December 16, 2012
Honors Literature and Composition
A Separate Peace Essay
Gene and Finny: Yin and Yang
A Separate Peace
In the novel “A Separate Peace” written by John Knowles, the two main characters, Gene Manu Gajanan
Forrester and Phineas, also known as ‘Finny’, serve as foils for each other. Gene is a lonely intellectual, who is mainly focused on academics, is mature, and is more serious about life. Finny, on the other hand, is a daredevil athlete who loves physical challenges. Yet Finny has Gene under a spell. Gene simply cannot get out of Finny’s clutches. Throughout the story, it is clear that Gene is very different from Phineas. Gene placed a very high value on academics ...view middle of the document...
Gene also serves as a foil for Finny because Gene has a pessimistic outlook on life, whereas Finny sees himself to be very optimistic with his carefree, capricious attitude towards life. When Gene and Finny are both on the tree limb, Gene loses his balance and almost hurts himself severely. Fortunately, Finny catches him and prevents him from falling. However, at the beginning of chapter three, Gene’s pessimism kicks in when he thinks to himself, “Yes, he had practically saved my life. He had also practically lost it for me. I wouldn’t have been on that damn limb except for him… I didn’t need to feel any tremendous rush of gratitude towards Phineas” (33). Finny’s optimism is also portrayed by his naïve outlook on life as well. Finny basically feels that people cannot have imperfect feelings in life. He has standards of perfection for life, and is willing to sacrifice the truth to sustain this perfection. This is true even when the truth is openly admitted. Gene openly confesses that he “deliberately jounced the limb so you [Finny] would fall off” (62), however Finny purely denies it and even shows feelings of aggression by threatening to “kill you [Gene] if you don’t shut up” (62). Finny cannot accept the fact that there are imperfect feelings in the world.
Gene is an introverted, intellectual individual, while Phineas is an exuberant extroverted egomaniac. On top of this, Finny is also careless about his academics. In chapter four, when Finny asks Gene to witness Leper jump out of the tree, Gene snaps back at him and says, “Studying! You know, books. Work. Examinations” (57). When Finny asks Gene to come with to see Leper jump, it can be interpreted as Finny being an exuberant, extroverted egomaniac. Finny wants Gene to come do something the HE wants him to do. Finny is also seen as very excited (exuberant) as he asks Gene to accompany him. Phineas’ carefree attitude to his academics is apparent when he declares, “Listen, I could study forever and I’d never break C” (58). It is clear from Finny’s words that he is exuberant, extroverted, egomaniacal, and carefree towards his academic wellbeing.
In addition to their contrasting personalities, Gene serves as a foil for Finny because Gene has an evil streak in him when he purposely jounces on the limb so he could make Finny fall out of the tree. Gene does not want to end Finny’s athletic career...