In John Knowles’s “The Separated World,” a boy named Leper is actually called Alvin Leper, though his mother calls him in the novel only under her own name. History never explains why he is called Leper, although of course not because he has Leprosies, a disease associated with the flesh.
Most likely, just because his last name is Lepellier, and because the characters in the book are all teenagers who like to make pseudonyms. Leper is a tall, bespectacled, shy boy who prefers to watch nature as a sport or jump from trees. Gene Forrester, the narrator of the novel, tells us: "It was always a battle with Leper ... not to laugh at him."
Just as the Devon School is a haven of peace in the midst of World War II America, Leper Lepellier is a man still in the midst of his active, fussy peers. This contrast is emphasized at the beginning of the winter period when Brinker Hadley arrives in the Leper dormitory, which is inhabited during the summer session.
Leper, it was learned, "dreamed of his journey through July and August under the sunny and dusty motives and windows through which ivy approached the room." But Brinker is somber and factual. He is a politician in creation, the head of every committee, and the public face of every movement. While Leper kept trays of snails and natural samples, Brinker kept Hadley files and meetings. Leper, the boy, has stopped, Brinker - this youth that flies to masculinity.
So Leper tries in his peaceful innocence to recognize the war as his reality. He is recruited and sent to war with the white cap that pops up behind him as if for the last time he emphasizes the discrepancy between the position of Lepers character and the violence he is about to begin.
Elwin "Leper" Lepellier in the Essays