a separate peace essay

a separate peace essay

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  • A Separate Peace
  • John Knowles
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  • From Innocence to Experience in A Separate Peace
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  • Summary and Analysis
  • Character Analysis
  • Gene Forrester
  • Phineas (Finny)
  • Brinker Hadley
  • Elwin (Leper) Lepellier
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  • Gene and Finny: Doubles
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Critical Essays From Innocence to Experience in A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace tells the story of Gene's painful but necessary growth into adulthood, a journey of deepening understanding about his responsibility and his place in a wider world. At the beginning of the novel, the young Gene stands unconcerned, self-absorbed, by the tree that will test his true nature. By the end, Gene has suffered and inflicted suffering, and he has grown into an understanding of his own dark motives. He has lost his innocence and has gained experience.

Gene's innocence at the opening of the novel represents a childlike happiness in conformity. By obeying the rules — occasionally rebelling mildly through sarcasm, "the protest of people who are weak" — Gene maintains a comfortable life, predictable and unthreatening, like Leper's dining room. In Devon, obedient to the rules, approved by the masters, Gene is safe, but he cannot grow. Growth can come only through conflict and struggle, and Gene's conformity acts as a shield against such challenges.

Finny breaks through Gene's shield of conformity, daring him to experience the world more directly, by breaking rules and creating new traditions. With Finny, Gene explores a life unbounded by familiar routines imposed by adults. The freedom exhilarates Gene at times — the first forbidden jump from the tree brings him to a new, heightened awareness of life — but uncertainty nags at him. Finny's whims disturb Gene's comfortable routine of study and proper behavior, habits of obedience that win the approval of adults.

Frightened and threatened by Finny's freedom, Gene reacts like a child — sullen, withdrawn, indirect in expressing objection. Instead of joining Finny wholeheartedly or honestly talking through his feelings (about studying for exams, for instance), Gene suppresses his mixed emotions and turns the new experience of freedom into another kind of conformity: He decides that he must follow Finny's whims without exception or risk losing his friendship. This "all or nothing" thinking, childish in its simplicity, leads Gene to resent Finny and ultimately causes the violent outbreak that destroys a life.

Out of Gene's discomfort arises a dark suspicion: Finny is deliberately drawing Gene away from his studies in order to make him fail. Psychologically, this makes sense to Gene. If Gene is trying to obey the rules in order to win approval — the only validation he really recognizes — then anyone who encourages him to disobey, or follow other rules, must wish him harm. Finny, therefore, must be his enemy. In his own defense, Gene hides his resentment and lets his (seemingly justified) anger burn within him while he single-mindedly pursues his goal to become the best student and so show up Finny.

But Gene's sudden recognition that Finny does not want him to fail proves even more devastating. If Finny is simply being Finny in his free, careless ways, then Gene has lost the meaning of his resentment, the energy that has been fueling his drive to succeed despite his enemy's plotting. Gene's anger and bitterness toward his friend make sense only if Finny is really a lying, manipulating enemy bent on destroying Gene. And Gene's quest for academic excellence makes sense only as means of showing up Finny.

The realization that Finny is not acting as a rival or an enemy, but simply as himself, makes Gene feel insignificant. Like a child who discovers he is not the center of the universe, Gene rages at the insult. On the limb, beside his friend, Gene acts instinctively, unconsciously, and expresses his anger physically by jouncing the limb, causing Finny to fall. The physical release of emotional tension suddenly frees Gene, and he jumps effortlessly, without fear, as he never could before. With the destruction of the threat, Gene's view of the world, and of himself, is restored. The child's self-image of himself as the center of the world is recreated.

Significantly, in describing his actions on the limb, Gene insists not that he bent his knees, but that his knees bent, as if his body were not under his control. Again, Gene takes shelter in a childish, self-centered defense. I did not do it, Gene seems to be saying, my knees did it.

