A Separate Peace
Relationships Between Finny and Gene in a Separate Peace Novel
Finny and Gene: First Friends, Then Rivals
Good friends trust in and live close to one another, but when one begins to compete fiercely to be better than the other, then the resulting conflict is often monumentally harmful to the state of their friendship. Rather than directing their powers of disagreement and enmity towards one another, friends should constantly watch over each other so that he/she may be successful in all of his/her pursuits. In some scenarios, the relationships between friends go terribly wrong. In Knowles’s A Separate Peace, The friendship between Finny and Gene is shattered because of Gene’s competitive actions, coupled with the emotional pressure World War II puts on both of them during the course of their time at Devon.
Sometimes the failure of a friendship is the result of one of the friend’s faults, rather than caused by the general disagreement and bickering between the two of them. During their summer semester at Devon, Gene and Finny have a wonderful time together, from beginning the Suicide Society, to playing Blitzball, to taking a secret outing to the beach. Though they do have the time of their lives in some respect, Gene begins the pay the price for letting his academic obligations fall by the wayside. The day they return from the beach, Gene flunks his trigonometry test. Later, he reflects on what it would mean for him to come out on the top of his class and for Finny to be the star athlete at school: “If I was head of the class on Graduation Day and made a speech and won the Ne Plus Ultra Scholastic Achievement Citation, then we would both have come out on top, we would be even, that was all. We would be even…”(52). At this moment, Gene realizes that his ultimate goal for the summer semester is solely to become even with Finny. For some reason, he feels it necessary to compete with this best friend. In fact, Gene goes so far as to assume that Finny has this goal already in mind and is, as he realizes this, already working to cut him down from achieving this “getting even” or better, achieving superiority. Gene believes that Finny procured these elaborate diversions simply to derail his attempts at success. The reality is, Finny, in no way, would ever work to undermine the achievement of his friend. Gene is truly at fault here. While he obsesses over his studies and being better overall than his friend, letting jealousy get the best of him, Finny goes on happily with his life, carefree and blissfully ignorant of what enmity is brewing within his friend. When Finny finally realizes what has been concerning Gene all of this time, that he, like anyone else needs to study, Finny reacts like a true, good friend should: “ He looked at me with an interested, surprised expression. ‘You want to study?’
I began to feel a little uneasy at this mildness of his, so I sighed heavily. ‘Never mind, forget it. I know, I joined the club, I’m going. What else can I do?’
‘Don’t go.’ He said it very simply and casually, as though he were saying, “nice day.’ ‘Don’t go. What the hell, it’s only a game’ ” (57).
After Gene hears this, his defenses lower. After all, with such a nonchalant, innocent reply, it is impossible to detect any hint of ill intentions at all. Finny wants Gene to do well and always has. Later, Finny claims that he never new that Gene had to study. Gene never really accepts Finny’s innocence, though, because he ends up going along with him to the tree later. One of the most pivotal events of the book occurs shortly after the confrontation when Gene “jounces” the tree limb, knocking Finny off the tree and maiming him. It is evident, therefore, that the fiercely competitive attitude Gene adopts in an attempt to be superior to Finny fails, in that he ultimately becomes a detriment to their friendship as a whole.
World War II, though it is a background theme, also influences the relationship between Gene and Finny. The two of them are emotionally uptight with the looming future of the draft. Gene contemplates what it will mean for him to enlist and leave the “separate peace” of the Devon School. He claims that he “owed no one anything” (102) and, therefore should be able to make whatever choice he pleases. By saying this, though, he entirely ignores Finny. To enlist would mean that Gene leaves everyone close to him behind, and his friendship with Finny would be destroyed once and for all. Though we are never sure whether he actually does enlist, the mere idea of it troubles Finny. When Gene breaks the news to him, it is evident that he does not like the idea of it. Though he doesn’t say it outright, Fin’s expressions and feelings express his opposition to this idea. More and more, it becomes evident that Gene and Finny do not exist on the same plane of thought, which eventually brings their friendship apart.
Throughout the book, Finny has little or no problems getting along with Gene, whereas Gene comes to ruin their friendship entirely. It began with the jouncing of the limb when he managed to take away one of Finny’s greatest strengths: athleticism. One thing Gene never could strip Finny of was his goodness. Even after the incident, Finny continued to deny the fact that his best friend was responsible for crippling him and went on with life as if he was never injured. Finny always gave Gene a second chance, but Gene just did not see it.
Analysis Of The Novel “A Separate Peace” By John Knowles
The novel A Separate Peace is mainly focused on an adult, looking back at his youth, named Gene Forrester who turns out to be our narrator. Gene looks back at his childhood from a more mature point of view and greater wisdom. Gene imagines going back to his old prep school in which he attended fifteen years ago. This particular school is called Devon, inside of New Hampshire. For some odd reason, this school has no girls, and seems to be very strict. While Gene wonders around the school’s campus he starts to notice how different the school is, in a good way. To him, it seems “more perpendicular and strait-laced, with narrower windows and shiner woodwork as though a coat of varnish had been put over everything for better preservation”. Gene also continues on to explain that he “didn’t entirely like this glossy new surface, because it made the school look like a museum, and that’s what it was to me, and what I did not want it to be”. The school was most likely not in the best shape when he was a young boy considering the fact that there was a war going on in the year 1942. World War II was going on overseas and Gene was sixteen years old which only meant that in two years, Gene was most likely going to be drafted into the war. This opening scene creates a mood of fear that affects the entire novel.
At this point, the story starts to shift back into a flashback of the year 1942 when Gene was still in school during the war. The flashback begins halfway through the first chapter and lasts throughout the whole entire novel, creating an odd effect. Once the narrator drops us back into the 1940s, the story is told from the perspective of the younger Gene. Yet somehow the narrator often seemed to squeeze in critical notes and calm thoughts that seemed to be from the older version of Gene.
