A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace: by John Knowles
During World War II in the struggle for peace among nations comes a smaller, but still significant struggle, in a prep school boy becoming a man and waking up to reality.
In the book A Separate Peace, the author John Knowles, creates the image of two sixteen-year old boys struggling to keep what little sense of peace they know, even though there is a war going on all around them.Gene Forrester, the narrator of the story also struggles with an inner conflict of his secret resentment of his best friend Phineas (Finny). Phineas struggles with the disbelief that he can never be of any use to the war efforts with a “busted leg.”
Gene Forrester, the main character in the book, returns to his old prep school-Devon- that he attended some fifteen years earlier. While there he remembers the incident that changed his life. In the summer of 1942, Gene and his friends stayed at their prep school for the summer session. His best friend in those days was a boy named Phineas, or Finny. During that time World War II was going on and the sixteen-year old boys were trying to preserve the peace in their lives, before they would be old enough to be drafted into the war-just one year later. One day Finny, the best athlete in the school, came up with the crazy idea to jump out of a tree into a river. All of the seventeen-year olds had accomplished this task because it was a mandatory test for the war. Phineas, naturally was the first sixteen-year old to conquer this feat; so Gene was the second. None of the other boys ever tried the jump. After a while the two made it an almost day-to-day activity. The two boys were a lot alike, but Gene had this underlying resentment of Finny and he felt that Finny was deliberately trying to make him do badly in school because he was constantly dragging Gene along with him to go jump out of the tree. One time Finny decided that he and Gene should do a double jump, since that had never been done before. While up on the limb, Finny is the further out then Gene, and Gene gets this sudden impulse to shake the limb, which sends Finny plummeting into the shallow part of the river, breaking his leg. After the accident, Finny could never play any sports again; merely being able to walk is a blessing. For the duration of the summer session and for part of the regular session, Finny remains at his home to heal his leg. During that time, Gene goes and visits him and confesses to shaking the branch so Finny would loose his balance and fall. Finny does not believe a word of this disturbing revelation and sends Gene away. When Finny does return to Devon, he never brings up Genes off-the-wall confession. Months pass and suddenly the accident is brought up again by a boy named Brinker who believes that there is more to the story than what is being said. (No one else in the school new for a fact that Gene shook the branch on purpose to make Finny fall, they just had empty accusations.) So Brinker set up a sort-of mock court one night and took Gene and Finny there. Finny was seated in the middle of the Assembly Hall and asked to tell what happened. Since Genes confession, Finny refuses to believe it is true and imagines that Gene wasnt even in the tree with him, therefore, he would not be able to place Gene as the guilty one. As the story unravels of what really happens, Finny gets fed up and leaves the building saying, “I just dont care. Never mind.” And then all the boys hear him fall down a flight of stairs, re-breaking his leg. This time though, Finny isnt so lucky and while the doctor is setting the break, some of the bone marrow gets into his bloodstream and immediately stops his heart. When Gene hears of this he does not cry, nor does he ever cry over Finnys death, because when Finny died it was like he died with Finny. At the end of the school year, Gene enlists in the war and joined the Navy. He never killed anyone, though, “Because 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.” Finny was his enemy, not because of something he did to Gene, just because Gene made it that way in his imagination.


The central character and narrator of the book, Gene Forrester, goes though a dramatic change. Throughout most of the book Gene is living in a world of resentment that revolves around Finny. After Finnys accident, Gene realizes that Finny was never trying to make Gene do badly in school. This makes Gene feel guilty about shaking the branch and he vows to be there for Finny because he realizes that Fin needs him. At this point Gene is becoming a man by taking responsibility for his actions and trying to do something about it. He still hasnt woken up to reality yet, because he believes that there really isnt a war going on. All this time though there was a more important war going on between Gene and his own disillusions. He let himself believe that there wasnt really a war going on because Finny was always saying things like that. The only reason Finny was saying those things was because he had a “busted leg” and couldnt contribute to any of the war efforts himself. He wrote to every group that was associated to the war and fighting for the peace, but he always got the same reply saying that they had no use of a person with a crippled leg. Gene finally wakes up to reality when Finny dies. He realizes the way of life that he was living while a Devon, and the type of person that he had become. After Finny died though, Gene discovers that he created a war between himself and Finny that never existed.
The author gets his point across and does a very good job at it. The book was very interesting and enlightening. It makes the reader think about their friendships and their life in general. People should not let little things rule their lives. Underlying resentment could build up to something very dangerous and destructive. The reader also learns from this book that there is a big world out there and one needs to become mature enough to fulfill their adulthood duties. The author lastly shows that everyone is fighting their own personal war, but how someone handles it is based on their maturity and their knowledge of knowing the difference between imagination and reality.