A fall and a tree sharply recall the story of Eden, the Fall of Man, and with it the end of innocence. With Finny's fall, Gene recognizes in himself what Leper condemns as "the savage underneath," the tragic flaw Finny more kindly refers to as "a blind instinct." Gene's sense of guilt, however much he hides it, represents his first pang of morality that needs no outside confirmation. Gene knows what he did, and he knows that he is guilty. For the first time, Gene's sense of right and wrong comes not from bells or exams or masters, but from his own shocked soul. This is the end of innocence, and the beginning of experience for Gene.

But faced with this self-knowledge, Gene rejects it, defensively retreating into his habitual conformity, his comforting sense of himself as an obedient boy. What starts out as a confession and an apology to Finny — a mark of true growth into adulthood and responsibility — quickly becomes an angry rationalization, an attack on Finny that constitutes a second injury. In Brinker's informal Butt Room trial, and later, in the more formal Assembly Room investigation into Finny's accident, Gene persists in withholding the truth, refusing to admit his responsibility. Gene's resistance to the truth is a resistance to growth, a retreat into his passive, conforming past, where he felt safe and good. The revelation of Gene's guilt and his refusal to admit it cause Finny's second fall, the accident that ultimately ends his life.

Only in the friends' last conversation, in the infirmary, can Gene face Finny and freely discuss the fall on Finny's own terms, without rationalization or duplicity. Gene's apology and Finny's forgiveness make it possible for Gene to break out of his self-centered denial. By the end of the novel, Gene has accepted both his own guilt and the gift of Finny's friendship. The experience has helped him to grow into an insightful, responsible, and compassionate adult.

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A Separate Peace John Knowles

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A Separate Peace Essays

An analysis of the dissimilarity between phineas and brinker anonymous, a separate peace.

While World War II rages in Europe, a different type of struggle affects the young students at an all-boys private boarding school. "A Separate Peace", by John Knowles, outlines the emotional struggle at Devon during the 1942 summer and winter...

Growing Up in A Separate Peace Gabriella Calvino 11th Grade

As Ernest Hemingway once wisely proclaimed, “All things truly wicked start from innocence” (Hemingway 73). The truth in Hemingway’s words is that most everything does begin as pure and true, and only through a series of components does it turn...

Dramatic Change in A Separate Peace Duncan McLarty 11th Grade

High school is a time for great physical, mental, and emotional changes in youth. Some students experience a one-foot height change, others, an epiphany. These changes happen over the course of high school, but can be brought about quickly under...

The Before and the After: Finding Identity in the Midst of War Sarah Chow 10th Grade

Everyone, at some point, has an experience that so profoundly alters his or her life that it seems to define time itself. For many Americans, the tragic terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 fractured life into two pieces: before...

The Boarding School Microcosm: The Unrealistic Portrayal of “Real Life” in the Institutions of Young Adult Literature Kelly Bergh College

Young adult novels set at boarding schools typically feature protagonists that encounter trials not necessarily representative of life outside of fiction on their journey towards adulthood. Rather, these texts amplify struggles and cause problems...

One Tree, Hidden Meanings: A Close Reading of Symbolism in A Separate Peace Anonymous 10th Grade

Everyone has a specific object or place that immediately floods them with memories. Whether it be the stretch of road where they crashed or a pencil they used to pass a huge test, these items are everywhere. The memories they hold can be painful...

Symbolic Wages of War Emily McCarthy 10th Grade

As children begin to age and minds start to mature, they are able to comprehend that the world can be a trying place full of crime, death, and war. The older a person gets, the more responsibilities and problems they will encounter. Some may never...

