2 November 2018
In the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Gene Forrester reflects back to his time at Devon, a private New Hampshire boarding school, during World War II and the complex relationship he shares with his best friend, Phineas. The novel highlights the boys’ contrasting beliefs and behaviors as they face the harsh realities of war and adulthood. The inner battles that occur in both Gene and Phineas serve as a microcosm for WWII. While Gene and Phineas are dissimilar in their views of friendship and their response to conflict, they reveal similarities in their achieving of peace.
Throughout the novel, Gene perceives friendship as a rivalry whereas Phineas regards it in a optimistic and romanticized way. Just after Phineas breaks the school swimming record, Gene speculates his reasonings for keeping it secret and questions, “Was he trying to impress me or something? Not tell anybody? When he had broken a school record without a day of practice? I knew he was serious about it, so I didn’t tell anybody. Perhaps for that reason his accomplishment took root in my mind and grew rapidly in the darkness where I was forced to hide it”(44). This initial recognition of his growing resentment for Phineas foreshadows Gene’s eventual surrender to his competitive nature which consequently causes him to jounce the tree limb that Phineas stands on and provoke the destruction of Phineas and tranquility at Devon. Moreover the statement elucidates how Gene allows his jealousy to overshadow his friendship and thereby transform it into envy and rivalry. Later on in the novel, Gene is racked with extreme guilt causing Phineas to fall from the tree and sucsequently prevent him from ever playing sports again, and while trying to comfort himself decides to wear Phineas’s shirt: “I spent as much time as I could alone in our room, trying to empty my mind of every thought, to forget where I was, even who I was…but it seemed, standing there in Finny’s triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the confusions of my own character again”(62).