A Separate Peace ,by John Knowles, is a story about Gene, his friend Phineas, and his internal conflict with himself. Knowles creates a riveting drama with this story utilizing elements
of plot, setting, character, and theme. This paper will cover these elements and how they convey the author's message.
Separate Peace has a complex plot which starts innocently enough at Devon , a boarding school, with a jump from a tall tree. This marks the beginning of a period of carelessness and fun, and also the beginning of a feeling of jealousy for Gene of Finny. As the story continues, Gene and Finny spend the summer careless and free. This carefree attitude is at its height when Gene and Finny break a major rule and go to the beach, a forbidden act. At this point Phineas professes to Gene that he is his best friend. Yet, Gene has very different feelings and says nothing in response. As it gets towards the end of the summer session the fun suddenly ends. As the boys attempt a double jump, Gene has a momentary lapse of judgment, and out of jealousy he jounces the limb and sends Finny falling to the ground with a chilling thump. This marks the beginning of the end. This is also the end of the Summer Session.
While away from school, Gene is ridden with feelings of guilt. He feels a compulsive need to confess his guilt to Finny. Out of this need, Gene goes to Finny's house and tries to tell him what really happened. Finny cannot accept this and denies it and dismisses it as a result of his troubled mind.
Upon returning to Devon, things are much different. The days of reckless abandon were over and things were to get much tougher. Things were just not going well, Leper went to war, then out of the blue, Finny returns.Finny was in tough shape. His leg broken, he was no longer able to play sports as he oncedid. His injury did not make him lose hope though. In his usual spirit he trained Gene and organized a Winter Carnival. Old times were back. But,a letter from Leper, stating that he
escaped the army,brought the cold, harsh reality of war into focus.
The story climaxes as Brinker organizes a trial accusing Gene of trying to do away with
Finny. Finny's emotions overrun him as he attempts to leave only to fall and break his leg once
again. This is truly the end because Finny doesn't survive and the story ends with Gene
realizing that he's killed his enemy even before he went to war.
Along with his complex plot, Knowles also uses the power of setting in his novel. One
setting I found appealing was the Nagaumsett River. This is introduced at a time when the
happy, carefree attitude of the summer session was gone. This new river was dark, dirty, dingy,
and outright disgusting. It was the total opposite of the Devon river which held a certain majesty.
This new river gave a darker tone to the story and represented the feelings of anger, hatred, and
guilt. This setting also seemed to influence Gene. Gene would never fight with someone, but in
the presence of the Nagaumsett, he lets loose his anger and rage to give Quackenbush a thorough
thrashing because of his comment of being maimed. So the introduction of this river definitely
influenced the mood and the characters.
Knowles makes good use of character to convey his message. There are four important
characters: Gene, Phineas, Leper, and Brinker. These characters all interact with each other to
make a intriguing novel.
The main character of Gene Forrester is the narrator. He an average looking boy who is
best friends with Phineas. He is subordinate to Phineas. Gene worships him, but sometimes it
occurs to Gene that he really envies him rather than loves him because subconsciously he wants
to be superior to him.As a result of these feelings, Gene feels unnaturally guilty after Phineas'
accident. From there on, Gene feels as if he is an extension of Phineas. Gene helps him...
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