Gene had a best friend named Phineas, but we, later on, get to know him as “Finny”. Knowles, the author somehow brought these two boys together considering the fact that they are polar opposites and they both have different opinions. Gene sees the world as an awful hurtful place with separation. This could have been due to the fact that there was a war going on at the time. “The war was and is a reality for me.”. On the other hand, Finny saw the world as a kindhearted place. The author made Gene more aware of what was going on, while Finny was a bit slower at realizing the horrible things in this world, or in other words, reality. The friendship between these two roommates was far from simple. For example, Finny would always push Gene from his own comfort zone and do things he clearly did not want to participate in, such as jumping from the tree branch and getting involved into a wrestling match that made him miss dinner. “Why did I let Finny talk me into stupid things like this?” More importantly, it is quite obvious that Gene had a grudge towards Finney, even though he never really admitted to it. Gene was portrayed as being jealous of Finny for some the tiniest things. For example, Gene said that he finds it “galling” that Finny weighs ten pounds more than he does.
Later on in the novel, Gene’s envy for Finny started to show even more. Gene watched Finny talk his way out of trouble, first with Mr. Prud’homme and the Mr. Patch-Withers. Gene felt “unexpectedly excited” at the idea of his friend getting in trouble but soon after he felt “a stab of disappointment” when Finny wiggles himself out of trouble. Gene tried to be reasonable with his emotions and mixed feelings due to the fact that he did not want to see Finny being punished just to not see him suffer but it turned out Gene just wanted to see the excitement that the punishment would have brought. “I just wanted to see some more excitement,” Gene seems to struggle to convince even himself, adding, “that must have been it.” Soon after Gene insisted that Finny was his best friend and that just being friends with someone like Finny was and honor seemed pretty forced. Even though Finny truly is a special person, what Gene didn’t say as loudly as what he did. His choice of not to return Finny’s profession of friendship on the beach reveals his envy. This meant that Gene was divided between respect and bitterness. Love and hate.
At this point in the novel we begin to learn more about Finny as a person, even though it is through the perspective of Gene. Finny’s character traits were obvious. He had some fun and humor inside of him, enthusiasm, and what seemed to be genuine devotion to Gene. Finny loved playing sports and doing physical activities, in fact, he had a goal to be the best but he had no desire to beat anyone else. His refusal to publicize his swimming record at the school proved his humbleness and modesty. His goals were only meant to prove to himself that he could do it. “Blitzball”, a game that both Finney and Gene created was a game that everyone competes in, but nobody wins, was just another example of his sportsmanship and great attitude not only toward sports but also toward life in general. Finny did seem to have one flaw though, which became even more clear later on throughout the novel. He seemed to be portrayed as self-centered as he did fail to recognize the fact that others might be different from him, with different opinions, needs, and fears. He just assumed that because he wants to jump every night Gene will want to as well. For example, on the trip to the beach, Finny never even bothered to ask himself of Gene might not want to skip school to spend a night on the sand. Finny never expected a “no” meaning Gene was never brave enough to give him one. But at the same time Gene always assumed that everyone had the same level of jealousy and competitiveness as himself. For example, if he were to be competing with Finny, he just simply assumed that Finney must be competing with him too. He overcame this feeling by convincing himself that Finny is just as bad as he is, rather than trying to improve himself.
A very shocking moment from the novel was when Gene intentionally pushed Finny off a tree, making fall and injured. While Finny is in the hospital, the first thing that Gene did was putting on Finny’s clothes and imitating Finny’s appearance in the mirror. This unusual act showed the line that separates his own identity from his best friend’s. To relieve his guilt about his involvement in the fall, he tried to escape his own identity by going in someone else’s clothing, or in other words someone else’s identity. While Gene was starting to become Finny he let his own guilt fades away for a few minutes. But his little plan of escaping did not work because he soon after felt even more ashamed about the accident because he knows how jealous he was of Finney and he could not help but think that his envy somehow got to his actions. Gene’s desire to be Finny makes him confess. He admitted that what he was thinking was wrong because he thought that Finny would have done the same if he were in Gene’s position. However Finny had no interest in Gene’s confession, in fact he was in denial. While Finny’s life is slowly changing forever due to the accident, his friendship with Gene grows even more. The relationship became the center of his life, especially when he returned to Devon later on into the novel. Chapter 5 was basically a summary of the next two chapters later on. In these chapters Gene creates a plan that would cut his tie with his best friend. Here Gene confesses to knocking Finny from the tree therefore destroying their friendship once and for all but Finny still refused to accept the truth.
Towards the end of the novel Finny goes in an operation to set the leg again, when a marrow from the broken bone enters the bloodstream and his heart stops. He was gone. All this was so unexpected. Gene accepted the news without crying, because he had felt that he also died, too. The novel ended with Gene thinking about Finny’s great gift, his ability to remain innocent, to see the world as a good place, and to never even imagine the chance of an enemy. Later, after the war, Gene looks back and understands that he fought his real war at Devon. The book’s last lines made me wonder if Finny’s perspective on the world is just simply the most realistic then any of the other characters. If what we consider the enemy is only a fabrication of some profound ignorance in mankind’s inner being.
Understanding Self-Conception As Demonstrated By John Knowles In, a Separate Peace
A separate peace is a novel that has become a classic since its release. The novel is about two young boys growing up during the war at a military school. Details of the boy’s day to day life thicken with hidden meanings and themes intricately weaving throughout the duration. One of the foremost and obvious themes of the book is Gene’s subconscious Loss of self-identity due to the imposing achievements of Phinny. This theme illustrates a more astute meaning in terms of now. Presently children are being exposed to the same kind of mental development exhibited within the book. Television in particular plays a role in this grotesque process. Media is harmfully affecting the concept of self inside the minds of many children and teenagers alike.
