A Separate Peace, by John Knowles Essay

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles Essay

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War and peace exist in more ways than large military conflicts, occurring between ideas and between people. Themes often explored in literature, war and peace, can be represented simply as personal conflicts, such as those between close friends. John Knowles’ A Separate Peace deals with the issue of war and peace by showing Peace, personified by Phineas, to be happy, naïve and confident, and War, personified by Gene, to be tortured, malicious and insecure, and that resolution to the conflict between them comes only from an understanding of the world around them.

Peace in A Separate Peace is shown to be carefree, innocent and blissful, as embodied by teenage boys, most specifically Phineas. Peace is addressed early and frequently in the book, as a sort of pleasant illusion, similar to teenage boys enjoying their last summer before their senior year and inevitable service in World War 2, teenage boys who remind the staff at Devon school of “what peace [is] like, of lives not bound up by destruction”(24). The narrator continues, glowingly adding that his friend, Phineas, “was the essence of this careless peace” (24). Peace is even considered to be a kind of selfishness, an ignorance perhaps of the suffering around them, but a great thing nonetheless, when the narrator claims that “the people in the world who could be selfish in the summer of 1942 were a small band,” and that he was “glad [he and his friends] took advantage of it”(30). Peace, seen not only as innocence, but as being unaware of the outside world, is a pivotal part of Phineas’ life. Phineas, though considerate and outgoing, seems oblivious to the world around him, surprised that Gene must study, saying, “I thought it just came to you,” (58). Phineas seems not to ca...


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...ses it, and what can finally end it. By establishing different characters, even different sides of characters, to represent different aspects of peace and war, John Knowles suggests that both war and peace are lies, that they are ignorant of reality. However, peace is seen as idyllic, a state of harmony worth lying for, and war is seen as pain, envy and insecurity. Through a series of painful events, Gene comes to grips with the reality that his attack against Phineas was an act formed out of blind spite, not reason. Similarly, Phineas and Gene can only come to grips with each other when there are no more questions to ask about what happened between them. John Knowles, through the stories of his characters, provides his solution to ending war: to inform, to understand, and to forgive.



Works Cited

Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.

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