A Separate Peace
The novel, A Separate Peace by John Knowles looks into the life of young men on the verge of adulthood. Some of them are not able to cope, while others deal with life and make the best of it. The novel does an excellent job of portraying life during World War II, as seen through the eyes of a young boy.
The story takes place in Exeter, New Hampshire, in the Devon School. It opens during the summer of 1942. In A Separate Peace, the main character, Gene, starts to feel as though him and Phineas (aka Finny, his best friend) are in rivalry against each other. Gene thinks that Finny is purposely trying to ruin his grades, while trying to get him to excel him in sports. Because of these thoughts, he diligently worked on his studies: “I redoubled my effort trying to be even with him and be “even in enmity,”(Knowles 46). Soon enough his thoughts of rivalry, enmity, and anger ultimately led him to jounce the limb that Finny was standing on. After it was found out that Finny’s broken leg would stop him from playing any sports (skillfully), Gene’s guilt began to escalate. When he went to see Finny in the hospital, he tried to tell him about jouncing the limb on purpose, but was stopped when the doctor came in. Then later on, he went to Finny’s house, and told him there, but Finny would not believe it. Throughout all of this, Gene is trying to get it off his chest, but he is not able to do so. He is constantly struggling, trying to keep his peace of mind. To make matters worse, Brinker twists the truth around, making Gene feel even worse, now knowing that even his friends think that he would do it. Once Finny returns to Devon from home, Gene’s feelings deepen as he witnesses what he did to him. Then one night, Brinker holds a mock trial, accusing Gene of being responsible for Finny’s accident. This angers Finny, which leads to him falling down the stairs, which lead to him breaking his leg again. A few days later when Gene visits Finny in the infirmary, Finny forgives Gene for whatever happened that day in the tree, and Gene was finally at peace. Unfortunately, Finny dies, due to the carelessness of the school doctor. When Finnys leg was being set some bone marrow escaped into his blood stream, stopping his heart. When Gene heard the news he didnt cry. Gene felt that, along with Phineas, he himself has died and you dont cry in that case (186). Gene went back to his school to come to grips with the fact that he was partially responsible for Finnys death.
The major themes throughout the novel are war and friendship. Throughout the novel Gene and Finny are searching in order to find themselves, but they are also drawn to each other. They are trying to fill each others emptiness. As the story unfolds their relationship is put to the test. For example, one true test of their bond is when Gene pushes Finny out of the tree and breaks his leg. Finny was deeply hurt when he came to the realization that Gene had pushed him from the tree, yet he was able to forgive Gene.It was some blind impulse you had in the tree there, you didnt know what you were doing was that is? Yes, yes that was it. Oh that was it, but how can you believe that? I do, I think I can believe that. Ive gotten awfully mad sometimes and almost forgotten what I was doing. I believe you. Its okay because I understand and I believe you. Youve already shown me and I believe you, (183). Not only were these tow boys friends, but they were also friends of each other’s classmates. For insistence, friendship develops when Gene is asked by Lepper to come to him, because he has escaped. Leppers trust toward Gene is shown especially because Gene understands his emotional state of being. Both Gene and Finny experiences an inner and outer war. Internally they are searching for their own separate peace, and that is found at Devon. They are safe from the world around them. War becomes a reality when Lepper enlists, before to war was so far away it seemed unreal. When Lepper enlist, they come to the realization that war is inevitable. Knowles carefully intertwines both war and friendship; throughout the boys realize what friendship is all about. They come to terms with trust and confidence through their experiences together. So, in searching for separate peace they found a bond of friendship, which cannot be broken.
I found Genes journey to be very similar to that of Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Gene went through much of the maturation that Huck went through. When Gene finally realizes who truly is, he must confront his problems, face reality and deal with the future. Genes maturation, like Hucks, is one of self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. Huck must accept that no matter what society says is right or wrong his decisions must be based on his own morals and feelings. Gene must accept that he isnt perfect and has faults. Once Huck and Gene accept their faults, they are able to become men and enter the adult world, leaving their youth behind them. Genes maturation is long and painful. However, through this maturation Gene is made a better person. Through his pain, Gene matures from an insecure child to a well-educated adult. Gene is much like Huck, when Huck is finally able to accept the way he feels about turning in Jim, he laves his childhood and moves into manhood. The tree in A Separate Peace has the same effect on Gene as the river has on Huck. The river is Hucks passage into manhood; it is where he feels free and alive. Here he is able to face and conquer his fears. The tree for Gene is fear itself, something he must climb and conquer.
The book is most appropriately placed in the Realism Unit. The book gives an accurate portrayal of the time during World War II, as seen through the eyes of boys on the verge of being drafted. It shows how they were completely oblivious to what was happening around them. Finny comments throughout the story that the war isnt real, and its only when Lepper comes back, almost insane, that he is finally able to accept war.
Literary critics agree with me that the book is beautifully written . . . great depth, (San Francisco Chronicle). I thoroughly enjoyed A Separate Peace, by John Knowles although the plot is not filled with lengthy adventures and exciting climaxes, if one can read between the lines and view the book for its real meaning, he or she is sure to enjoy it. One must be able to see through that thin barrier that blocks the emotions from leaping off the page, and look into Gene and Finny’s hearts. It’s difficult to be dependent on oneself at such a young age, (Bass 1). Finny and Gene develop a strong bond, which helps them get through the tough times. The book’s controversy deals with Gene’s battle with the truth and Finny’s acceptance of it. A Separate Peace proves that trust and friendship can take years to develop and an instant to destroy.
A Separate Peace is a tale of two best friends at boarding school. John Knowles displays the hardships that high school boys face away from home during World War II. The lessons learned, their independence, and the security they discover can never be forgotten in a time of war or fear.