Identity and Co-Dependency in “a Separate Peace”

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In the book, A Separate Peace, the author, John Knowles, writes to us a novel about war, but happens to focus more on the war within the human heart. This novel tells a story of two boys’ co-dependency during World War Two, and explores the difficulties with understanding the self during adolescence. Identity is complicated enough as the narrator, Gene Forrester, enters adulthood in a time of war, but a difficult friendship with a fellow student and rival leads to a further confusion of identity. Early in the book, the boys’ relationship is charged by Gene’s jealousy and hate of Phineas’ leadership. However, after Phineas falls from the tree, Gene ejects his darker feelings from himself and turns their relationship in a new direction where co-dependency, instead of envy, drives it. The central relationship between Gene and Finny, involves a troublesome search to authorize identity outside of co-dependency.

Gene Forrester is a boy with many conflicts that he must face throughout his high school year. The most significant of these troubles is, without a doubt, Gene’s struggle with his own identity. At first Gene is displeased with his personality, or lack thereof. He envies his best friend, Phineas’ (Finny’s), wit, charm, and leadership. Throughout the book, Gene repeatedly finds himself acting like his friend, a transformation occurring that Gene is unaware of. There are a number of significant transformations within this story. Phineas is transformed from an active athlete into a cripple after his accident and then sets out to transform Gene in his place. This change is the beginning process by which Gene’s identity begins to blur into Finny’s, a transformation symbolized by Gene’s putting on Finny’s clothes one evening soon after the accident. “I washed the traces off me and then put on a pair of chocolate brown slacks, a pair in which Phineas had been particularly critical of when he wasn’t wearing them, and a blue flannel shirt” (78). This is the first time...
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