Opposites Attract: Duality as Expressed Through Character and Imagery in 'A Separate Peace' Anonymous 9th Grade

Only when we compare something to its opposite can we see the true value of an object. In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, duality is a very important motif that helps set the theme of the entire book. Gene and Finny are two very different...

a separate peace essay

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War and Rivalry Theme Icon

War and Rivalry

John Knowles’s A Separate Peace is a novel about violence and rancor even though Gene , its protagonist, never actually faces battle. The book begins as news of World War II sweeps over Gene and his best friend, Finny , infiltrating their final summer term and academic year at the Devon School . Despite the constant presence of the war, though, Finny and Gene exist in the halcyon days of youthful innocence, focusing on schoolboy…

War and Rivalry Theme Icon

A Separate Peace showcases the process of identity formation. Gene makes his way through several identities in an attempt to define himself in relation to his surroundings. Although he experiments with multiple personas (the athlete, the intellectual, the daredevil, etc.), the most prominent identity that he adopts is arguably that of Finny ’s best friend. Investing himself in their friendship, Gene closely associates himself with Finny, feeling proud that he’s his closest friend. However, defining…

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Change and Growing Up

John Knowles’s A Separate Peace is a story about the ways in which time and maturity can change a person’s perspective on the past. At the beginning of the novel, Gene visits the Devon School for the first time in 15 years. When he arrives, he realizes that he has always thought of the school itself as frozen in time. By association, then, he has also considered his experiences at the school as immutably stuck…

Change and Growing Up Theme Icon

Optimism, Idealization, and Denial

In A Separate Peace , John Knowles examines optimism, suggesting that it can sometimes lead to denial. As someone who makes the best of any situation, Finny focuses only on what he thinks is good. He deeply appreciates the purity of athletics, thinking that sports are an “absolute good” and believing that everyone always wins whenever they play sports, since the mere act of taking part in such activities is rewarding in and of itself…

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Friendship and Honesty

More than anything, A Separate Peace is a novel about friendship—its joys, its benefits, its limits. Gene and Finny ’s relationship is unique, shot through with both childish simplicity and a complex tenderness they don’t always know how to navigate. To add to this already intricate dynamic, envy and competition often work their way into the friendship, and this is what ultimately threatens their bond. Throughout the novel, Gene tries to sort out his feelings…

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It is very inevitable that somewhere in our lives, we have been touched by a special bond called “friendship”. That special bond might happen in the most unusual time and place. It might even be connected not just with love, but also with envy and selfishness. A Separate Peace is a timeless novel...

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A Separate Peace: Social Stereotypes Thesis: The five main characters in John Knowles' A Separate Peace represent social stereotypes, according to some people. In his book A Separate Peace, John Knowles represents jocks with Phineas, a character who believes that sports are the key to life...

A Separate Peace: Three Symbols The three dichotomous symbols in A Separate Peace by John Knowles reinforce the innocence and evil of the main characters, Finny and Gene. Beside the Devon School flow two rivers on opposite sides of the school, the Naguamsett and the Devon. The Devon provides...

A Separate Peace: Contrasting Gene and Phineas and the Struggle for Power Julie Gibson John Knowles' A Separate Peace depicts many examples of how power is used. In A Separate Peace, two opposing characters struggle for their own separate might. Gene Forrester, the reserved narrator, is weakened...

Peace only comes at the price of great struggle and sacrifice for most people. In essence, it only comes when you have defeated the enemy, or the enemy has defeated you. John Knowles was able to capture the subtle goal and essence of his novel by titling it A Separate Peace. A Separate Peace is a...

A Separate Peace is a remarkable story about the relationship between two young students, Gene and Phineas. Their friendship develops through the formation of secret societies and late night card games. A tragic event, at first glance an accident, changes their lives forever. As the story unfolds...

"? It seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart. " The background of "A separate Peace" is the Second World War and the focus of book is a group of sixteen-year-old boys who are moving...

A Separate Peace Dealing with enemies has been a problem since the beginning of time. "I never killed anybody," Gene had commented later in his life, "And I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform, I was on active duty all my...

Difference Too Often Leads to Hate Many times in the world, differences have lead to hate. Think of Martin Luther King, for example, who stood for fighting against one of the largest differences. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, is one of many examples of differences leading to hate. Gene and...

