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 ealizing 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 he 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 ccurs 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 with his studies and allows Phineas to train him for the imaginary Olympics. His feeling of being an extension is so strong, that when Gene is at Finny’s funeral he ” could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral. ” Gene actually becomes Finny’s defender when he squares off against Quackenbush in chapter six after being called maimed. Gene lashed out because Quackenbush unknowingly insulted the absent, crippled Phineas.
In the end, when Gene did enter the service, he ” never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. ” He felt this way because, in his own words, ” was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there. ” Phineas is a very unique person. He looks very similar to Gene, but has a magnificent physique. Finny, as he is often called, is an extremely athletic person who has a competitive spirit and a will to win. He creates Blitzball and the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session to show off his manliness and bravery.
He also has a charismatic charm over people and often gets away with breaking the rules. Finny had an unmatched purity which made him a glorified example of innocence and peace to the administrators. But, he became only a shattered image of himself physically after the accident. He was crippled and could no longer play sports. But, his spirit was not down. Gene became an extention of Finny. And Finny could, in a way, live his life through Gene. Unfortunately Finny became another “casualty of war”. Finny was, in short, a tragic hero. Edwin “Leper” Lepellier is a shy and sensitive person who is often isolated from others.
Leper is a naturalist and spends much time in the woods just being with nature. Leper impulsively joins the ski patrol in hopes of skiing in the woods. But, Leper is unable to cope with the hardships of being in the war and goes AWOL because he fears he will be discharged with a section eight, which is a discharge due to mental instability. He believes that everyone thinks his has gone, in his own words, “psycho”. Leper serves a link between life at Devon and the war. His letter to Gene stating that he escaped turns the idea of war into reality.
Brinker Hadley is the most aggressive person at Devon. He is a leader in extracurricular and in politics. His main motivation is his need to live up to his father’s image of him, which is very hard because of his father’s “Nathan Hale” attitude of things. Eventually Brinker becomes militant and hostile towards Gene. He badgers him and organizes a trial of Gene which leads to Finny’s death. Brinker’s character becomes less and less liked the more aggressive he becomes.
Finny really shows his dislike of Brinker’s attitude when he says “You collect every f-ing fact there is in the world. t the trial. All in all, Brinker is of less importance than Finny or Gene, but is necessary for the change of events at the end. The overall theme Knowles presents is the internal struggle with our savage and civilized selves. This theme is most prevalent in Gene who struggles with himself throughout the novel. Leper said ” I always knew you were a savage underneath. ” of Gene. It shows Gene, although friends with Finny, still had feelings of anger and envy towards him and was capable of such violent action. Even long after the accident, Gene still struggled with his feelings of guilt.
His fight with Quackenbush shows Gene’s savagery come out again, though this time in defense of Finny. And although Gene shows this theme most, all of the characters are plagued with internal struggles. In conclusion, Knowles has made a wonderful and intriguing novel using elements of plot, setting, character, and theme to shape his story. His ideas come out in his actions and dialogue of his characters. The tone and mood is enhanced by the setting. And his theme sends out a message to all his readers. All these elements combined make A Separate Peace a literary classic.