In the novel, the Devon School symbolizes both change and resistance to change. An oasis that protects them from change, Gene and Finny’s school insulates them from the outside world. At the same time, though, the boys recognize the ways in which the institution undergoes transformation as a result of World War II. In this capacity, they sense the complexities of the outside world while existing in a protected environment, an environment capable of both admitting and resisting change. Indeed, the institution is over 160 years old, meaning that it has weathered the wars of the past while adapting as necessary to society at large. In keeping with this, one of Gene’s first observations about the school when he returns as an adult is that it can “harmonize” its past with its present, representing the kind of fluid resilience that he himself would like to adopt. As he searches for ways to achieve happiness without completely forgetting the hardships of his past, then, the school becomes a symbol of healthy and natural forms of growth or progress.
The Devon School Quotes in A Separate Peace
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 absolutely smaller, shrunken by age…[for] the old giants have become pigmies while you were looking the other way.
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.
Across the hall […] where Leper Lepellier had dreamed his way through July and August amid sunshine and dust motes and windows through which the ivy had reached tentatively into the room, here Brinker Hadley had established his headquarters. Emissaries were already dropping in to confer with him.