In A Separate peace a select passage conveys Gene’s loss of identity. The story has just started a falling motion after a dramatic climax. Phinny has just fallen out of a tree the boy played and jumped off of into a river. Phinny is a very talented athlete in the book and exceeds Gene in almost every aspect. Gene looses himself too jealous and self-destruction. He begins to hate himself and takes on the role of Phineas or Phinny. His anger and frustration finally peaks on top of the tree when he pushes Phinny from the tree breaking his leg, afterwards Gene apologies to the Phinny. “ And I lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first: to become a part of Phineas”(Knowles 85). This quote shows Gene’s Affinity to become Phinny; he faces his own discrepancies by becoming a person he sees as perfect. Gene has a mental instability with his self-esteem and confidence. He is a role modern for contemporary societies youth.
Modern day’s so called advancement is beginning to sprout and divulge it’s own devilish products. Television for example was once viewed and thought to be a great advancement for the helm of news. Television most certainly drifted from that stance in the last 3 decades. If only there were worthwhile, educational shows that weren’t so explicit and violent. (Winn 13) The harmful effects of television weigh deep into the minds of adolescent minds through many means. The first and foremost of these is the loss of identity. Adolescent minds watch television from an early age. With the age of television introduction becoming younger and younger, the younger viewers begin to watch television at a very early age, before their brains develop certain principles. ”Television is a large part of daily life.”(Winn 17) With this inflection of Media, the mind will grasp hold of principles differently than in previous decades. The viewer could view him or herself as the character in a favorite show, or think they are apart of the life going on around that show. Never realizing simple characteristic’s of fictional show and ultimately leading to serious mental difficulties in the future.
A separate peace illustrates the importance of self-identity loss through the character Gene. He looses his own selfdom in jealous and hatred for his own being. This same problem exists throughout the world of today, conveyed by television and the media.
Narrative Changes in a Separate Peace
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 correct circumstances. In the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Phineas is another victim of high school changes, catalyzed by injury. He begins his adolescent life normally, as a superb athlete, yet a tragic “accident” wrecks his chance at a this normal life and puts Finny in a state of denial. However, he eventually accepts his reality by snapping out of his dreamer mentality. The progression of Finny’s mental state is indicative of how trauma can catapult the normally unsettling growth of youth in high school into a state of disbelief and denial, detaching one from reality.
Finny begins life at Devon school as a dreamer. He has a free spirit, creating activities and doing odd things for pure amusement. As Finny is trying on unusual clothes, he ponders “…what would happen if I looked like a fairy to everyone” (17). Phineas really does not care what others think about him; he is just curious for his own sake. This dressing scene and the pages following in which he wears the pink shirt demonstrate his carefree attitude towards life. After swimming in the school pool and breaking a record, Phineas notes how “The only real swimming is in the ocean”(37). He is unimpressed by the fact that he breaks the school’s record, but wishes to swim in the ocean, as if doing so were somehow a greater feat. He does not pay heed to the fact that he is breaking an important rule, and might even miss class. The first few chapters of A Separate Peace stress the dreamer mentality of Phones in other ways. In addition, Finny has no visible fear of things that others commonly are afraid of. For example, the dreaded tree is a nonissue in the mind of Finny. He jumps first, saying, “here’s my contribution to the war effort” (8). Others in his group of friends tremble at the sight of the tall tree. Even Gene is skeptical about the safety of the tree to begin with, only jumping after Finny goes first for reassurance. Phineas chooses what needs to be done, and sticks with his decisions without fear of failure.
To save Gene from falling from the tree, Finny “shot out and grabbed my [Gene’s] arm, and with my balance restored, the panic immediately disappeared” (24). He does what has to be done instantly, without questioning himself in the process. Finny lacks fear of things that could be serious issues to others. It is this lack of fear that makes his injury so tragic. After his fall from the limb, Phineas denies that Gene jounced the limb, and disavows the existence of a raging war. It seems to Gene that Finny actually believes that the war is a joke made up to subdue the people. When discussing other conspiracies, Finny states that “they couldn’t use that trick forever, so for us in the forties they’ve cooked up this war fake” (107). Phineas of course denies the existence of the war with his inner logic, seeming sensible and realistic. This constant self-justification is proof that Finny really does not even believe the theories himself. He is just using them as a shield to avoid his own reality. He asserts this theory again when Mr. Ludsbury talks of the war; Finny explains that Ludsbury believes in the war because he is “Too thin. Of course” (114). This statement goes back on his former idea that “fat old men” created the war and contrasts Ludsbury to these men. Mr. Ludsbury is a symbol for the rest of Devon, and even the rest of the world. Everyone believes in the war but Finny, and he is alone in his theories because he needs the protection. The theories of “fat old men” give a sense of justification to Finny that he is not needed in the war, even though he would love to participate. It kills Finny to sit at home without truly participating.
Phineas also denies the fact that he fell directly because of Gene jouncing the limb. Finny does begin, after his injury, to suspect Gene by having a “crazy idea, I must have been delirious”(58). This idea is immediately dismissed by Finny, however, as it could ruin the friendship. Finny chooses not to pursue this topic because it would get him nowhere, much like accepting the war would. Nothing could be done to change the past at this point. As response to Gene’s visit and confession, Finny asserts, “Of course you didn’t do it. You damn fool. Sit down, you damn fool”(62). No matter how Gene tries to approach the topic with Finny, his feelings of disbelief will not budge. He is completely denying this fact because Gene is his only true friend, and their bond could be ruined for him if it were true. After his final accident and before his untimely death, Finny does eventually accept the harsh reality of his situation. He acknowledges the existence of the war. After Leper’s ordeal Finny realizes that “If a war can drive somebody crazy, then it’s real all right! Oh I guess I always knew, but I didn’t have to admit it”(156). The war had then personally affected one of Phineas’s close friends, forcing the reality of it onto him. Finny could no longer lie to himself and others about the war. He lied about the war because he could not participate in it: “I’ll hate it everywhere if I’m not in this war! Why do you think I kept saying there wasn’t any war all winter?”(182). Finny’s leg injury prevented his probable experience if the war. A great athlete like Finny’s past self would have been perfect for the war, but all of his chances were ruined when he was jounced by the limb. Finny accepts that Gene caused all of this, that all of his pain and suffering was due to Gene. After his second fall when, Gene attempts a late night visit, Finny yells, “You want to break something else in me! Is that why you’re here!”(176). It is not just limbs however that were broken due to Gene. Finny’s chances at life, a future, and a normal high school were all ruined as well. Fortunately, Finny holds no grudges on his deathbed, accepting and giving reasons that did what he did. Finny explains that “It wasn’t anything you really felt against me, it wasn’t some kind of hate you’ve felt all along. It wasn’t anything personal” (183). Finny eventually understands the subconscious feelings that Gene has been having. He accepts this fact knowing that Gene is not to blame, and should not feel sorrow towards Finny. He ends his short dreamy life as a realist, with no regrets or qualms regarding his killer.
