Written by John Knowles, A Separate Peace is a novel surrounding the life of Gene Forrester. While at a New Hampshire boarding school intellectual and quiet Gene becomes friends with his outgoing roommate Finny. The boys are very different in nature but build a special friendship. Encouraging Gene to face his fears, one night Finny convinces Gene to jump out of a tree into the river; becoming a special ritual both of the boys participate in. Gene is sometimes envious of Finny’s athletic abilities and suspects that Finny is jealous of Gene’s academic skills. Gene later realizes the jealousy does not exist, and Finny is a true friend to Gene with supportive intentions. On night when they boys go to perform their tree jumping ritual, Gene makes a false step causing Finny to fall and break his leg. While Finny does not blame Gene, Gene secretly carries guilt about Finny’s injuries. Gene attempts to tell Finny that he shook the branch on purpose, but Finny disregards his confession. Meanwhile, the boys at Devon School consider enlisting in the military. World War II is occurring and the boys feel they must go fight. A group decides to enlist together, but back out; except for a boy named Leper. Leper is only gone for a short time, and comes home “slightly mad”. Leper’s condition scares Gene and makes him think twice about joining the military. In suspicion, Brinker is eager to solve the cause of Finny’s injury. He gathers a group of boys to prove it was Gene’s fault. The group questions Gene and the debate becomes heated causing Finny to run out of the room, fall down the stairs and break his leg again. During a surgery to repair his leg, a piece of marrow gets into Finny’s bloodstream. The marrow travels to his heart, killing Finny. Gene feels Finny will always be in his heart, and the novel ends with Gene reflecting on Finny’s loving nature. Characters: Gene Forrester- The protagonist of the story, Gene is quiet and sometimes envious of his friend Finny’s athletic abilities. Finny- Gene’s roommate and best friend whose life is altered when he breaks his leg in an accident. Leper- A Devon School student who joins the military and is emotionally affected. Blinker- A Devon School student who is suspicious of Gene’s fault in Finny’s accident.
Symbols: Finny’s Fall- Finny’s fall represents the consequences of envy and the fall from innocence for the Devon School boys. With World War II happening in the background, the boys are losing their innocence as they grow up and consider enlisting. The fall is also the product of Gene’s secretly building jealousy. World War II- The War symbolizes the conflict taking place in the book. Characters in the book all have conflicting emotions about each other and internally regarding their own lives.
About the Author: John Knowles was born in 1962 in a small coal mining town in West Virginia. He grew up attending public schools before beginning at an exclusive boys school Phillips Exeter Academy. Many of the experiences in A Separate Peace were inspired by Knowles’ time at the prep school. While enrolled at Yale University, Knowles served in the Army and returned to Yale upon coming home. Knowles has written a multitude of novels but A Separate Peace, published in 1959, remains his most famous work.
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