A Separate Peace, By John Knowles

1413 words - 6 pages

War and peace exist in more ways than large military conflicts, occurring between ideas and between people. Themes often explored in literature, war and peace, can be represented simply as personal conflicts, such as those between close friends. John Knowles’ A Separate Peace deals with the issue of war and peace by showing Peace, personified by Phineas, to be happy, naïve and confident, and War, personified by Gene, to be tortured, malicious and insecure, and that resolution to the conflict between them comes only from an understanding of the world around them.

Peace in A Separate Peace is shown to be carefree, innocent and blissful, as embodied by teenage boys, most specifically ...view middle of the document...

Phineas is not just unaware and uninvolved with what goes on around him, but not even caring, a state of bliss that could only exist when he isolates it from all sorts of evil, which he does actively, when he tells Gene that “the first person who says something unpleasant gets a swift kick in the ass” (32), and replies to Gene’s confession of guilt in the breaking of Phineas’ leg by saying, “Of course you didn’t” (70)

War in the novel is represented by Gene’s aggressive struggle with insecurity, and his projection of this insecurity on his friend, Phineas, suggesting that war is foolish, painful, and jealous. War is frequently on the mind of the boys at Devon, as their senior year marks their last few months before becoming eligible for the draft, but World War Two is not the only war that is fought through the book. At the end of the book, the narrator writes that he was “on active duty all [his] time at school: [he] killed [his] enemy there" (196). Throughout the novel, Gene fights both his own feelings of envy, and the object of his envy: Phineas, making it unclear who the elder Gene believes was the enemy he killed. Gene uses violence several times throughout the book, most importantly to jounce the limb of the tree over the river (60), sending Phineas tumbling down to break his leg. This was after days of loathing Phineas, jealous of his athletic and social abilities and suspicious that Phineas was as insecure, scheming and jealous as Gene was, with Gene supposing that “Phineas had deliberately set out to wreck [his] studies” (53), and that he had “detected that Phineas’ [heart] was a den of lonely, selfish ambition”(56). Although Phineas is independent and does not care what others think about him, Gene is so desperate to be even with him that Gene must apply his own emotional shortcomings, his envy, his loneliness, and his selfishness, to Phineas, who embodies confidence and happiness. Only by clouding his mind and demonizing his opponent, in this case, Phineas, can Gene go to war, defeating Phineas without Phineas even knowing he is being defeated. Similarly, war is suggested to be based on seeing the enemy as less that equal when Gene tells Phineas, who is bedridden after falling on the stairs, that he “wouldn’t be any good in the war, even if nothing had happened to [his] leg,” because he would not treat the Germans or the Japanese like enemies, he would ask if “they’d like to field a baseball team against our side,” or teach them English, or “borrow one of their uniforms” (190). Gene tells Phineas, that, in essence, he would fail to dehumanize his enemies, “making a mess out of the war”. This further suggests that war can only exist, whether on a personal, or a world-wide level, by spreading lies and deceit about the enemy, lies and deceit that perhaps because they are something “unpleasant” would be ignored by Phineas.

Gene’s two wars, his war with Phineas, and his war with the...

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