A Separate Peace is a novel by John Knowles that is about prep school experiences during World War II. This book was a good story about an adolescents attempt to understand the world and himself. I enjoyed reading about Gene’s journey towards maturity and the adult world. This book takes place in Devon School, New Hampshire during a summer session when Gene Forrester was sixteen years old.
One day Gene and Finny, his friend and roommate, went to a large tree by the river. Finny suggested that they try and jump from the tree into the river below them. This jump was usually for older boys. But they both made the jump successfully, and Finny formed the Summer Suicide Society, which is dedicated to members being initiated by jumping from the tree to the river. Each time, Gene and Finny must go first, but Gene always has a fear of jumping.
Finny always was considered the best athlete in school, and Gene tried to counterbalance by being the best student. After a while of joining Finny’s activities, Gene thinks that Finny is intentionally trying to make him fail out of school. He starts to dislike Finny and his activities, and Gene starts interrupting his schoolwork to jump from the tree more and more often. On one occasion, he thoughtlessly jounces the limb and Finny falls and breaks his leg. Finny’s leg is so shattered that he will not be able to play sports again.
Gene is scared that Finny will tell that he intentionally pushed him off the tree. After his first visit to the infirmary, Gene realizes that Finny trusts Gene completely and would never accuse Gene. After summer vacation was over, Gene guilty conscience decides to confess to Finny that he had deliberately pushed him out of the tree. Finny refuses to believe his confession, and demands that Gene leave. Autumn session had started and Gene did not try to go out for any sports.
Students volunteered to do jobs left from the workers that were sent off to war. Many students enlisted into the army, and Gene was going to do the same until one day he returns to his room and Finny was there. Finny confronts Gene and tells him that he is going to coach him for the 1944 Olympics. Gene explains that sports are not important while the war is going on. Finny will not believe in the war, and feels that he has suffered so much already.
Gene is drawn into this belief of peace with Finny, and is not in touch with the reality that is going on. Gene’s good friend Leper was the first to enlist in the war, which made the war seem more and more unreal since Leper had never been concerned about anything. Leper left after the recruiter came to Devon and showed pictures of the ski troops in action. Later, Gene gets a telegraph from Leper asking for help, and asks Gene to come at once. Gene arrives at Leper’s house, Gene tries to humor Leper with jokes, but notices that Leper is too nervous and disturbed. Gene asks him how long he will be home, and Leper says that he has escaped the war.
Then Leper gets mad and accuses Gene of thinking of him as not normal. Leper and Gene fight over new army words and Leper says that Gene will soon be trapped. Leper reminds Gene of the time he knocked Finny out of the tree. Gene becomes outraged and calls Lepur a “crazy bastard.” Then Leper switches moods and begins laughing at the fact that Finny is crippled for life.
Gene knocks Leper over in his chair and onto the floor, and his mom comes in and tells Gene that Leper is ill. Gene tries to leave, but Leper makes him stay for lunch. Gene feels ashamed to accept the invitation for lunch. Back to Finny’s fall, some boys from the dormitory come to get Gene and Finny to take them to the assembly hall. They begin asking questions about Finny’s broken leg, Finny refuses to answer the questions and bursts out of the room and falls down the stairs and breaks the same leg again.
Gene tries to visit Finny in the infirmary but Finny wants nothing to do with him. The following day, Finny wants to know why he pushed him out of the tree. Gene says that it was a blind impulse. That same day, while the doctor is resetting Finny’s leg, some marrow gets into his bloodstream and Finny dies instantly. Gene does not cry about his death, and feels that he died with Finny and that he shouldn’t cry over one’s own death. Gene later comes to the conclusion that war never meant anything to him, that he had fought his own war and had killed his enemy at school.
The major conflict in the story is between Gene and Finny. Gene is jealous of Finny because is the best athlete at school and tries to compete with that by being the best student. Eventually, Gene’s jealousy causes him to jounce the limb while Finny jumps. Gene then becomes aware of his inner self and learns of his true feelings. He realizes that Finny has no hatred or jealously towards him. Another conflict is between Leper and Gene.
When Leper decided to enlist in the army, it made Gene think that the war was unreal because Leper was not really in touch with reality. When Gene went to go visit him at his house, they got into a verbal argument, and went off on each other. Leper keeps saying that he has escaped from the war, and Gene doesn’t understand what he means by it. Gene is really infuriated with Leper when he blames Gene at the meeting and causes Finny to fall down the stairs, and die. The mock trial, or assembly, was the climax of the story. It was called by some of the boys at Devon.
At the meeting, they tried to get down to what really happened on the tree the day that Finny fell and broke his leg. Fingers started to point at Gene, and Finny could not answer any questions. Finny angrily left the assembly and fell down the stairs, braking the same leg again. While in the process of resetting his knee, some marrow got into his bloodstream and he died.
The theme of this novel is Man’s Inhumanity to Man. There is a strong relation of this in this novel. The first point is about Finny’s tragic fall and how Gene was the cause of it. Support from the story is Finny’s desire to jump from the tree. Gene said that he was coming to join him but Finny reminded him about studying.
Gene’s thoughts on the matter were, “He had never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us, I couldn’t stand this.” The second support is Gene’s actions leading to the accident. He took a step toward the trunk, put his knees and jounced the limb. Thus, Finny lost his balance and tumbled to the ground.
The third support goes back to the scene of the accident after Gene watches Finny fall. And he thinks to himself, “It was the first clumsy physical action I had ever seen him make.” More less, this is a sign of pride within Gene as he watches the good athlete, Finny fall out of the tree. The second point is on the scene where Brinker brings Finny and Gene to the mock trial to let everyone know the real truth about the cause of the accident. In other words, it was a way of blasting away Gene and shoving his reputation as a respected individual into the ground. Support from the story is when Brinker and three acquaintances come into Gene and Finny’s dorm and pull them out. After they entered the Assembly Room, Brinker remarks, “You see how Finny limps.” This phrase was the beginning of his plan to set the truth loose, or primarily break the friendship link between Finny and Gene.
