Friendship in Knowles' A Separate Peace


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A Separate Peace - Friendship

 
We have all experienced friendship in our lives; some of these bonds were lasting and others were not.  A Separate Peace is a book that deals with the friendship of high school boys. These boys attend an all-boy’s school called Devon School.  It is said that: "Devon is sometimes considered the most beautiful school in New England."  "Devon was both scholarly and very athletic."  Devon is where Gene Forrester, Phineas (Finny) and Elwin (Leper) Lepellier attend school.  Author John Knowles sets the story during World War II.  This time period makes the boys have to think about which branch of the military they want to enlist in. The main focuses of this book are war, conformity or agreement, and friendship. War is a theme because throughout the book WWII encroaches on Finny and Gene’s separate peace. Conformity is a theme because Finny puts constant pressure on all the boys especially Gene to do rebellious things. They give into peer pressure and do things like jumping from trees even though that broke the rules. They wanted to go along with the crowd, and Finny represents the crowd.  Friendship is the most visible theme in the book and since friendship is based on mutual need, Finny and Gene are best friends.  Finny has things that Gene needs and Gene has things Finny needs.  I am going to explain the meaning of a separate peace to Leper Lepellier, Phineas, and Gene Forrester.

 When we first meet Leper, he is one of the boys standing at the base of the jumping tree.  He is refusing to jump from the tree into the river.  He is bidding, "Bidding for an ally."  Leper would like to fit in by jumping from the tree, but Leper has his own separate peace so he doesn’t need to jump from the tree.  He  says he will make the initiation jump to join the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session but he never does.  When the other boys are shoveling snow off train tracks to help a train with soldiers get to the Army Base this "really brings the war home."   Instead of helping the other boys with the war effort, Leper goes cross country skiing to Beaver Dam.  Leper does this to get a separate peace from the reality of war.  Although Leper is the first to enlist in the army, he receives a section eight discharge.

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  A separate peace to Leper means a type of euphoria or a inner peace with himself.  He is relieved not to have to go along with the crowd.

            Finny insists that,  "You always win at sports."  He also knows you don’t always win wars.  So Finny uses sports to escape the reality of  World War II.  In this way, sports gives him his separate peace.  Finny won’t accept the war, he says it is, "Fat old men making decisions."  Finny even organizes a winter event at Devon so that everyone will be able to forget about the war. Finny started Devon’s First Annual Winter Carnival so that he could get a separate peace from the war.  "Frankly, I just don’t see anything to celebrate, winter or spring or anything else."  These are the feelings of everyone at Devon about the carnival. They don’t understand what the Winter Carnival will celebrate, but Finny has a separate peace and he isn’t thinking about the war at all. 

 Finny’s separate peace is being detached from the war.  This is also demonstrated when  Finny says he will train Gene for the 1944 Olympics. He is also using sports here to distract himself from the war and get his separate peace.

 Gene feels that Finny is out to get him somehow. He thinks this because he can’t understand why a popular athlete like Finny would want to be his friend.  He thinks that Finny was out to ruin him academically.  Gene said, "Finny had deliberately set out to wreck my studies.  That explained Blitzball, that explained the nightly meetings of the Super Suicide Society, that explained his insistence that I share all his diversions."  He had      this feeling that Finny "wanted to share everything with me, especially his procession of D’s in every subject."  As a result of Gene discovering this, he jounced the limb when he and Finny were about to jump.  Finny was losing his balance, "then he tumbled sideways, broke through the little branches below and hit the bank with a sickening unnatural thud."  By knocking Finny out of the tree Gene has put himself at separate peace from his fear of being betrayed by his friend.  He said, "I moved out on the limb and jumped into the river, every trace of my fear of this forgotten." 

            The Focus of this essay is to explain the meaning of the title of  A Separate Peace to the characters Leper, Finny, and Gene.  In their own way they were each escaping the fears the couldn’t confront.  In Leper’s case, he was escaping his fears of the World War. He wanted to live up to the standards his Father has set for him, but he felt he couldn’t handle being in the Military.  He did what he could do to distance himself from it, this was his separate peace.  The fear that Finny had to conquer was the war also. Finny used sports to do this by training Gene for the Olympics and playing Blitzball.  Playing sports gives Finny his separate peace from the war which is the meaning of the title to Finny.  The meaning of the title to Gene is separating himself from Finny. He will do this even if it means sacrificing his best friends life to get his separate peace.  After Finnys’ funeral Gene says this; "I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case."  By knocking Finny out of the tree Gene achieved his Separate peace.  Each character achieved a separate peace by avoiding their fears in their own separate ways.


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