Character Motives in John Knowles' A Separate Peace

Topics: A Separate Peace, Need to know, Jealousy Pages: 4 (1279 words) Published: December 19, 2013
In John Knowles’ novel A Separate Peace, which chronicles the maturity of a group of prep-school friends, Gene Forrester, Quackenbush and Brinker, three prep-school students, often are subject to their emotions and personalities so as to harm others. They can be pushed to harm in both physical and emotional ways. Each of these boys has something—Gene’s jealousy, Quackenbush’s frustration, or Brinker’s pride—that drives them to hurt and brings out the worst in their characters.

Gene Forrester, the narrator and protagonist of A Separate Peace, as an adult recalls himself in his teenage years at Devon School: an intellectual boy who tends to analyze the motives of everyone else around him. At times in the novel, Gene is dependable, courageous, and mature. At other times, however, and mostly toward the beginning, he is insecure, competitive, jealous and fearful. Gene is always comparing himself to his best friend, Finny, and often he falls short in his estimation. Although Gene is obviously the more intellectual of the two, Finny is an outstanding athlete, having received many awards, and is the most self-confident person Gene knows. It is this self-confidence and charm that allows Finny to break school rules and simply talk his way out of punishment. For example, when the boys miss dinner one night, Mr. Prud’homme comes to talk to them. “As Mr. Prud’homme looked at [Finny] and listened to the scatterbrained eloquence of his explanation,” Gene says, “he could be seen rapidly losing his grip on sternness” (22). Gene becomes increasingly jealous of Finny, and the fact that Gene works hard for his grades whereas Finny’s athletic achievements come so easily to him fuels this jealousy even further. For a while, it seems logical to Gene that Finny also envies him and his academic successes, and that, when Finny tries to spend time with Gene, he is actually trying to sabotage him by taking away his time to study. It is Gene’s jealousy that makes him paranoid...
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