The War Is a Bore Although John Knowles’ 1959 novel, A Separate Peace, may mask itself to the ignorant eye as a clichéd sob story revolving around one boy’s mistakes, the story exemplifies Gene’s inescapable odyssey on a path where all boys must soon trudge along, a path of war. Through the use of scenery and places, a route towards death and destruction can be unearthed from pleasant playing fields and endless forests. Creating rich atmospheres and vivid details, Knowles emits stimulating depictions such as fear, atavism, and sin with graphic portrayals of places and locations. In the beginning chapter, the setting is more than abundant throughout. Gene says that he wants to visit “fearful sites”(10), and this description of the setting is the foundation of the entire theme. Remarks about the stairs suggest paranoia in his voice. He appears to be reassuring himself that he is better than these trifling insignificancies: “I was taller, bigger in relation to these stairs. I had more money and success and ‘security’ than in the days when specters seemed to go up and down with me.”(11-12) He is fearful that these specters might come and haunt him once more, so Gene attempts to claim that he is the superior being in existence. It is the same story with the trees: “None of them of any particular grandeur.”(13) The trees that seemed so mighty in the past are now humbled before him: “They are absolutely smaller, shrunken by age. In this double demotion the old giants have become pygmies…nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence.” These two places have been stripped of their former ranks of colossal titans to feeble, petty mediocrities in the eyes of Gene. Fear has gained the upper hand in his mind and he tries to suppress it by hardening his heart to these lost childhood relics.
This particular trait of blistering ignorance when faced with fear can be traced back to his primitive ancestors in the time of Moses: “The Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.”(Exodus 7:22) Gene has atavism to thank for his savageness. And yet, though he clearly radiates it wherever he goes, only the person who is though to be “insane” is able to see behind his cloak: “You always were a savage underneath. I always new that only I never admitted it.”(145) Leper is a “psycho” only because society has judged him to be one. If a rational man lived with a society of psychos then they would deem him to be an irrational man merely because he has different views than what they have. Leper has discovered this atavism and accepts it while the “sane” society continues to turn a blind eye to their feral instincts. But ignorance is bliss, right?
Turning a blind eye to something does not mean that it is not there. Adam and Eve turned away from God’s command; they were seduced by the apple’s shine. They were sent