John Knowles’ A Separate Peace depicts many examples of how power is used. In A Separate Peace, two opposing characters struggle for their own separate might. Gene Forrester, the reserved narrator, is weakened by his struggle for power. While, Phineas was inspired by his own power within. The novel conveys how peace can weaken or inspire during a mental war. Phineas, a natural rebel, is known as the best athlete in school. For example, he and three others come to look at a tree, which is considered among the Upper Middler students at Devon an impossibility.
Phineas demonstrates his supreme power by stating that the tree is, indeed, a “cinch” (p. 6). No Upper Middler had dared to do the unthinkable, vaulting off a tree to land in a shallow river. Phineas is the first to do this. This single statement tells us much about him. He doesn’t mind taking risks, enjoys intimidating others, and over exaggerates. It tells that he is very strong and powerful to be able to do what others can not do. The denotation of power is “the capability of achieving something.
Not only is Phineas achieving something from jumping off this tree, he is achieving power by gaining the respect of fellow classmates. Phineas’ spontaneity inspires many others to be like himself and jump off the tree. Another example of Phineas’ power is his character establishing scene of disrespect to the school by wearing his pink shirt and the Devon School tie as his belt. We here, again, see him as the spontaneous individual who “can get away with anything” (p. 18). Phineas’ nature inspired Mr. Patch-Withers, a teacher at Devon.
Phineas has an eloquence about himself, allowing him to get by with so much. Phineas “might have rather enjoyed the punishment if it was done in some kind of novel and known way” (p. 20). Even with negative actions, Phineas can enjoy a situation if it presents something new and different. It is this spontaneous and contradictory nature which Gene cannot understand (1) and which ultimately contributes to his attempting to destroy Phineas. Gene Forrester, after being gone for fifteen years, returns to the Devon School to ecollect his past memories of the summer session when he was sixteen years old.
As stated before, Phineas was considered the best athlete in school, but Gene tried to compensate by being the best student in school. Gene’s continuous competition with Phineas weakened his personality, hence causing Gene’s rebellion on Phineas. Gene begins to think that his purpose is “to become part of Phineas” (p. 77). Phineas states that Gene has to play sports now for him. Then, Gene realizes that this must have been his purpose in pushing Phineas off the limb. He is o become part of him.
Consequently, in wounding Phineas, Gene has brought Phineas down to his level or below it, so that Phineas will be partly dependant upon Gene and, in this way, Gene can become a part of Phineas’ life. Nevertheless, in the beginning of the book, Gene describes the overwhelming feeling of jumping off the tree. It seemed as if he “was throwing [his] life away” (p. 9). It’s ironic that Gene would say this because it symbolizes his life after Phineas’ accident. The accident destroyed Phineas’ life and it took a part of Gene’s life, too.
His life totally and drastically is changed because Phineas is all he has. Without Phineas, he has no life nor personality. He and Phineas are one. His life is formless and void. Gene developed a hatred for Phineas because of this reason. Gene feels that Phineas personally tries to take over and control him. Gene created a war between himself and Finny that never existed. Gene concludes that he “killed [his] enemy there,” meaning that he killed both Finny and also what was, at the same time, foreign and inadmissable to his way of life (p. 196). Gene believes that he is weak.