A Separate Peace Obstacles after obstacles came in the path to success. In the novel A Separate Peace, John Knowles revealed a very strong idea through one of his characters. Through Gene it was revealed that weak individual who once was weak morally and mentally can become a strong and a more...

A Separate Peace: Friendship, Conformity, and War We have all experienced friendship in our lives; some of these bonds were lasting and others were not. A Separate Peace is a book that deals with the friendship of high school boys. These boys attend an all-boy’s school called Devon School...

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"He was everywhere, he enjoyed himself hugely, he laughed out loud at passing sea gulls"(39). This line is describing Phineas, or Finny, and how he lives life to it's fullest and seizes the day. Finny is an example of living the "carpe diem" (seize the day) philosophy from the movie "Dead Poets...

In John Knowle's A Separate Peace, symbols are used to develop and advance the themes of the novel. One theme is the lack of an awareness of the real world among the students who attend the Devon Academy. The war is a symbol of the 'real world', from which the boys exclude themselves...

1 607 words

The novel A Separate Peace focuses mainly around a 17 year old named Gene Forrester and his psychological development. The story is set in a boys boarding school in USA during World War II. There are four main boys in the novel and they all undergo major character changes through the story. One of...

2 107 words

Every person feels rivalry or competition towards others at some point in their lives. This rivalry greatly affects our ability to understand others, and this eventually results in paranoia and hostility. It is a part of human nature, that people coldly drive ahead for their gain alone. Man's...

1 590 words

In the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles, one of the main themes is the effects of realism, idealism, and isolationism on Brinker, Phineas, and Gene. Though not everyone can be described using one of these approaches to life, the approaches completely conform to these characters to create one...

A Separate Peace Gene Forrester is a quiet, intellectual student at Devon School in New Hampshire. During the Summer Session of 1942, he becomes close friends with his daredevil roommate Finny, who has a talent for getting away with mischief through his sincere, disarming charisma. Finny prods...

Nathan Gourley Pd2 4/25/00 In John Knowles book A Separate Peace he communicates how the war in him was taking its toll on him. He uses the characters in a complicated plot to show the destructive forces of war. The characters, Gene and Finny, are the opposing forces in a struggle between the...

2 371 words

Most stories' titles give readers some insight of what the story will be about. This important concept is seen in the novel, A Separate Peace, written by John Knowles. In general the setting is its own separate peace. There are also specific examples of when characters in the novel try to create...

Gene Forrester's difficult journey towards maturity and the adult world is a main focus of the novel, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. Gene's journey begins the moment he pushes Phineas from the tree and the process continues until he visits the tree fifteen years later. Throughout this...


A Separate Peace: Photo Essay

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a separate peace essay

I have not set out to reconstruct the Exeter scene of 1945. Nearly all of these pictures are recent [1970], with exceptions in the case of an important building or room which has been removed or remodeled. Although there is much new construction taking place on the campus, many of the old buildings have not been changed.

To schoolboys of today that war has become ancient history, but the encroachments of war upon young men's lives remains essentially the same. And what makes A Separate Peace impressive is the way it reaches into the existence of boys at school, an intense, competitive, often lonely existence, from which adults are largely excluded. Because this basis of living does not change, the boys pictured here are, with allowances for fashion, like those of any time. These photographs are not meant to dispel the mystery of their unique world, any more than facts about an author can rob a novel of its art. Perhaps they will add new subjects for speculation.

I am grateful to Richard Niebling, whose suggestions led to this undertaking, to Paul Sadler Jr. for planning and designing this essay, to Bradford Herzog for his evocative photographs, and to John Knowles for permission to use excerpts from his novel.

---- Thomas Hinkle, Editor

a separate peace essay

It was early afternoon and the grounds and buildings were deserted, since everyone was at sports. There was nothing to distract me as I made my way across a wide yard, called the Far Common, and up to a building as red brick and balanced as the other major buildings, but with a large cupola and a bell and a clock and Latin over the doorway--the First Academy Building.

