A Separate Peace


Sitting in my third grade classroom we chattered anxiously, waiting for the spelling quizzes to be passed back. My teacher placed them all facing down on our desks, a rather pointless effort when she was already aware that at any moment the room would burst into havoc with yells of "what did you get?", shouting numbers back and forth, and of course superior comments from the students proud of their marks. I quickly flipped mine over and grinned at the 8/10 scrawled in red marker near the top of the page.

"What did you get?" sure enough my friend Jenny thrust me her paper. As I stared down at her 100% sitting aside a bright yellow smiley sticker I felt a familiar twinge of jealousy. From that day on I had a secret goal to achieve higher marks than my friend. I can not remember when this rivalry ended, but I do know that it is normal behavior.

Each person feels rivalry or competition to other humans, for the majority of their lifetime. This rivalry greatly affects our ability to understand others, and this eventually results in war, discrimination, and enmity. Children are definitely culprits for acting inhumane to each other with teasing, competition, and often hurtful remarks. Although this is the way children often act, it is in the teenage years realization, along with careful thought and consideration, brings each individual to understand wider prospects of human nature; that people coldly drive ahead for themselves alone. Man?s inhumanity1 to man is a way for people to protect themselves from having pain inflicted on them by fellow humans, and achieving their goals and desires free from interference of others.

The concept of man?s inhumanity to man is developed in John Knowles? novel, A Separate Peace. The primary conflict in this novel centers on the main character, Gene, and his battling of jealousy, paranoia, and inability to understand his relationship with his best friend Phineas. Yet the larger battle of man?s inhumanity to man is portrayed by the backdrop of World War II.

Gene Forrester is an average, studious, young man attending Devon school in New Hampshire during the second World War. His roommate at Devon, Phineas (otherwise known as Finny) sends Gene on an unexpected journey of self discovery. Finny represents man in his innocence, a kind of edenic2 Adam. He is very athletic, honest and trusting. Finny is one who enjoys life to the fullest, and pressures other people to enjoy themselves as well. He is a natural born leader, enthusiastic, and filled with endless energy. The two rivers surrounding Devon school, correspond with the measure of Finny?s innocence. The Devon river, that the Gene and Finny frequently jump into from a tall tree at Finny?s request, is clean and pure, "a refreshing shower" much like Phineas and his faulty innocence. The Nagumsett river, on the other hand, not only represents Gene, but the majority of the human race. It is muddy, sticky with salt, and leads into the ocean. The Nagumsett symbolizes reality and deceit, while the Devon river seems an element of human personality, that which is unadulterated, that does not survive in the real world.

In the early pages of A Separate Peace, Finny confesses that Gene is his best friend. It is considered a courageous act for the students at Devon to expose emotion. And rather than Gene venturing back with similar affection, he holds back and says nothing. Gene can not handle the fact that Finny is so compassionate, so perfect. In order to protect himself from accepting Finny?s compassion and risking emotional pain, Gene creates a silent rivalry with Finny, convincing himself that Finny is deliberately attempting to ruin his studies. Gene decides that the two are jealous of each other, and reduces their friendship to cold trickery and enmity.

Gene becomes disgusted with himself after weeks of the silent rivalry. He finally discovers the truth, that Finny only wants the best for Gene, and had no unfavorable intentions. This creates a huge conflict for Gene; not being able to deal with Finny?s purity and his own dark core. On this very day Finny wants to jump off of the tree branch into the Devon river at the same time as Gene, a "double jump", he says, as a way of bonding. It was this decision, caused by