This book opens with Gene Forrester’s return to Devon school after World War II to revisit the place where he believes he fought his war. He remembers his last year at Devon, when he became friends with his roommate, Finny.
While Gene is thoughtful and unsure of himself, Finny is filled with confidence. This confidence is based on a physical prowess which makes him the best athlete in the school. While Gene is capable of earning the top grades in his class, Finny is the undisputed class leader. Finny’s constant invention of pranks and games and his insistence on fun and good fellowship remind the boys, who have many kinds of trouble on their minds, that the joy of living should be valued above all things.
Gene comes to feel that there is a secret rivalry between him and Finny, he even suspects that Finny’s midnight larks are part of a plot to prevent him from getting the best grades. When he realizes that he is mistaken and that he has projected his own insecurity onto Finny, he is unable to accept this fact. Suddenly presented with a chance to hurt Finny, he causes an “accident” which results in a crippling compound fracture for Finney.
Most of the novel deals with Gene’s attempts to come to terms with his act. Finny does not suspect Gene, so Gene must deal with himself in moral isolation. Though Gene tries to confess, Finny will not listen to him. Only when their classmates hold a mock trial, do Finny and Gene face what Gene has done. Perhaps as a result of the trial, Finny rebreaks his leg and dies in the resulting operation. Before the operation, in a secret visit to Finny’s hospital room, Gene learns how much he has hurt Finny and how truly innocent Finny has always been.
Though often discussed as a novel for young people, A SEPARATE PEACE is rich enough to interest adult readers. Gene’s discovery that the real enemy is not across the ocean but in his own soul is convincing and moving.
Bell, Hallman B. A Separate Peace. Boston: Twayne, 1990. A collection of critical essays that give an excellent overall view of Knowles’s novel. Includes a useful bibliography.
Flum, Hanoch, and Harriet Porton. “Relational Processes and Identity Formation in Adolescence: The Example of A Separate Peace.” Genetic, Social, and General Monographs 121 (November, 1995): 369-390. The authors view the process of identity formation through the lens of the story of an adolescent boy’s experiences during World War II at a boarding school in New Hampshire. Using the events of the book as examples of the necessary connections that are essential to the process of development, the authors explore male adolescent growth.
A Separate Peace - Symbolism Essay examples
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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. It is as if the boys are in their own little world or bubble secluded from the outside world and everyone else. Along with their friends, Gene and Finny play games and joke about the war instead of taking it seriously and preparing for it. Finny organizes the Winter Carnival, invents the game of Blitz Ball, and encourages his friends to have a snowball fight. When Gene looks back on that day of the Winter Carnival, he says, "---it was this…show more content…
Phineas’ death is the end of Gene’s childhood. He is forced to grow up when he realizes that he is living in a world of hate, crime, and disappointment. He is getting older and closer to his eighteenth birthday when he will be drafted into the war, and he finally begins to prepare. At the conclusion of the novel, after Phineas is gone, Gene says, "I was ready for the war, now that I no longer had any hatred to contribute to it. My fury was gone, I felt it gone, dried up at the source, withered and lifeless. Phineas had absorbed it and taken it with him and I was rid of it forever" (871). This is another example of how the war furthers Gene’s advance into adulthood.
The war is a symbol of how things aren’t always what they seem. Recruiting posters and propaganda advertising the army convince many boys into thinking the war is an exciting adventure in which young men interact. Leper enlists in the army after being impressed by a film shown by a recruiter from the U.S. ski troops. "The ski movie had decided him. ‘I always thought the war would come for me when it wanted me…I never thought I’d be going to it. I’m really glad I saw that movie in time, you bet I am’" (826) Leper is amazed by these men and how they, with their recognizable and friendly faces, give a clean response to