Gene Forrester’s difficult journey toward maturity and the adult world is one of the main focuses in the novel, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. Gene’s journey into maturity begins the moment he jounces the limb of the tree. The process continues until he visits the tree, fifteen years later. Gene looks at things in the past. Gene must start to become self-aware, face reality and the future, confront his problems, as well as forgive and accept himself. He must become aware of and understand the person he is, and face the problems in his life.
Only then, does Gene’s blissful ignorance change to the mature understanding of the nature of evil inside himself. This long and painful journey begins with this blissful ignorance behind the gates of Devon where Gene is preparing for war. Gene is isolated from the war. He does not yet see the importance of what the war is about and therefore is blinded from it. He begins the summer session, which is considered “wild and free”. He has not yet experienced what the war is like; he is in a “moment of carelessness” and does not see the importance of the war.
Gene is immature and he starts to blind himself from the war and what is happening around him. He does not want to think about the war. He only wants to try to find out who he is, and what he his capable of. The first incident that Gene recounts indicates his dislike of Finny’s attitude toward authority. Finny wears the school’s tie as a belt and dresses in a pink shirt for tea one day. Gene remarks that Finny is the only person who could “get away” (Knowles 26) with such an outfit. Gene is jealous and envies Finny’s maturity, which he wants to achieve.
In addition to Finny’s maturity, Finny conceives of the idea that he and Gene should jump from the tree, which is forbidden and only used for senior students. During the first jump, Gene loses his balance and Finny grabs his arm to steady him without thinking. This moment shows that Gene and Finny are friends and that they would risk their lives for each other. During another jump, Gene jounces the limb and Finny reaches out to him for help; yet Gene allows him to fall, causing him to break his leg. During this moment, we see Gene’s jealousy toward Finny.
It is here that we start to see Gene’s ignorance and his temptation to be the best. Gene begins to feel guilty for his actions and realizes his own jealousy towards Finny. With the jouncing of the limb, Gene realizes his problems and the true person he is inside. He finally sees the evil and hatred that he has in himself. Fifteen years later, when revisiting the tree, he finally accepts and forgives himself. The journey toward understanding the nature of evil and his true self is a long and painful one.
At the end of this long and winding road filled with ditches, difficulties and problems, Gene emerges a mature adult. Gene acknowledges that he jounced the limb and caused Finny’s fall. It is at that moment Gene becomes aware of his inner-self and learns of his true feelings. Gene begins to see the evil that he has not seen and that he is capable of hatred. This revelation comes to him back in his room before he and Finny leave for the tree. It surrounds him with the shock of his true self until he finally reacts by jouncing the limb.
Up in the tree, before the two friends are about to make their “double-jump” (Knowles 53), Gene sees Finny in this new light. He realizes that Finny feels no jealousy or hatred towards him and that Finny is indeed perfect in every way. Gene begins to feel hatred towards Finny and in a blind instant, he jounces the limb. It is then that Gene becomes aware that only he is the jealous one. Again, he starts to understand the nature of evil. He learns of his animosity and that he really is a savage underneath.