling attention to Brinker’s conversion, Knowles illustrates the profound effect that the war has on all of these young men, not just Finny and Gene.
As the boys set up the carnival, Finny surveys the proceedings. Chet Douglass walks around with a trumpet while another group of boys builds a ski jump. Meanwhile, the prizes are laid out on tables, and Finny sets to work appraising them. When Brinker asks what should happen next, Finny looks at him for a moment and then declares that everyone should tackle him. Immediately, the boys jump to action. Chet plays a triumphant line on his trumpet, and everyone starts fighting while yanking open the bottles of hard cider. When everything settles down for a moment, Finny burns one of the prizes—a copy of The Iliad—and pronounces that the games have officially begun.
The carnival is yet another way for Finny to distract himself—and this time his peers, too—from the encroaching influence of the war. Rather than focusing on the harsh realities of the outside world, he has raucous fun with his friends, seizing the last vestiges of innocence that still exist within the walls of Devon. That he burns a copy of The Iliad is especially noteworthy, since the epic poem is about the Trojan War, therefore representing the violence and brutality that Finny is so eager to ignore.
For the rest of the afternoon, everyone acts wildly. Chet stomps around playing his trumpet, everyone drinks cider, and Finny dances atop one of the tables, twisting out what Gene refers to as his own “choreography of peace.” In all, the carnival is a tremendous success, and Gene describes it as their “momentary, illusory, special, and separate peace.” Before the day’s out, though, Brownie Perkins—who retreated to the dorms after guarding the cider—comes rushing back holding a telegram for Gene. Finny takes it first and opens it. About to read it aloud, his face falls. He hands it to Gene, who sees that it’s from Leper, who has escaped from the military and needs Gene’s help. The telegram instructs Gene to meet him immediately at what he calls the “Christmas location.” His life, he says, depends on Gene.
Although Gene feels as if the winter carnival gives him and his friends the gift of an unadulterated, insulated kind of “peace,” they can’t fully protect themselves from the outside world. This is made evident when Leper’s disconcerting telegram reaches the boys, reporting foreboding news about his involvement in the war—the very war from which Finny has tried to distract everyone with these innocent, childish antics. And though such activities can certainly make people like Finny and Gene feel as if everything is beautiful and fun, the truth is that it’s impossible for them to keep reality at bay.