In through swinging doors I reached a marble foyer, and stopped at the foot of a long white marble flight of stairs. Although they were old stairs, the worn moons in the middle of each step were not very deep. The marble must be unusually hard. That seemed very likely, only too likely, although with all my thought about these stairs this exceptional hardness had not occurred to me. It was surprising that I had overlooked that, that crucial fact.

a separate peace essay

D evon is sometimes considered the most beautiful School in New England, and even on this dismal afternoon its power was asserted. It is the beauty of small areas of order  --a large yard, a group of trees, three similar dormitories, a circle of old houses--living together in contentious harmony.

But once you passed through the Colonial doorways with only an occasional fan window or low relief pillar to suggest that a certain muted adornment was permissible, you entered an extravaganza of Pompadour splendor.

a separate peace essay

No one else happened to be in the pool. Around us gleamed white tile and glass brick; the green, artificial-looking water rocked gently in its shining basin, releasing vague chemical smells and a sense of many pipes and filters; even Finny's voice, trapped in this closed, high-ceilinged room, lost its special resonance and blurred into a general well of noise gathered up toward the ceiling. He said blurringly, "I have a feeling I can swim faster than A. Hopkins Parker."

I found it. I found a single sustaining thought. The thought was, You and Phineas are even already. You are even in enmity. You are both coldly driving ahead for yourselves alone. You did hate him for breaking that school swimmingrecord, but so what? He hated you for getting an A in every course but one last term. You would have had an A in that one except for him. Except for him.

a separate peace essay

The great expanses of wall space were opaque with canvas, portraits in oil of deceased head- masters, a founder or two, forgotten leaders of the faculty, a beloved athletic coach none of us had ever heard of, a lady we could not identify--her fortune had largely rebuilt the school; a nameless poet who was thought when under the school's protection to be destined primarily for future generations; a young hero now anonymous who looked theatrical in the First World War uniform in which he had died.

a separate peace essay

  ...I wanted no more of sports. They were barred from me, as though when Dr. Stanpole said, "Sports are finished" he had been speaking of me. I didn't trust myself in them, and I didn't trust anyone else. It was as though football players were really bent on crushing the life out of each other, as though boxers were in combat to the death, as though even a tennis ball might turn into a bullet. This didn't seem completely crazy imagination in 1942, when jumping out of trees stood for abandoning a torpedoed ship. Later, in the school swimming pool, we were given the second stage in that rehearsal: after you hit the water you made big splashes with your hands, to scatter the flaming oil which would be on the surface.

a separate peace essay

But in a week I had forgotten that, and I have never since forgotten the dazed look on Finny's face when he thought that on the first day of his return to Devon I was going to desert him. I didn't know why he had chosen me, why it was only to me that he could show the most humbling sides of his handicap. I didn't care. For the war was no longer eroding the peaceful summertime stillness I had prized so much at Devon, and although the playing fields were crusted under a foot of congealed snow and the river was now a hard gray-white lane of ice between gaunt trees, peace had come back to Devon for me.

a separate peace essay

...sweat was running like oil from Finny's face, and when he paused involuntary tremors shook his hands and arms. The leg in its cast was like a sea anchor dragged behind.

a separate peace essay

Mornings we got up at six to run. I dressed in a gym sweat suit with a towel tucked around my throat, and Finny in pajamas, ski boots and his sheep-lined coat.

a separate peace essay

This plain of snow shone a powdery white that morning; the sun blazed icily somewhere too low on the horizon to be seen directly, but its clean rays shed a blue-white glimmer all around us. The northern sunshine seemed to pick up faint particles of whiteness floating in the air and powdering the sleek blue sky. Nothing stirred. The bare arching branches of the elm seemed laid into this motionless sky.

a separate peace essay

And these Saturdays are worst in the late winter when the snow has lost its novelty and its shine, and the school seems to have been reduced to only a network of drains. During the brief thaw in the early afternoon there is a dismal gurgling of dirty water seeping down pipes and along gutters, a gray seamy shifting beneath the crust of snow, which cracks to show patches of frozen mud beneath.