In his short life, Finny passes through three personas involving stages of acceptance: a dreamer, denialist, and finally a realist. His crippling injury took away his childish perspective, and forced hiding and lies upon him. His second injury removed his shields and forced an acceptance of harsh reality. Seeing life from a different perspective, whether it be as a cripple or a realist, can give the reader an entirely different mindset for determining what is important, and what can be easily forgiven.
A Contrast Between Finny and Brinker in a Separate Peace, a Novel by John Knowles
In the book “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, two of the characters extremely contrast each other. Phineas is a mischievous and vibrant person who brings other characters together for sports and other adventurous experiences. He was known as the leader of the summer session, forming clubs and inventing sports for all to play. Finny’s reign ends, however, when he breaks his leg, symbolically ending the summer. Brinker Hadley, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of him. He is more conservative, devoted to rules, and constantly suspicious of others. Brinker is seen as the leader of the winter session, when the war draws closer than ever, and discipline is restored at Devon. Finny and Brinker represent the summer and winter sessions of Devon.
One of the main characters, Finny, represents the summer session at Devon. He is carefree, and doesn’t follow rules. During the summer session at Devon there is a substitute headmaster, who is more lenient about the rules and policies of the boarding school. It is a time that represents the innocence of the boys, before the war. As said by Gene in Chapter 2, “I think we reminded them of what peace was like, we boys of sixteen…We were careless and wild, and I suppose we could be thought of as a sign of the life the war was being fought to preserve….Phineas was the essence of this careless peace.” (Knowles #). Finny is known by others to be carefree and calm. He doesn’t seem to worry about anything in the future, while others are worrying about the upcoming war. But once Finny falls out of the tree at the end of the summer, this innocence and careless way of life meets its end, welcoming the start of the winter session.
One of the other characters, Brinker Hadley, represents the winter session at Devon. He is, and constantly follow the rules. During the winter session at Devon the true headmaster, who is serious and strict about the rules. It is a time that represents the incoming World War II, and the boys of Devon being faced with the real world. As said by Gene in Chapter 6, “Across the hall…where Leper Lepellier had dreamed his way through July and August amid sunshine and dust motes and windows through which the ivy had reached tentatively into the room, here Brinker Hadley had established his headquarters. Emissaries were already dropping in to confer with him.” The people around Brinker see him as a tough hard person, similar to a drill sergeant. Though it was said jokingly, Gene is subconsciously realizing the war is drawing closer to Devon.
In the book “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, Brinker and Finny extremely contrast each other. Finny is more childlike and carefree, and is the leader of the summer session of Devon. But when Finny falls out of the tree, the summer ends as does the carefree attitude of the students. Brinker, however, is the opposite. He is a stickler for the rules and arrogant. Brinker is seen as the leader of the winter session, while the school becomes affected by the upcoming war. Finny and Brinker represent the summer and winter sessions of Devon.
Friendship in a Separate Peace by John Knowles and the Movie Dead Poets Society
Friendship: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
One of the main elements in both the coming-of-age novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, and the quirky movie Dead Poets Society, written by Tom Schulman and directed Peter Weir, is friendship. Friendship can involve many stages, and at times, can be very complex, but in pure definition it is “a relationship between two or more people who are friends” (Encarta Dictionary). Both works feature a boarding school in which teenaged boys interact with each other on a daily basis. This is how friendships are made. However, all friendships can undergo rough patches. A true friend will stay by his comrade through all of these times. By paralleling the positive and negative aspects of the friendships between Gene and Finny from A Separate Peace by John Knowles, and Todd and Neil from Dead Poets Society, it is made clear that friendship involves a significant amount more than just sharing interests, hobbies, or activities, but rather, standing by another’s side through all things, good and bad.
Gene and Phineas usually referred to as “Finny”, share a very complex bond. At a glance, it is clear that they are friends, but, at a deeper level, they may not be. In every friendship, there is always one friend that is the “friendlier”, more dominant friend, who usually is more enthusiastic, energetic, or adamant about going someplace or doing something with the other. It is obvious that Finny is this friend; Gene is more reserved and studious than Finny is. Because Finny believes so much in his friendship with Gene, and in its strength, he is willing to ignore his thoughts that Gene might have had something to do with his accident:
I don’t know, I must have just lost my balance. It must have been that. I did have this idea, this feeling that when you were standing there beside me, y— I don’t know, I had a kind of feeling. But you can’t say anything for sure from just feelings. And this feeling doesn’t make any sense. It was a crazy idea, I must have been delirious. So I just have to forget it. I just fell…that’s all…I’m sorry about that feeling I had. (Knowles, 66)
Though there is much evidence that could prove that Gene made Finny fall out of the tree (for example, he was on the branch when Finny fell), Finny chooses to depend on his trust in Gene to know, or choose to believe, that Gene did not push him out of the tree. Even though Finny is the more trusting friend, and Gene is the more paranoid and untrusting friend, Finny still helps him prepare for the Olympics and supports him: “Did I ever tell you, that I used to be aiming for the Olympics?…And now I’m not sure, not a hundred percent sure I’ll be completely, you know, in shape by 1944. So I’m going to coach you for them instead… Leave your fantasy life out of this. We’re grooming you for the Olympics, pal, in 1944.” (Knowles, 117) This may seem ironic because Finny, with his shattered leg, could use more support than he gives Gene, Through Gene’s point of view, however, it could be seen that Gene is supporting Finny, too. Finny wanted to go to the Olympics, but now with this leg, that cannot even be possible, so in fact, Gene is helping Finny live out his dream. Finny’s support for Gene is more physical because he himself cannot succeed anymore in that area, while Gene’s support for Finny is more mental because Gene is more pronounced in that area. In addition to helping with all of his homework, in fact helping him graduate from high school, Gene allows Finny to live in his own fantasy world, where the war is concocted by fat cats in business suits sitting in board rooms eating steaks and everyone wins every game and there are never any losers:
Have you swallowed all that war stuff?… Do you really think that the United States of America is in a state of war with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan?… Don’t be a sap, there isn’t any war… The fat old men who don’t want us crowding them out of their jobs. They’ve made it all up. There isn’t any real food shortage, for instance. The men have all the best steaks delivered to their clubs now. You’ve noticed they’ve been getting fatter lately, haven’t you? (Knowles, 115)
This eventually, in a way, backfires on Gene because he eventually starts believing Finny’s ideas on the war too. And that’s where it all begins to go downhill.
