The Happy Ending in A Separate Peace, a Novel by John Knowles

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

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