Isaac Abbey English Honors Assignment: ‘A Separate Peace’ by John Knowles


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The story begins in 1958 yet flashes back to the years 1942-1943 in the WWII era and it takes place within New Hampshire, primarily at the Devon School. There are no major changes in place (New Hampshire) but changes in time because even though the story takes place in 1958 it, however, is shown in the period between 1942-43.

Major Characters: Gene Forrester (the Narrator) in the story is an uncertain person with jealous tendencies struggling with his identity (Sheesh); Phineas Flynn (or Finny) is described as someone handsome, naturally gifted in the field of athletics and is beguiling because of his fascinating characteristics; Elwin Lepellier (Leper) is withdrawn with an interest in nature and Leper, unfortunately, has a mental malfunction after enlisting in the army; Brinker Hadley, who was a model student, is dynamically changing from to a student who ‘had turned rebel for the Duration’.

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Antagonist: Gene Forrester (Narrator); Protagonist: Gene (Ironically); What is the basic problem and how is it resolved? Gene is fighting a man vs. self struggle because of his jealousy of Phineas and it is resolved the moment he learns Phineas had died, for the narrator had always seen Phineas as a threat to his identity but Phineas never was cognizant of this.

Chapter One: The story begins with the narrator as an adult revisiting the Devon school which he attended when he was younger, but the narrator is surprised because of the limited change of the school. The narrator flashes back fifteen years prior, the narrator and Phineas are standing before a tree ready to climb it and do but they end up missing dinner.

Chapter Two: The next day they are confronted about having missed dinner but Phineas explains himself out of it, and later, while in their room, Phineas changes into a pink polo shirt because he has heard that the United States bombed central Europe. Later, it is time for afternoon tea at Mr. Patch-Wither’s house but then Mrs. Patch-Withers notices that Phineas is wearing the Devon School tie as a belt and explains it away, and afterward Phineas and the narrator jump off the tree as an initiation into The Suicide Society of the Summer Session.

Chapter Three: While up in the tree Phineas saved the narrator from falling but the narrator blames Phineas for them being there in the first place and later they invite several other boys into their ‘Suicide Society’, and Phineas, later, decides to make up his own game called blitzball in which he constantly changes to fit his needs. Later on, Phineas and the narrator hang out by the pool and Phineas decides to break the school swimming record and beats it by .7 seconds but doesn’t want to tell anyone, and after they decide to go to the beach, even though it is illegal, to swim.

Chapter Four: At the beach, the boys fell asleep and when they get to school the narrator finds out he missed his trigonometry test and says Phineas purposely sabotaged him, which pushes him to be number one in class and makes him realizes that if Phineas is the best in athletics then he should be the best at academics. One night, the narrator is trying to study but then Phineas comes to the narrator to come to watch Leper, who is very shy, jump from the tree and this makes the narrator upset because he is trying to study for a test in which he could win two-hundred dollars for, but Phineas tells the narrator that it is only a game and that he thought the narrator did not have to study, and Phineas and the narrator later try to jump off of the tree but the narrator bounces the branch which makes Phineas fall and he breaks his leg.

Chapter Five: Gene later hears that Phineas’s leg is shattered and this makes him distraught to the point where he even had dressed up as Phineas, but, later the next morning, he goes to visit Phineas where he meets Dr. Stanpole who tells him that Phineas is doing better and should remain optimistic that he will walk again which makes the narrator cry because of what he did. The doctor then tells him that Phineas wants to see him and when he asks Phineas what happened in the tree which makes him stressed then he confesses which makes Phineas lash out.

Chapter Six: When the narrator goes back to school he feels that the peace is gone because the summer session is over, and the narrator is still in the same room as before but Leper, who was across the hall, moved to a different dormitory and now Brinker Hadley, who is an alpha male, had moved into his room. The narrator heads to the crew house to join sports and meets Quackenbush, whom no one likes, who calls him maimed, which makes the narrator punch him in the face and they fall into the pond fighting, then Quackenbush asks him to leave; The narrator, on his way back to the dormitory, is questioned about being wet and is warned to change his ways, and the narrator receives a call from outside of Boston from Phineas, who is pleased that his spot as the narrator’s roommate is open, who tells the narrator to play sports for him since he can’t.

Chapter Seven: One afternoon, Brinker Hadley comes across the hall to see Phineas but he is not there so Brinker starts to humorously accuse the narrator of orchestrated Phineas’s accident to get the room to himself and the narrator plays along, and the narrator suggests that they both go down to the smoking but there the boys accuse him, which forces him to play along and when he narrates the event he can’t say that he pushed Phineas off of the tree branch. 