Neil Perry and Todd Anderson, though they can be considered friends, do not share the same bond as Gene and Finny. Todd is the shyer of the two, most likely because he has been stuck in his older brother’s shadow, as his brother also went to Wellton and excelled in everything. Because Todd is so shy, Neil, being the optimist he is, encourages him to participate more in life: “You were there. Don’t you want to do something about it?” (Weir) When the boys confront Mr. Keating about the Dead Poets Society, and he tells them about how the boys could use poetry to understand the world, and make women swoon, most of the mare quickly on board. All that is, except Todd, who Neil later talks to. Todd doesn’t want to participate in case they are caught, which could mean expulsion from the school. However, Neil, like Finny, wants everyone around him to be as happy and carefree as he is. He is often shown trying to cheer up Todd and to inspire him to: “…Suck the marrow out of life” (Weir) with wisdom such as: “Horseshit. Nothing’s impossible.” (Weir) Neil is more of the type to throw caution to the wind and deal with the consequences later but Todd is very cautious and practical. When he hears all that Neil wants to do, or something he dreams about, Todd is often a voice of reason. However, he can be very negative, which balances out Neil’s optimism, but at the same time can be a little overbearing and offsetting: “The point is, that there’s nothing you can do about it.” (Weir) Many times, when Todd makes these unintentionally depressing comments, we as readers can see into what shaped his character into the discouraging way it is now, and how Neil lightened it, until he committed suicide.
Friendships, like life in general, can go through rough patches. Things are not always easy; people do not always agree with one another. When bad things start to happen to good people, it is easy to lose hope and start to doubt in even one’s closest friends. When Finny tries to inspire the students at Devon to keep their hopes up, and starts the Super Suicide Society that requires long nightly meetings, Gene begins to lose his trust in Finny, as he believes that Finny is sabotaging Gene’s incredible efforts to academically succeed to make himself a great student at Devon:
“After all, he should talk. He had won and been proud to win the Galbraith Football Trophy and the Contact Sport Award, and there were two or three other athletic prizes he was sure to get this year or next. If I was head of class on Graduation Day and made a speech and won the Ne Plus Ultra Scholastic Achievement Citation, then we would both have come out on top, we would be even, that was all. We would be even. Was that it!… Finny had deliberately set out to wreck my studies. That explained blitzball, that explained the nightly meetings of the Super Suicide Society, that explained his insistence that I share all his diversions.” (Knowles, 51-53)
Of course, Finny is doing no such thing; he genuinely thinks that Gene is really into all these activities and has no intention of trying to one-up Gene. Between the pair, Gene is definitely the more paranoid and untrusting, but there are times when Finny is just the same, though never coming close to the same level as Gene. Finny’s one great doubt, probably the one time he doubts anyone or anything in the entire novel, is that he thinks that Gene knocked him out of the tree which, eventually, lead to his examination by the “court” and breaking his leg a second time. This is when his world of blissful ignorance as he knows it collapses around him: “You want to break something else in me! Is that why you’re here!” (Knowles, 184) When reading this, an image of an injured animal comes to mind. Finny, like a wounded predator, is backed into a corner, and to protect it, violently lashes out at those near him. He doesn’t understand that Gene just wants to comfort him. Todd is also like this, except his outbursts do not stem from possible deceit of a friend. Instead, they stem from shyness and ignorance: that by everyone who knew his older brother and expect him to do the same and be as exceptional, standards to which he could not reach. When Neil, being the outgoing person that he is, tries to help Todd, Todd blatantly refuses: “I can take of myself just fine.” (Weir) Neil continues to try and be a friend to Todd, never discouraged at all by Todd’s remarks about his not needing anyone’s help.
With both of these pairs, one could argue that neither were friends with the other; Gene is constantly paranoid that Finny is trying to out-due him, and Todd and Neil never shared a close bond, they were only roommates. These are both true, but if special notice is given to the circumstances, it can be seen that this can also be proven wrong. Finny considered Gene to be his best friend, and though Gene can think the worst of Finny, it can be noted that Finny could point out a great deal more worse in Gene than Gene could of him, and Finny still considered Gene a friend. It may appear that Todd does not see Neil as a friend, but that would not explain all the times that the two exchange advice, or all the times that Neil cheered Todd up, such as the time when Todd’s parents sent him the same desk set as they did the previous year. Friendship is not always visible in its most common form, but people are not all the same, so it would be most unwise to assume that it would only take one form for everyone.
