Warfare, Identity And Jealousy In A Separate Peace By John Knowles
The novel Separate Peace, 1959, depicts a story of a classical english boarding school reminiscent of the dickensian era of cold showers and beatings. John Knowles uses the historical context of World War Two and his childhood experiences to explore a broad selection of themes: namely, warfare, identity and jealousy. This story contemplates the struggle between young boys to have a relationship. Gene’s greatest role model is equally his greatest source of jealousy: Finny. His intellect and athletic abilities makes his character well rounded, while Gene is more introverted and focused on his work ethic. Thus, the relationship between these two boys will be explored and how the themes above play a role in acting as a social cement and toxic concoction.
The story took place at an all boy’s boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II. The protagonist in the novel was a sixteen-year-old boy named Gene. In Knowles’s novel, A Separate Peace, these two sixteen-year-old boys named Gene and Finny, who were roommates, become the best of friends throughout their school career at Devon. ‘Looking back now across fifteen years, I could see with great clarity the fear I had lived in, which must mean that in the interval I had succeeded in a significant undertaking: I must have made my escape from it. ‘ (A Separate Peace, 10). In this quote, the protagonist went back to the Devon school fifteen years later and realized that everything his sixteen-year-old self once feared is now at peace. He believes that he had made his escape from it. As he looked around his old school in devon “Devon is sometimes considered the most beautiful school in New England, and even on this dismal afternoon its power was asserted. It is the beauty of small areas of order living together in contentious harmony. ” (A Separate Peace, 12). The author uses this oxymoron to tell you they found some sort of peace that went within their fighting.
Halfway throughout the first chapter, the protagonist shifts the scene into a flashback. A childhood memory that he has when he discovers this specific tree where he and his friends would jump off into the river. This tree has a very symbolic meaning. In the flashback, what this tree represents is a step in the road for a group of adolescent boys who are on the verge of blossoming into fully grown men. According to the protagonist, if you were in the senior class, you had to take accelerated classes, first aid programs, and a physical hardening regimen, which involves jumping off the tree in order to go into the war. So the boys, who were upper middler, wanted to be the first to jump off the tree and prepare themselves to get drafted into the war. Gene and Finny created a group called “A Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session. ” and in order to be apart of it, you have to jump off of the tree.
Further into the novel, Gene starts to realize that there is a rivalry between him and Finny. They’re both jealous of their different attributes. Gene is the intelligent one and does really well in school and Finny is the athletic one and has a very outgoing personality. The main conflict in this story is Gene’s inability to have a balanced friendship with Finny. The conflict isn’t between the boys, it’s a conflict that Gene wages within himself. He idolizes Finny and wishes to be more like him. Causing him to create so much hate and jealousy of Finny. “I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything. I couldn’t help envying him a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying even your best friend a little. ” (A Separate Peace, 25). in the following excerpt, this is the beginning where Gene starts to form some type of jealousy with Finny. He becomes aware that he is jealous of Finny and how he could literally get away with anything just by hypnotising them with his words.
The author sets this novel during the wartime. Yet, there isn’t much that happens in the novel that involves the war. Knowles namely talks about a boy named Gene who refuses to recognize his own feelings of jealousy and insecurity as the real enemy. His fears are given onto his best friend, Finny, who Gene suspects his feelings of hatred and self loathing. With Finny as his enemy, Gene has fallen into a world of competiton and hatred. This act of self-deception drives Gene to malicious thoughts and behavior, destroying any feelings of affection and friendship he might have once had for Finny. Upon realizing his mistake and discovering that Phineas does not share Gene’s envy and hatred, Gene’s isolation and self-loathing deepen and he intentionally cripples the one person who wants to be his friend.
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