As Anne Frank once said, “Parents can only give good advice or direct you on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands”. Growth is an arduous reality for many people as the are forced to go through the conflicts and struggles it accompanies. In John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, it is lucidly understood through Gene’s dynamic character that independence is a substantial part of growing up. As Gene transforms from having envious feelings, to growing inner emotions of guilt, and finally becoming a humble and remorseful person, he grows in his realization of his own dark psychology
Gene’s growth begins when his envious feelings towards Finny emerge. At the beginning of the novel, Gene thought: “It was hypnotism. I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything. I couldn’t help envying him that a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying even your best friend a little” (Knowles 25). Gene’s realization of Finny’s abilities allows his evil to begin arising. This dark growth that is developing inside of him causes him to later on wish for Finny to get caught.
This displays the birth of an internal conflict within Gene and the growth of his dark nature. Consequently, Gene’s resentment of Finny becomes stronger. “You and Phineas are even already. You are even in enmity. You are both coldly driving ahead for yourselves alone. You did hate him for breaking that school swimming record, but so what? He hated you for getting an A in every course but one last term. You would had an A in that one except for him. Except for him… Finny had deliberately set out to wreck my studies” (Knowles 53).
Gene finally accepts and admits his hatred and jealousy owards Finny. His self created enemy is the impetus Gene had to develop his envy against his best friend. Gene’s dynamic character is now evident as one could see him changing himself and his opinions through his malice, and destructive thoughts. Furthermore, Gene is influenced by his envious feelings to do the unthinkable. While up on the tree, Gene, “Holding firmly to the trunk, I took a step toward him, and then my knees bent and I jounced the limb” (Knowles 59-60). Through this action, Gene starts a rivalry that endorses one to understand that he has inner evil.
Once he jounced the limb, Gene changes his good, innocent self to become immoral. Gene presumes that his crude action is him making amends for their conflict. This displays Gene growing in maturation as he immediately feels guilty for his malevolent behaviour. As a result of Finny’s outstanding personality and achievements, Gene realizes that he is capable of envy, and that causes him to act upon it. Gene’s greatest development occurs as he initiates inner emotions of guilt upon realizing the truth. After jouncing the limb of the tree, Gene felt guilty that he had to be the one to do this crude action.
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… I decided to put on his clothes… This gave me such intense relief, but it seemed, standing there in Finny’s triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the confusions of my own character again” (Knowles 62). Gene puts on Finny’s shirt so he can get rid of his self loath and lessen the disgust he feels within himself about what he has done. Gene undergoes a process in maturation as he tries to define himself and reach clarity by becoming Finny and leaving all his fears and mistakes in the past.
Simultaneously, Finny comes back and claims he is uncertain about what happened to his leg. “I just fell’, his eyes were vaguely on my face, ‘something jiggled and I fell over. I remember I turned around and looked at you, it was like I had all the time in the world. I thought could reach out and get hold of you’… I couldn’t say anything to this sincere, drugged apology for having suspected the truth… And I thought we were competitors! It was so ludicrous I wanted to cry” (Knowles 65-66). Gene begins to realize what he did and how Phineas is being affected by it.
He starts to identify elements of himself such as hatred in Phineas. In the contrary, him wanting to cry exemplifies that he did care about his malicious action and knows that it is his fault. This shows progress in Gene’s growth as he is beginning to identify his own faults and envision the natural evil within every human. Consequently. Gene’s guilt becomes too heavy on his shoulders, and the truth begins to reveal itself. “I deliberately jounced the limb so you would fall off. ‘… It struck me then that I was injuring him again.
It occurred to me that this could be an even deeper injury than what I had done before. I would have to back of it, I would have to disown it. Could it be that he might even be right? Had I really and definitely and knowingly done it to him after all? ” (Knowles 70). Gene is perplexed by his identity and what malicious actions it leads him to foresee, and so his guilt takes over and introduces him to reality. Consequently, Gene’s growth is put on display when he openly admits to Finny the truth. Gene begins to question his doings and how it would affect Finny if he really knew the truth.
This contributes to his transformation as a person as he changes his view on his friend from initially wanting to destroy him to not wanting to injure him again and as he realizes what the evil within himself is capable of. Although Gene initially found comfort in abandoning his own identity for Finny, he deserts it as the truth exploits his guilt. He grows in the realization of what the truth has done and what it is capable of doing. Gene’s change from a vengeful and corruptive person to a humble and remorseful individual marks his complete growth.
After Finny loses his ability to play sports, he says to Gene, “”Listen, pal, if I can’t play sports, you’re going to play them for me,’ and I lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first, to become a part of Phineas” (Knowles 85). Gene’s powerful guilt drives him to do something remorseful for Finny to make up for what he had done to him. He transforms himself once again, but this time to be more like the actual Finny-free, loving, and active. Furthermore, as Finny grasps the truth about Gene and his evil nature, Gene’s guilt is overstepped by another situation.
Gene explains to Finny: “I want to fix your leg up,’T said crazily but in a perfectly natural tone of voice… I’m sorry’t said blindly, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” (Knowles 185). Gene’s sudden change of character from doing all his actions out of jealousy to thinking about what the other might feel, allows him to apologize for his wrong doings towards his best friend. As Gene finally admits to what he has done, and no longer resents the truth, he no longer resents growing up, and that contributes to his maturation from childhood to adulthood.
Gene’s realization of his envious self, grants him to reconcile not only his friendship but the enemy in his own skin. Moreover, after Finny’s sudden death, Gene begins to develop a different perspective on the world, and his surroundings. In the process of thinking about the next leap in his life, Gene realized: “it seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made by something ignorant in the human heart” (Knowles 201).
After going through his own dark psychology, and his envious way of thinking, Gene finally realizes that Finny is not the enemy, and that all along he has been at war with himself. As Finny dies, so does Gene’s guilt, anger and envy. Consequently, Gene changes himself into a humble human being as he takes all his suffering, conflicts, and the mistakes he made, and buries them with Finny. As Gene transforms into Finny, he takes on many desirable traits and discards his own destructive ones.
Gene does not only grow by age but through his friendship with Finny and the realization of his dark nature. Therefore, through Gene’s selfish motivations and irrational behavior, he obtains his dark psychology and modifies it so he can become a man of humility and remorse. Gene’s dynamic character is displayed as he transitions from having vacillating emotions towards envy and adoration, to being found at fault through his own crude actions, and subsequently expressing sincere regret and humility through the evolvement of the dark nature within himself.
As Gene is a young, teenage boy dealing with poor decisions, raging jealousy, and remorse for his actions, Knowles creates this developing character as a model to help boys all over the world comprehend the idea of growing up. Through Gene’s growth, one learns that each person must go through the struggles, conflicts, and darkness that growing up conveys in order to learn and transform into an adult.