Later on in the semester during the winter, the boys help the war resolution by digging out the train tracks and when it is finished a train of young men, who seem to be having a good time, pass-through and they feel like children among men; the narrator and the boys return and find Leper, then the narrator asks him if he found what he was looking for and Leper says yes, and later the narrator ponders on the purpose of getting an education and when he enters his room, he sees Phineas.

Chapter Eight: Phineas begins by insulting the narrator’s clothes and says how he is not satisfied with the fact that there are no maids this year, suddenly, Brinker enters the room declaring that he and the narrator should enlist in the army but after seeing Phineas jokes on how the narrator’s plot failed, and later that day, Phineas and the narrator are coming from the chapel and Phineas tells the narrator that when you really love something, it has to feel the same way about you. Phineas and the narrator decide to skip class to go to the gym but it is across the campus so when they get their Phineas is tired, then Phineas asks what sport did the narrator pick and the narrator says none, which upsets Phineas, but Phineas decides to train the narrator for the Olympics of 1944; One morning, Phineas is training the narrator and the narrator feels his body changing which Phineas says that he has “found rhythm.”

Chapter Nine: The narrator is now adopting Phineas’s view, in which he too feels joyful and at peace, moreover, Leper enlists in the army because of the ski troops, and the narrator wishes that leper is brave. On a Saturday afternoon, Phineas suggests that the boys plan a Winter Carnival for the next Saturday and the narrator is the head of the snow statues, even Brinker has become a rebel, then the boys drink some hard cider and a telegram comes for the narrator from Leper asking him to come “at once.”

Chapter Ten: At night, the narrator goes to Leper’s house but when he arrives it is morning and Leper welcomes him, however, Leper is acting strangely and he accuses the narrator of causing Phineas’s accident, then the narrator pushes over Leper’s chair, and at once, Leper starts laughing and sobbing until his mother comes. The narrator apologizes and Leper invites him to stay for lunch, afterward, they take a walk but then Leper breaks down.

Chapter Eleven: When the narrator is back on campus he is desperate to see Phineas, who is in the middle of a snowball fight, after talking with Leper and observes how Phineas’s walk is completely different from before, then later, in their room, Brinker comes to visit to know about Leper, where he is told that Leper is mad; The narrator finds out that everything is being taken over by the war effort, so the students now are thinking about joining the military but the narrator does not do anything and Brinker says it is because he pities Phineas, then jokes about having caused Phineas’s accident which makes the narrator very uncomfortable. 

At night, Brinker and his friends come to get Phineas and the narrator, then they go into the Assembly Room where they ask Phineas what happened but the narrator tries to intervene, however, Brinker stops him; Phineas does not think that there is anything to clarify, then Brinker presses and Phineas doesn’t actually know if he was alone in the tree or not, but they bring Leper in as a witness yet he does not want to implicate himself, this makes Phineas leave and the boys hear the sound of Phineas exiting, next slipping and tumbling down the stairs.

Chapter Twelve: Phineas is carried out on a chair and the narrator feels unusual because he never sees Phineas being helped, then when they are at the infirmary they are told that this time it is a clean fracture, and when the narrator enters Phineas’s room through the window, Phineas yells, “You want to break something else in me,” which makes the narrator begin to apologize but Phineas does not want to take it to heart. 

Later, he heads back to the infirmary, bringing Phineas’s clothes, and when he arrives he reminds Phineas that he had confessed earlier, moreover, Phineas wishes that there was no war so that he could deal with this; Phineas wishes that his leg was not fractured so that he could help with the war effort but the narrator thinks that this is a bad idea because Phineas does not understand war and Phineas is trying hard to believe that what the narrator did was just a “blind impulse” so the narrator agrees, then the doctor tells the narrator to come back at five after surgery, however, the narrator comes and finds the Phineas died during surgery but the narrator does not cry.

Chapter Thirteen: The narrator stands at his window overlooking the quadrangle and sees that it is being taken over by the war, furthermore, Brinker announces that his father has come so he brings the narrator to meet him but finds that he is a sturdy, militia-type old man and Brinker has to apologize for his eagerness. The boys say their goodbyes and the narrator goes to clean out his locker and thinks on why Phineas is so different, then finds that Phineas lacked enmity; When the narrator joins the war he does not have any anger because he took it out on Phineas and says that he killed his enemy at Devon so he never killed anyone during war. 

How are events and the theme influenced by the narrator’s point of view? The events and the theme are influenced by the narrator’s point of view because of his self-effacing and jealous character. An example of this is when the narrator decides to wear Phineas clothes and states, “I would never stumble through the confusions of my character again.” This shows that the narrator feels comfortable being Phineas and not possessing his individuality. In conclusion, the narrator prefers to be Phineas and not himself for he thinks Phineas is greater than himself and does not appreciate his character but Phineas’s charisma.

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