In John Knowles’ novel A Separate Peace, it begins with the protagonist, Gene Forrester coming back to his alma mater the Devon School in New Hampshire. Wandering through the campus, Gene makes his way to a tall tree by the river; the reason for his return. From here he takes the reader back to the year 1942 during World War II when he was in high school. During the summer session of 1942, he becomes close friends with his daredevil roommate Finny. Finny is able to convince Gene into making a dangerous jump out of a tree into a river, and the two start a secret society based on this ritual. Gene slowly begins to envy Finny’s athletic capabilities and his innocence, and thinks that Finny envies him in return.
Gene finally realizes that there was never any rivalry between them when, one day, Finny expresses a genuine desire to see Gene succeed. While still in shock, he goes with Finny to the tree for their jumping ritual. When Finny reaches the edge of the branch, Gene’s knees bend, shaking the branch and causing Finny to fall to the bank and shatter his leg. He goes to see Finny and begins to admit what happened, but the doctor interrupts him, and Finny is sent home before Gene gets another chance to confess. On his way back to school from vacation, he stops by Finny’s house and tries to tell him the truth about what happened. Finny refuses to listen to him, and Gene rescinds his confession and continues on to school. World War II is in full swing and the boys at Devon are all eager to enlist in the military. Brinker Hadley, a prominent class politician, tells Gene that they enlist together, and Gene agrees. But later that night, he finds Finny has returned to school. Both Gene and Brinker decide not to enlist. Brinker organizes a meeting with their classmates and has Gene and Finny come without notice. The boys question the two about the fall. Finny does not say much because he cannot remember clearly, and Gene claims that he doesn’t remember the details of it. The boys now bring in Leper, who was sighted earlier in the day skulking about the bushes, and Leper begins to implicate Gene. Finny declares that he does not care about the facts and rushes out of the room. Hurrying on the stairs, he falls and breaks his leg again. Gene sneaks over to the school’s infirmary that night to see Finny, who angrily sends him away. The next morning, he goes to see Finny again, takes full blame for the tragedy and apologizes. Finny accepts these statements and the two are reconciled. Later, during an operation on Finny’s leg, something goes wrong, killing him. Gene receives the news with relative calmness; he feels that he has become a part of Finny and will always be with him. At the end of the novel Gene reflects on the constant enmity that plagues the human heart—a curse from which he believes that only Finny was immune. I believe that John Knowles titled his novel A Separate Peace because Gene gains a separate peace with himself. Even though he hurt Finny and had lots of conflict with him and troubling finding himself, at the end he is able to feel at peace. It was a different peace than he was expecting. The novel focused on the inner wars we wage with ourselves. Even in the midst of a world war, Gene battles his inner demons and defeats his worst enemy inside himself and thus creates a different, a separate peace for himself. The four main characters in A Separate Peace are the protagonist, Gene Forrester, the antagonist, Brinker Hadley, and two of their classmates Finny and Elwin “Leper” Lepellier. If I were to describe Gene in five words, I would say that he is insecure, envious, loyal, competitive, and honest. I would describe Brinker as authoritative, demanding, intelligent, responsible, and mature. Finny is outgoing, free-spirited, mischievous, vulnerable, and charismatic. And Leper is gentle, contemplative, quiet, bright, and bold. My first impression of the protagonist, Gene was that he very much a follower...
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