The sky is an empty hopeless gray and gives the impression that this is its eternal shade. Winter's occupation seems to have conquered, overrun and destroyed everything, so that now there is no longer any resistance movement left in nature; all the juices are dead, every sprig of vitality snapped, and now winter itself, an old, corrupt, tired conqueror, loosens its grip on the desolation, recedes a little, grows careless in its watch; sick of victory and enfeebled by the absence of challenge, it begins itself to withdraw from the ruined countryside. The drains alone are active, and on these Saturdays their noises sound a dull recessional to winter.

a separate peace essay

There is no such grove, I know now, but the morning of my return to Devon I imagined that it might be just over the visible horizon, or the horizon after that.

a separate peace essay

At Devon the open ground among the buildings had been given carefully English names--the Center Common, the Far Common, the Fields, and the Fields Beyond. These last were past the gym, the tennis courts, the river and the stadium, on the edge of the woods which, however English in name, were in my mind primevally American, reaching in unbroken forests far to the north, into the great northern wilderness.

a separate peace essay

The excellent exterior acoustics recorded his rushing steps and the quick rapping of his cane along the corridor and on the first steps of the marble stairway. Then these separate sounds collided into the general tumult of his body falling clumsily down the white marble stairs.

a separate peace essay

I  reached the bridge which arches over the little Devon River and beyond it the dirt track which curves toward the stadium. The stadium itself, two white concrete banks of seats, was as powerful and alien to me as an Aztec ruin, filled with the traces of vanished people and vanished rites, of supreme emotions and supreme tragedies. The old phrase about "If these walls could only speak" occurred to me and I felt it more deeply than anyone has ever felt it, I felt that the stadium could not only speak but that its words could hold me spellbound. In fact the stadium did speak powerfully and at all times, including this moment. But I could not hear, and that was because I did not exist.

a separate peace essay

All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way--if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.

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A Separate Peace by John Knowles Essay

Introduction, the summary of the novel, the characters of the book, the themes of the novel, personal opinion, reference list.

Despite covering the period of World War II, the novel A Separate Peace , the author of which is John Knowles, does not narrate about military campaigns and battles. Instead, it seems to draw a parallel between an external war and an internal struggle within an individual. This essay will give a summary of the novel, describe its main characters, dwell on the issues raised in the book, and provide a personal opinion.

The events of the book are set in the Devon School during World War II. The narrator, Gene Forrester, was 16 years old at that time and had a friend, Phineas, or Finny for short. Finny liked to jump from a tree into the nearby river and encouraged Gene to do the same even though he was scared of it. Finny was so excited about this activity that he organized the Suicide Society. To join it, other boys had to jump from the tree into the water. Perhaps, this occupation was attractive because the school rules forbade it.

Finny was the best athlete in Devon, and Gene wanted to be the most successful student to resemble his friend. Gene, therefore, contributed much time and effort to his studies, but as he was continuously distracted by Finny, he thought that his companion intended to thwart his progress. Gene’s grievance against his friend led to deplorable consequences. When Finn asked his friend to jump from the tree with him once again, Gene impulsively shook the branch, on which they were standing. Finn fell off the tree and damaged his leg, which brought an end to his athletic career.

While Finny was in the hospital, Gene befriended Brinker Hadley, who jokingly accused him of injuring his mate on purpose. However, this new friend turned out to be an enemy. One night, when Finny was already out of the hospital, Brinker gathered him and Gene in the Assembly Room and conducted a trial, during which Finn became convinced of his friend’s blame for his injury. He rushed out of the room angrily, but fell on the stairs and broke his wounded leg. The following day, Gene managed to talk to his companion and explain to him that he had made the accident happen due to an impulse, not on purpose. The friends made peace, but after a while, Finn died during an operation. Gene returned to Devon 15 years later and remembered all the described events. The novel ends with his reflections about enemies, peace, and war.