Discovering Symbols in A Separate Peace
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 or joyful, a beginning or and end, but what every object or place has in common is that it holds significance beyond what meets the eye. Such a symbol in A Separate Peace by John Knowles, specifically to Gene Forrester and Finny, is the tree along the bank of the Devon river. While it may look like any other tree on the bank of the river to most people, to the students at Devon during 1942, it symbolizes many things. The tree serves many purposes in the novel A Separate Peace, some of which being to symbolize friendship, fear, and youth. One of the main things that the tree in a Separate Piece symbolizes is the friendship and bond only formed through an abnormal activity. For Gene and Finny especially, this action is jumping into the river from the tree. Out of this bond forms the “Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session.” Gene depicts the formation of the society when he recalls “Rigid, I began climbing the rungs, slightly reassured by having Finny right behind me. “We’ll jump together to cement our partnership,” [Finny] said. “We’ll form a suicide society, and the membership requirement is one jump out of this tree.” “A suicide society,” I said stiffly. “The Suicide Society of the Summer Session” (Knowles 31). The tree serves as a means to bond Gene and Finny even more than before as explained in how they cement their partnership. Without the tree to jump from, there never would be a society and Gene and Finny never would experience the bond created in their jumps from the tree. While the idea of jumping from the tree binds the two friends, the first jump indebts Gene to Finny. Finny saves Gene from suffering a drastic fall from the tree, so Gene is forever grateful to Finny. Gene realizes this fact when he reflects that “If Finny hadn’t come up right behind me…if he hadn’t been there…I could have fallen on the bank and broken my back! If I had fallen awkwardly enough I could have been killed. Finny had practically saved my life” (Knowles 32). While Gene is not ecstatic Finny even forced him up onto that limb and so he does not give Finny a large outward expression of gratitude, the sequence of events that created the society and Finny saving Gene solidifies the special bond between the two. They are in something bigger than their feelings towards each other. Even though the Suicide Society is short-lived and largely unimportant, their bond becomes so much stronger than simply being normal friends. Gene stays by Finny’s side to the end while Finny is on his deathbed for more reasons that just that he ultimately caused his death. He didn’t stay out of pity or a sense of duty, Gene stands unwaveringly even when Finny pushes him away, as he loves Finny. Gene and Finny aren’t friends, they are brothers due to a simple friendship being cemented and blossoming into something more through the experiences they share, many of which occur due to the tree on the bank of the Devon River. While friendships thrive due to the tree, fear also has its roots in the tree and the experiences it holds during the summer session of 1942. Eventually Gene fears what he has become, but it all began as a fear of his best friend. Gene describes his delusional anger and animosity towards Finny when he recalls “I found a single sustaining thought. The thought was, You and Phineas are even already. You are even in enmity…Finny had deliberately set out to wreck my studies…that explained his insistence that I shared all his diversions…It was all cold trickery, it was all calculated, it was all enmity” (Knowles 53). Gene accuses Finny of trying to hurt Gene, but the feeling stems from jealousy and a deep, hidden fear that Finny really is so much better than him. Gene must console himself and justify his anger towards Finny in some way, and he chooses to do it in a way that frames Finny. All the pent up disgust and anger towards Finny boils over when, jumping from the tree with Finny once again, Gene says “…my knees bent and I jounced the limb. Finny, his balance gone…tumbled sideways… and hit the bank with a sickening, unnatural thud. With unthinking sureness I moved out on the limb and jumped into the river, every trace of my fear of this forgotten” (Knowles 59-60). Gene fears for himself and what Finny is supposedly trying to do to him, so he makes the decision to push him. Not only does he alter Finny’s life in one action, but he feels nothing after, jumping into the river with no emotion at all. Gene let his emotions get the best of him and control him, as the jealousy he has always had for Finny that leads to the fear of Finny taking away the one thing Gene has the advantage in: his studies. Gene acknowledges this when he finally admits “I never killed anyone and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever even put on a uniform; I was on active duty my whole time at school; I killed my enemy there. Only Phineas was never afraid, only Phineas never hated anyone” (Knowles 204). The fear of betrayal Gene feels towards Finny culminates at the tree, and for that reason the tree can be seen as a means to bring out fear of others and one’s own inner thoughts and beliefs. The final thing the tree symbolizes in A Separate Peace is youth. The whole story is told as a flashback when Gene revisits Devon many years later, and many of his initial reflections begin at the tree and how he grew up on the very same branches that are now dying. The main reflection Gene has is described when he thinks “This was the tree, and it seemed to me standing there to resemble those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but that they are absolutely smaller, shrunken by age. In this double demotion the old giants have become pigmies while you were looking the other way” (Knowles 14). Gene reflects that the tree symbolizes how he has matured since the time he spent at Devon. He and all of his friends where just boys during their time there, and the fact that their youth is so important puts even more emphasis on the fact that they where being sent to war less than a year from the time of the flashback Gene is having. The decaying tree shows how something that was once an accomplishment to jump from is now dying, and the memories made there are fading with it. Everyone grew up so much at that tree from Finny’s life being changed to Gene realizing that a small part of him has always had disdain for Finny’s charisma and seeming perfection. This tree holds major milestones and events in the lives of all the boys who attended Devon during the summer session of 1942. It symbolizes war as students prepared by jumping from it. It symbolizes tragedy, but it also symbolizes joy and freedom. The tree on the edge of the Devon River is where the boys of Devon were exposed to the real world in Finny’s fall and its consequences, but also in the joy found in friendship. Thus, it also represents youth, as making mistakes, learning from them, but having fun along the way is what growing up is all about. The tree at Devon symbolizes much about what life was like there during the year of 1942, as it was full of friendship, fear, and growing up. Many people can not only point out a specific place that brings them memories, but they can confidently say that it is where they grew up more than anywhere else. The tree was such place at Devon. The summer session of 1942 is when these boys became men due to all the tragedy occurred but being able to live on. There is more than what meets the eye to one specific tree at Devon, and that is what makes the tree so symbolic of 1942 Devon School.
The Happy Ending in A Separate Peace, a Novel by John Knowles
Although John Knowles novel A Separate Peace seems rather bleak at most points, it does overall end happily because the bad things pave way for the good, the hero completes his quest, and in the death of Phineas (Finny) there is renewal of Life with Gene’s finding of peace.
