Throughout human history, war has stood as a universal reaction to various conflicts between diverse peoples. War can embed itself into a culture over generations of fighting. It can generate cultures that base themselves around the concept of war, creating hostile and bellicose peoples. At times, war may not even have grounds, but the aggressive nature of the people often cause it to proceed without justification. These wars often proceed due to perceptions conceived within the depths of peoples’ imaginations. Irrational assumptions, fears of the unknown, and the development of nonexistent threats allow the justification of these wars within the individuals. In A Separate Peace, wars such as these are seen between the characters and within the characters of Gene and Phineas. John Knowles’ A Separate Peace reveals Gene’s perceived war with Phineas and Phineas’ internal conflict with World War II to be intertwined with each other through Gene’s misunderstanding of Phineas and Phineas’ dependency on Gene to escape the realization of war itself.
Phineas is an individual who is unable to accept the war, and in retaliation to the war, attempts to avoid it altogether. Phineas describes to Gene that “there isn’t any war” and that there are “fat old men” who create the war just to keep “people who were young… in their places” (Knowles 115). In this moment, Phineas explicitly denies that the war exists. His direct denial of the war’s existence suggests that he cannot cope with his fears about the war and, in his fear, takes steps to separate himself from the war through denial. Phineas possesses anti-war ideals that push him to take this stance. Gene unveils these ideals when he tries to explain to him that if he were to go to war, h...
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...o avoid conversations about Leper and the war. Phineas’ avoidance of the war is then compounded by emphasis on Gene’s Olympic training, as it serves to distract Phineas from the war.
While Gene’s war with Phineas is driven by an ignorance of the enemy he perceives, Phineas’ war with World War II is driven by an inability to come to terms with the reality of the war and an inability to define the enemy. Unfortunately, these wars become intertwined through Gene’s misconceptions about Phineas and Gene’s role as Phineas’ codependent. While World War II has tangible justification, the youth, lack of life experiences, weakness of character, and fear in Phineas and Gene act to drive their wars, but ultimately, their wars are caused “by something ignorant in the human heart” (201).
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.
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