The first main character of the novel is Gene Forrester, the narrator. In his youth, he was “a somewhat athletic, shy intellectual” (S tudy guide , 2015, p. 1). Gene admired his friend’s sports achievements and the ability to talk others into ventures, and it inspired him to improve his academic record to become the best student. However, this desire caused him to develop envy and resentment since he suspected Finny of hindering his studies. These feelings induced a sudden urge that made Gene drop his friend off the tree. Gene did not do it intentionally as he regretted that deed and felt guilty. Perhaps, his self-blame was so strong that he no longer wanted to be himself and subconsciously denied his identity. In the end, he identified himself with his dead friend, which is apparent from the scene of the burial: “I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case” (Knowles, 2014, p. 194). Thus, Gene was not inherently evil, and the sense of guilt made him despise his personality.

Another main character is Phineas, Gene’s best friend and roommate. Although he tended to disobey rules and instigated others to do the same, he was a good-natured boy. He trusted his friend, which was why he did not believe Gene’s confession that he was to blame for Finny’s injury. Gene was dear to Phineas since the latter forgave his mate quickly even after he learned that his invalidism was Gene’s fault. Thus, Finny was a kind-hearted and genuine person who became a victim of circumstances.

The novel also has an antagonist, Brinker Hadley, who has the leadership among students. His obsession with discipline and will to justice made him reveal the truth about Finny’s fall. Probably, he is partly responsible for Finny’s death because Finny would not have hurt himself once again if he had not been enraged by the trial. Brinker also expressed his interest in war throughout the novel, but eventually, he seemed to become disappointed in it and rejected it.

One of the main themes of the book is warfare, as its events happen in the time of World War II. However, there is also another battle depicted in the book. Gene wages his internal struggle because he has contradictory feelings toward his friend. He wavers between admiration and jealousy, affection and hatred, friendship, and rivalry. Eventually, he concludes that people are apt to make enemies of those who do not intend to harm them. Perhaps, this is the reason for many conflicts and wars.

Another theme concerns rules and the consequences of disregarding them. The novel shows clearly that all the troubles began when Finny decided to jump from a tree, which was a prohibited activity. Sansom (2018, pp. 22-23) considers this plant symbolic and compares it to the biblical tree, which was also forbidden for Adam and Eve to approach. Thus, the book conveys the thought that rules are invented for a reason, and disobeying them may lead to grave consequences.

Finally, the novel raises the issue of such feelings like fear and jealousy. The first sensation is related to the war, as adolescents realize that one day, they may have to fight as soldiers. It also refers to the fear of oneself, when a human understands what terrible deeds he is capable of. The novel depicts that a person consumed with envy may represent a threat to the object of his or her jealousy. Thus, people should be aware of their feelings and prevent negative ones from affecting their behavior.

Apart from the themes mentioned above, the novel shows examples of good and bad friends. Finny represents a person capable of true friendship since he enjoys being together with his companion. Gene, on the contrary, is an example of an unworthy friend because, despite his admiration for Finny, he considered him his rival and envied him, which made their relationship unhealthy. According to Rini (2016, p. 1451), if man rates someone among his friends but subconsciously dislikes him, chances are that in a complicated situation, he will not decide in favor of their friendship. The novel, therefore, teaches that friendly relation implies sincerity and absence of internal grievances that may cause a person to spite his or her mate.

In conclusion, it should be said that the book is worth reading because it raises the essential problems that people face in their everyday life. Perhaps, after reading this novel, readers will review their attitude to their friends and enemies. The book will be of particular interest to adolescents since its main characters are juveniles who try to find their place in this world and solve interpersonal problems that are common at this age.

Knowles, J. (2014) A separate peace . New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Rini, R. A. (2016) ‘Why moral psychology is disturbing’, Philosophical Studies , 174(6), pp. 1439-1458.

Sansom, J. (2018) ‘The tree of panic in A separate peace ’, Kansas English , 99(1), pp. 22-24.

