A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace is a fictional novel written John Knowles. The novel takes place at a boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II and follows a young man’s journey through maturity and adult hood. Gene, the main character and narrator, is a lonely intelligent boy who trying to find his identity in life. As the book opens, Gene Forrester is in his thirties visiting his old school, and has a flashback as he remembers his days spent there.
Gene is currently enrolled at Devon School in New Hampshire and is planning to stay for the summer session. His roommate Finny is the best athlete in school and is known for his “dare devilish” stunts and charisma. Together they jump out of a dangerously high tree limb into a river bend and start their own secret club, where they jump the tree as their beginning ritual to every session. As time passes, Gene comes to realize of Finny’s phenomenal athletic ability, especially after he broke the school’s swim record. They secretly snuck into the pool when no one was around and Gene timed him as he swam. Finny’s time beat the record time with seconds to spare but insisted of telling the coach, he told Gene not to tell anyone. Gene was confused and envious at the same time. It was at this point in the story when Gene became more aware of Finny’s athlete abilities and was more jealous and suspicious then before. Gene now believed the Finny was purposely taking steps to distract him from his studies. His suspicions led him to have an inner hatred towards Finny although only maintaining an appearance of friendship. Gene’s hatred leads into the climax of the story when one day, as they were doing their ritual tree jump, Gene accidently shook the tree limb causing Finny to fall to the ground below. Finny shattered his leg and was taken to the infirmary where the doctor told him he would never be able to play sports ever again. As soon as Gene found out, he felt a huge amount of guilt and had gone to confess to him later that day but failed to do so. Gene had consciously shaken the tree limb out of envy and hatred to his friend and was going to confess it but by then Finny returned home to rest. Gene eventually gets the chance to confess when he visits his home. Finny is unpleased by his allegations and makes him leave. As the boys return to school, they are in high talks of enlisting in the army but only one ends up joining. Leper Lepellier becomes the first one to enlist and comes to a surprise to the other boys because Leper is a gentle, kind, nature-loving kid. As winter arrives, Finny organizes a winter carnival and it becomes a small escape from studies for Gene until he receives a telegram. It was from Leper, saying that he desperately needed Gene to come to his home in Vermont. Gene arrives and notices that Leper was acting strange. Leper had returned from the war not telling Gene the reason why but had begun to apprehend him about Finny’s accident. It was clear to Gene that Leper had gone mad and was the reason he was sent home, but also that Leper has unraveled the truth behind this tragedy. Frightened, Gene runs away back to Devon where rumors had already begun to buzz around. Brinker, a prominent class politician, had become aware of Leper’s state of being and just like him had begun to question what really happened that one summer evening. For that reason, he wanted to prove or disprove his suspicions by organizing an after-school tribunal of students and had Gene and Finny summoned without warning. The students asked loaded questions to Finny and Gene about that one summer afternoon but neither could recall what had happened. Leper, who had arrived earlier that day, was then called in to help give a better understanding of what truly happened that day. He began to implicate Gene about what he really did. Facts were thrown out and assumptions rose, until Finny did not want to believe that his friend has caused him to be handicapped. He angrily left and stormed down the stairs. As he did the students heard loud pounding thumps coming from Finny’s direction, he had fallen and broken the same leg again. He was again taken to the infirmary and was in such a terrible condition that he left had to undergo surgery. While in surgery, bone marrow had seeped into his bloodstream, which later killed him. Gene received the news about his death the next day but never grieved over it. He felt that he had defeated an enemy but had lost his best friend. In the end, the students enlisted in the army and Gene had returned twenty years later to remember how he killed his best friend.
Gene is the narrator to this novel and tells his story as a flash back. He was an intelligent student at Devon school who was still trying to find his own identity. He was envious when he found a friend who was everything he was not. He develops a love-hate relationship with Finny, who alternately admires him. In many instances, it seems that he wants to live Finny’s life and is extremely uncomfortable with his own personality. Gene initially believes that Finny resents him for his academic success in turn sparking hatred within himself towards his best friend. His hatred ended up killing his best friend; he becomes a killer, the destroyer to all the things he loves.
Finny is Gene’s roommate and best friend. He is athletic, charismatic, self-confident, and likeable. His personality is exactly what Gene has been yearning himself. Finny’s athletic capabilities allowed him to be the top on the sport squads and a very popular boy. His personality becomes what Gene envies most and has to pay for it by giving up what does best. He falls off a tree limb breaking his leg and is unable to play sports ever again. Finny had a dare devilish personality and was never good in his studies. He becomes unique to Gene whose hatred ends up killing him in the end.
Leper Lepellier is the quiet peaceful boy at the school who never did anything wrong. He becomes the first to enlist in the army and shocks everyone in doing so. The war has driven him insane and his resultant personality showed the audience the fears and dark times the war had brought upon adolescents during that time. His accusations at the end lead the student meeting after school into believing Gene purposely hurt Finny.
Brinker Handley is an organized and well rounded in his academics. He is the class politician and has a charismatic personality similar to that of Finny. His belief in justice had held him to organize a trial after-school, which lead to Finny’s fate.
A Separate Peace has many themes woven into its text. The most noticeable and major is the theme concerning personality. Gene is struggling to find his identity and place in the world while Finny is unique and has the sheer joy of living. Leper’s personality was a nature-loving one until he saw war in the raw, which is when he became fearful and anxious. His shift in personality leads into the next theme that is transformation. Finny undergoes a change as well when at first, he is the star athletic and a few careless moments later, he becomes crippled for the rest of his life unable to play any sports again during his lifetime. Leper also had a metamorphosis when he decided to enlist into the army. His views on life had become realistic and personality wise he had completely changed. Another theme is the creation of inner enemies. Gene becomes jealous of Finny’s personality and athletic abilities. He sees him as an enemy rather than a friend and ends up killing him with this inner hatred.
World War II in the novel had changed Leper completely. His biggest transformation was his personality. He was scared of death and feared war. The war had made him hallucinate and anxious. I know that a lot times when people go into war and see death or experience much fear, they come back the same way Leper did. War changes people in more ways than one, they never come back the same way as they went. Another real word comparison to the book is how people have inner hatred towards others even when they could be best friends. I believe all of us show or have shown a different feeling towards someone even though we felt the complete opposite. They may not always be feelings of hate towards another but we have all hidden our true feeling from someone at one point or another. Another similar aspect is that we sometimes become envious or jealous of others just because they fulfill something that we yearn to have or do better in. It can be as simple as performing a task better or having a trait that is a appealing to you.
I think that John Knowles has created an instant classic with this novel. It is a well-written story with an ingenious plot. It all began with an innocent friendship that finally led to a huge controversy. The plot structure was great and the characters became complex real people that you felt remorseful for. The symbolic use of the war made you think how this is really happening in today’s world and that war truly does change people. A Separate Peace was a great read and is definitely a must for all young adults.