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.
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