S tudy guide for John Knowles’s ‘A separate peace’ (2015) Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, Cengage Learning.

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IvyPanda. (2019, December 3). A Separate Peace by John Knowles. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-separate-peace-by-john-knowles/

"A Separate Peace by John Knowles." IvyPanda , 3 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/a-separate-peace-by-john-knowles/.

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IvyPanda . 2019. "A Separate Peace by John Knowles." December 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-separate-peace-by-john-knowles/.

1. IvyPanda . "A Separate Peace by John Knowles." December 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-separate-peace-by-john-knowles/.


IvyPanda . "A Separate Peace by John Knowles." December 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-separate-peace-by-john-knowles/.

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — A Separate Peace — Coming of Age in A Separate Peace


Coming of Age in a Separate Peace

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Words: 2876 |

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15 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 2876 | Pages: 6.5 | 15 min read

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The Essence of True Friendship

Friendship, in its truest sense, encompasses a rich tapestry of emotions and experiences, including trust, loyalty, mutual understanding, and shared moments of joy and sorrow. In the world of "A Separate Peace," the friendship between Gene and Finny exemplifies these elements in a remarkable way. Theirs is a bond forged through shared experiences at the Devon School, where Finny's charismatic and carefree demeanor perfectly complements Gene's introspective and cautious nature, creating a dynamic that not only attracts but sustains their deep connection.

However, the novel also delves into the vulnerability of friendship. Envy and competition, amplified by the backdrop of wartime uncertainty, begin to chip away at the solid foundation of their relationship. Gene's inner turmoil and jealousy eventually lead to a tragic accident that forever alters the course of their friendship. This serves as a poignant reminder that even the most unbreakable bonds can be tested by external pressures and internal conflicts.

Friendship's Impact on Identity

Friendship has an indelible impact on the development of one's identity, especially during the formative years of adolescence. In "A Separate Peace," Gene's identity is intimately intertwined with his connection to Finny. The unwavering belief that Finny has in Gene's abilities pushes him to confront his own insecurities and limitations, motivating him to excel both academically and athletically. Finny's influence highlights the transformative power of friendship in nurturing self-confidence and personal growth.

Conversely, the rupture in their friendship following Gene's impulsive act casts a long shadow on his sense of self. The guilt and remorse he grapples with profoundly shape his identity, setting him on a path of self-discovery. The novel demonstrates that friendships not only define who we are but also challenge us to confront our own flaws and vulnerabilities, fostering personal growth and self-awareness.

The Loss of Innocence

Friendship in "A Separate Peace" is intricately interwoven with the overarching theme of the loss of innocence, a motif that permeates the narrative. Gene and Finny's idyllic world at Devon School represents a sanctuary from the harsh realities of the outside world, particularly the looming specter of war. Their friendship symbolizes a fleeting period of innocence, where the boys find refuge from the weight of impending adulthood.

However, as the story unfolds, the fissures in their friendship parallel the erosion of innocence experienced by the characters. The realization that jealousy, betrayal, and cruelty can intrude even within the sanctuary of friendship shatters their innocence. This loss serves as a poignant reminder that the journey to maturity often entails the shedding of idealized notions of friendship and the acceptance of its complexities.

In "A Separate Peace," John Knowles masterfully explores the theme of friendship within the context of a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of World War II. The novel underscores the intricate and transformative nature of friendship, revealing how it can mold one's identity, spur personal growth, and unveil the fragility of innocence. Gene and Finny's friendship serves as a microcosm of the broader human experience, reminding readers of the enduring significance of these bonds in our lives. "A Separate Peace" serves as an enduring testament to the resilience of friendship, showcasing how it may face trials and tribulations yet remain an integral part of our journey toward self-discovery and understanding the world around us.

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Home / Essay Samples / Literature / A Separate Peace / The Theme of thr Loss of Innocence in a Separate Peace

The Theme of thr Loss of Innocence in a Separate Peace

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