One of the major ways that the author, John Knowles, shows us that A Separate Peace has a happy ending is by his use of the bad things to pave way for the good. During most of the novel A Separate Peace there are many things that are seen to be bleak, for example Leper’s descent into madness, Gene’s violence towards others, and ultimately the death of the Christ-like Finny. However, all of these dark and sad things pave way towards the happy ending of Gene’s final peace. For example, the madness of Leper which is seen by Gene after Leper gets discharged from the Army for insanity may seem on the outside as something bleak and sad, as it is a good friend lost down the path of mental illness. Although this seems dark it ends up contributing to the happy ending of Gene’s peace because Leper although ill, is called upon as a witness in the trial of Gene and ends up outing Gene’s betrayal to Finny causing a chain of events to be set in motion that end up with Gene realizing that “my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there”(Knowles 204). The death of Phineas helps cause the same thing as well so even though these things look bleak and sad, they contribute to the overall happy ending of A Separate Peace.
In addition to the previous, John Knowles also uses the archetypes of quest, and hero to show a happy ending in A Separate Peace. Gene, playing the part perfectly of the flawed hero, has a search for identity which leads him to suffer greatly, both of these are major hero characteristics. In fact Gene’s suffering is taken so far that Gene doesn’t even consider Finny dead and at the funeral, he considers a part of himself dead and he states, “I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral and you do not cry in that case”(Knowles 194). Because of Gene being the hero, and a good hero must complete a quest, Gene’s quest ends happily after sad things occur. For example, Gene eventually wins his search over identity however it may seem dark because he has killed a part of himself mentally. However, it is not so dark because Gene is mentally free and he doesn’t resent or hold his bitter anger anymore and now has peace. Gene shows the archetypal quest and is the archetypal hero but his quest isn’t as bleak as it would seem because in the end Gene is free and renewed as a human.
Another way that A Separate Peace can be seen with having a happy ending is that the whole book ends with Gene finding his “separate“ peace in the world because his mortal enemy is slain and Gene finally finds his peace because of the renewal of life. Gene’s mortal enemy the one he killed before the war, is his anger which we see three times. Without the death of this we would not be able to see Gene having peace in his life, which is one of the reasons that Finny has to die because they are yin and yang and one must die the other must live. Gene reaches eternal peace and goes back to visit the school he once feared when we see him in the flashback which means that he has made his peace with the things he did and the ways that he acted, a rather happy ending with lots of closure. Gene ends up having a part of Phineas become him even though a part of him died. Instead of seeing the tragic death of Finny we must see that it was more the death of Gene’s hatred in a physical sense and the glorious Finny lives on with Gene replacing the horrible part of Gene which Gene realizes, “Down there I fell into step as well as my nature, Phineas-filled, would allow”(Knowles 204). This conveys that Gene has no longer violent evil emotions but through the rebirth of Finny has now incorporated part of Finny, the good parts, into his being.
An Essay on Responsibility in A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace: Responsibility
A responsibility is something for which one is held accountable. Often people say that one is responsible for one’s own words and actions; if something happens as a result of something one does one is responsible for it. But is it possible that something could be the result of various actions from different people who are therefore equally responsible, or is there always one person who is most responsible for the incident at hand? Such a situation where this question is relevant is present in the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles. In the novel, the main character, Gene, ponders his responsibility for the death of his best friend, Phineas or Finny. After reading Gene’s account of the events that led to Finny’s death the reader may observe that there are three people who are all partially at fault for Finny’s death. Gene, a classmate named Brinker, and Phineas all had something to do with the incident, but who was most responsible for it?
Gene is probably the most obvious to blame for part of Phineas’ death. Gene clearly feels guilty, that is why he returns to the tree fifteen years after the fact, for some sort of closure. As Gene and Finny were about to jump from a tree branch into the river together, Gene shook the branch causing Phineas to fall into the river unexpectedly and hurt his leg. Later on, when Phineas re-injured his leg and was having it set in a routine operation, he passed away. The doctor said that it was probably because some marrow entered his blood stream and caused his heart to stop. But if Finny had never fallen in the first place he would have not been on that operating table. Therefore, indirectly an action of Genes eventually resulted in Finny’s death. But was this action done consciously? The author does not specify. “My knees were bent and I jounced the limb”(Knowles p.52) says Gene in his account of the incident. “I jounced” is an active verb but “were bent” is passive meaning that some unknown force bent Gene’s knees and as a result of that he jounced the limb. Since this action was not totally Gene’s he is not thus totally responsible for the fall or the events that occurred as a result of it.
Brinker, Gene and Finny’s classmate was responsible for the circumstances that lead to Phineas’ second fall. Brinker suspected that Gene was responsible for Finny’s first fall and begrudged him somewhat for not enlisting in the army with him when he had wanted to. It was Brinker who called together the trial in which Gene was prosecuted for purposely causing Finny to fall off the tree. But even if Gene was to blame for Finny’s first fall, it was not necessary to drag Finny out of bed in the middle of the night and put him through such emotional turmoil when he was still physically vulnerable from the accident. If Brinker had not organized the trial Finny would have never rushed out in such an upset manner causing him to fall and hurt himself again. The doctor was not sure why Phineas died. “In the middle of it [the surgery] his heart just stopped. I can’t explain it.”(Knowles p.185) He said. Later on the doctor conjectured that Phineas probably died when marrow entered his blood circulation and clogged his heart but Gene meant the world to Finny. The idea Brinker introduced to Phineas that his best friend would betray him hurt Phineas severely and maybe even caused him to loose the will to live. Brinker’s actions were crucial to Finny’s death and since they were done with cruel intentions Brinker is largely responsible for the death of his classmate.