Brinker chose the Assembly Room as the setting for this trial since there is nothing humorous about the place. It is a place which would be terrible for Gene’s sake to talk about the cause of the accident. The second support is Brinker’s remark in consociation to the accident. He says to Gene, “There is a war on, here’s one soldier our side has already lost.
We’ve got to find out what happened.” A powerful remark by Brinker which ignites the trial. This indicates a strong reason for the trial, Brinker uses this tactic to have the truth let out. The truth that will undoubtedly break the strong bond between Finny and Gene. The truth in which will lead to another tragic fall of Finny. The third support is during the trial when Brinker and Gene are talking about the accident.
Brinker asks Finny, “Have you ever thought that you didn’t just fall out of that tree?” This inquiry from Brinker sets Finny into a different focus, which will open up the accident, a focus that will narrow it all down to Gene being questioned. These are the examples of Brinker’s inhumanity to let the truth loose. His focus is not on just getting the truth out, but breaking Finny and Gene’s friendship. The third point is about when Leper calls Gene to visit him in his Vermont home and Gene runs away. This falls under the Man’s Inhumanity to Man category because Gene runs from Leper because he cannot face the fact that Leper has gone crazy. The support for this is when Leper tells Gene, “You always were the lord of the manor, weren’t you?” This statement is an example of pushing Gene.
It gets Gene upset. The next support is Leper’s quote to Gene which resulted in Gene’s physical outburst on Leper. Leper says “like the time you knocked Finny out of the tree.” This provokes Gene because it is reminding him of his inhumane action to Finny. Thus, resulting in Gene being inhumane to Leper and knocking him out of his chair. The final support is when the scene finally ends. Gene says to Leper, “Do you think I want to hear every detail, I don’t care what happened to you Leper.” This quote from Gene is after Leper explained to him the details of his insanity.
Gene cannot hear anymore of Leper’s talk about his insanity and runs away. This is the final argument in regards to the involvement of Man’s Inhumanity to Man as the theme in the story. Gene Forrester’s difficult journey towards maturity and the adult world is a main character focus of this novel. Gene’s journey begins the moment he pushes Finny from the tree and the process continues until he visits the tree fifteen years later. Throughout this time, Gene must become self-aware, face reality and the future, confront his problems, as well as forgive and accept the person that he is.
With the jouncing of the limb, Gene realizes his problems and the true person he is inside. Fifteen years later, when revisiting the tree, he finally accepts and forgives himself. This journey is a long and painful one. At the end of this long and winding road filled with ditches, difficulties and problems, Gene emerges a mature adult. Gene jounces the limb and causes Finny’s fall and at that moment becomes aware of his inner-self and learns of his true feelings.
This revelation comes to him back in his room before he and Finny leave for the tree. It surrounds him with the shock of his true self until he finally reacts by jouncing the limb. Up in the tree, before the two friends are about to make their “double-jump”, Gene sees Finny in this new light. He realizes that Finny feels no jealousy or hatred towards him and that Finny is indeed perfect in every way.
Gene becomes aware that only he is the jealous one. He learns of his animosity and that he really is a “savage underneath”. Over a long period of time Gene had been denying his feelings of hatred towards Finny, saying that it was normal for him to feel this way. Now all of the feelings come back to him and he sees how terrible he really is. After the realization of the person he truly is, in his room and up in the tree, Gene must now confront his problems, face reality, and deal with the future.
He must learn that communication is very important in a relationship and that he must express himself instead of keeping his feelings inside, as he had always done with Finny. He must learn to listen to himself rather than to others. These were just a few of the many problems there were in his relationship with Finny. He must face reality and acknowledge the fact that he isn’t as great as Finny, that he is his own individual person and that Finny isn’t as perfect as he thought. Gene must accept the guilt for Finny’s difficulties after his injury and must help Finny as a punishment and act of repentance for his deed.
Gene does this by “giving a part of himself to Finny” as we see with the case of sports throughout the rest of the novel – how Gene “becomes” Finny when it comes to sports. Although the above are all of great importance, the greatest hurdle Gene must overcome is learning to live with what he’s done. This painful step is the one which will allow him to completely mature. The final stage of Gene’s maturation is his self-acceptance and self-forgiveness.
He has to accept that he isn’t perfect and that he, like any other normal being (even Finny), has faults. Accepting that his innocence has been lost helps Gene move on into another part of his life and realize that he can never return to the days of his innocent youth again. He can now become a man, enter the war and adult world and leave his youth behind. Forgiving himself is the step which allows Gene to lead a normal life and enter society. He must finally forgive himself completely for his blind act and allow himself to “come in out of the rain”. By accepting as well as forgiving the person that he is, Gene enables himself to move on and join the adult world.
Gene’s maturation is a painful and difficult process that reveals a darker side of Gene that he doesn’t necessarily wish to see. However painful, Gene is made a better person during his maturation through his suffering. Through his pain and awful revelations about himself, Gene matures from an insecure child to a self-knowledgeable adult. The significant quote that I chose for “A Separate Peace,” is when Brinker says to Gene: “There is a war on, here’s one soldier our side has already lost. We’ve got to find out what happened.” This remark relates to me because is determining and shows leadership. He is determined to find out what happened and he will do whatever it takes to find out even if he has to break up a friendship.
I would have done the same thing. If I had a friend, and he or she was intentionally pushed from a tree because someone was jealous of him or her, I would become angry and agitated until I got to the bottom of it.