AP United States History
Book Review #2
A Separate Peace by John Knowles John Knowles’ critically acclaimed novel,
A Separate Peace captures the psychological mindset of a boy as he transitions from childhood to adulthood.
A Separate Peace is told through a series of flashbacks, as Gene Forrester, now an adult, recalls the pleasant, but also painful memories spent at Devon. The plot and setting of
A Separate Peace were largely inspired by
Knowles’ own experiences at Exeter. Knowles wrote
A Separate Peace to explore the rivalry that can lie at the heart of many friendships and can potentially destroy it entirely, and conveys the concept of individuality thus, resisting conformity.
A Separate Peace takes place during the backdrop of World War II, however,
A Separate Peace does not focus on the physical war being fought, rather the war being fought in the human heart. A Separate Peace opens with Gene Forrester returning to Devon, a preparatory school he attended during his childhood. As he walks through the grounds, he begins to reminisce about his past about Devon, thus, the events of
A Separate Peace are told. During the Summer Session of
1942, Gene alongside Phineas, his roommate and best friend, meet at a tree beside a river.
Phineas climbs the tree and jumps from the highest limb, crashing into the river below. Phineas encourages Gene to jump although reluctant at first, Gene takes the jump as well. Inspired by
their courageous efforts, the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session is formed, daring the other students to take the jump, like Gene and Phineas. Gene envies that idea of Phineas being the best athlete in the school, thus, Gene begins to study to become the best student at Devon.
Gene grows suspicious of Phineas as he believes that Phineas is disturbing his studies to purposefully make him fail. Gene keeps his feelings to himself until one night at a meeting of the
Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, when Phineas is about to jump from the tree,
Gene shakes the branch, forcing Phineas to fall out of the tree to the ground below, shattering his leg and athletic career. At the opening of the fall semester, Gene visits Phineas at his home, where he is still recovering from the incident. While there, Gene makes an awkward attempt to confess his guilt for the supposed accident. Phineas does not want to hear what Gene has to say as he finds it hard to believe that his best friend would betray him. With the absence of Phineas at Devon, Gene goes through a period of moral agony and doubt as he feels the war within his heart boil. Gene confessed what he had done, but Phineas was not open to hearing it, thus the guilt did not leave
Gene. Reconciliation is vital for both boys to move on. Though they are able to avoid the pain of that action for several months after Phineas returns to Devon, in the final week of their last term, the moment of reconciliation comes. The truth of Gene’s action is finally forced upon Finny, and in dashing from the scene in angry confusion, Phineas falls once again, injuring himself fatally In their few moments together on the morning before his death, Gene and Phineas at last find peace. Gene is able to understand the humbling selfacceptance of the potential for savagery
within everyone, and Phineas is understanding and acceptive of such human frailty possible even within a closest friend. A Separate Peace takes place during wartime and is emphatically a novel about war, yet not a single shot is fired over the course of the story, no one dies in battle, and only Leper joins the military before graduation. Instead, Knowles focuses on the war within the human heart, a war that is affected by the events of World War II but exists independently of any real armed conflict. This can be seen through the following quote,”It seemed clear that wars were not made