Surprisingly enough Finny is partly responsible for his own death. He knew that jumping off the tree into the river was dangerous hence the name of the club “Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session”(Knowles p.24) whose membership requirement was one jump from the tree. Also, if not for Finny Gene wouldn’t even have come to the meeting the night of the accident, Gene wanted to stay in the dorm and study but Finny used reverse psychology in order to convince him to come. Lastly, it was also Finny’s idea that they jump together rather then alone, risking the possibility that the movement of one could cause the other to loose his balance. If not for any of these incidents Finny would never have fallen to begin with, Gene’s trial would never have taken place, and he would not have found himself on that operating table. This makes Finny largely responsible for his first fall and partly responsible for his death.
In conclusion although none of them were conscious that their actions would eventually lead to Finny’s death, Gene, Brinker, and Finny were all partly responsible for it. The one most to blame however was Finny himself, starting a club in which jumping off the tree into the river was a membership requirement was the first in the series of events that eventually lead to his death. If Finny had not done this none of the incidents which Gene and Brinker were at fault for would have ever had reason to take place. Consequently, the person most to blame for the death of Phineas was Phineas himself. As the song goes: “It is of no surprise to me, I am my own worst enemy.”(Lit Place in the Sun)
Comparing and Contrasting the characters of Phineas and Brinker
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 sessions. This conflict is best illustrated by Knowles’s use of varying personalities in two of the primary characters, Phineas and Brinker Hadley. Although the same age, the boys exhibit different personalities that correspond to the differing moods at Devon during the summer and winter sessions. The laid-back anti-war personality of Phineas reflects the mood during the summer session, while the orderly pro-war attitude found at Devon during the winter term corresponds to the personality of Brinker. Brinker and Phineas’s views on war, as well as their reactions to Phineas’s fall, are shaped by their respective personalities.
The author uses Brinker and Phineas to represent the contrasting attitudes at Devon during the summer and winter sessions. The winter session is characterized by the conservatism and pro-war attitude of the faculty and students. The pro-war attitude is demonstrated throughout the year by the curriculum’s emphasis on physical preparedness and mental agility for use in war. Brinker thrives in the orderly, militaristic setting of the winter session. “I liked Brinker in spite of his Winter Session efficiency; almost everyone liked Brinker.” Knowles uses the character of Brinker to exemplify the efficiency of Devon’s operation. Brinker’s serious attitude mirrors the somber formality the war creates at Devon.
In vivid contrast to the winter session, the summer session lacks structure and order. Phineas’s attitude parallels the carefree days of the summer session. The “gypsy days” of summer are laid-back and far less stressful than the regular school year. While reminiscing over his summer at Devon at the beginning of the winter term, Gene states:
The traditions had been broken, the standards let down, all rules forgotten=2E In those bright days of truancy we had never thought of What We Owed Devon, as the sermon this opening day exhorted us to do.
The summer session is untouched by the war, and is not tainted by preparations for the inevitable. The winter session transforms Devon into a strict, institutional school that prepares students like Brinker for military service, while the summer brings the carefree innocence of students like Phineas to the school.
Brinker and Phineas’s contrasting views on the war in Europe reveal their personality differences. Brinker begins the school year believing that military service is both necessary and enjoyable. He encourages other students to enlist, and often makes reference to his own plans to join the military. It is his persuasive skills that almost convince Gene, Phineas’s closest friend, to enlist during the beginning of his senior year. Brinker’s views on military service and bravery are made evident in the following moment:
“Everybody in this place is either a draft-dodging Kraut or a…a…” the scornful force of his tone turned the word into a curse, “a nat-u-ral-ist!” He grabbed my arm agitatedly. “I’m giving it up, I’m going to enlist. Tomorrow.”
However, Brinker does not enlist during his senior year, but chooses to join the Coast Guard after his graduation. For the majority of the school year, Phineas believes that old men “cooked up this fake war” to control the young adult population. Phineas’s disbelief in the war is further demonstrated by his goal to train Gene for the 1944 Olympic Games. Ironically, the views of Phineas and Brinker each evolve completely during the winter session. As his enlistment date nears, Brinker begins to see war as a matter that should not be supported or avoided without great thought. Before his death, Phineas reveals his desire to participate in the war, in spite of his injured leg. The opinions of Brinker and Phineas on the war and military service display the distinct beliefs of the two young adults.
The reaction of the two men to Phineas’s fall from the tree exposes the contrast between their respective personalities. Although Phineas is the most physically affected by the fall, he does not attempt to place blame. He maturely accepts the situation because he recognizes that pointing fingers will not speed his recovery or have positive results. Phineas expresses his disinterest in the accident when he attempts to prevent Brinker’s investigation. After Brinker begins to question Leper about the accident:
Phineas [got up] unnoticed from his chair. “I don’t care,” he interrupted in an even voice, so full of richness that it overrode all the others. “I don’t care.”
Phineas’s decision to continue his life even after his terrible fall demonstrates his mature, yet almost naive, attitude. However, Brinker is unwilling to allow the issue to be simply forgotten. Instead, he constantly pesters Gene about the accident, eventually culminating with a nighttime escapade to hold a mock trial. By hanging onto his notion about Gene’s involvement in the fall, Brinker reveals his own insecurities. By attempting to destroy his closest academic rival’s reptutation, Brinker is really augmenting his own achievement and prestige. Because Brinker lacks self-esteem, he takes pleasure in creating uncomfortable situations for Gene and Phineas. Phineas’s choice to move on with his life contrasts sharply with Brinker’s decision to prolong the investigation into the crime.
The contrasting personalities of Brinker Hadley and Phineas in “A Separate Peace” are a source of significant conflict during the 1942 summer and winter sessions at Devon. Although they are the same age, Brinker’s aggressive, manipulative attitude differs greatly from Phineas’s honest, spontaneous personality. These differences are easily seen through the two boys’ perspectives on the war, as well in as their reactions to Phineas’s fall. Phineas’ laid-back, anti-war personality recalls the general feeling of the summer session at Devon, while Brinker’s orderly, pro-war character expresses the sentiment of the winter session. In their own ways, Brinker and Phineas each represent the views of many people during the 1940’s.