The legend of the Fountain of Youth says that anyone who should drink from or bathe in the waters of the fountain will have their youth restored. The legend has endured for thousands of years; one of the first accounts of its existence is in the writings of a Greek historian named Herodotus from 5 BCE. People have always lusted after youth and innocence, and often they lust in vain. In contrast, author Joe Hill claimed in one of his novels, “Innocence ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know. Innocent little kids rip the wings off flies, because they don’t know any better. That’s innocence.” In the case of Phineas, one of the main characters in John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, Hill is correct. The innocence and youthfulness which Phineas possesses are not all they have cracked up to be. Phineas’ naivety is his defining trait throughout the novel, and it is what ends up being his hamartia. In Knowles’ A Separate Peace, Phineas’ innocence is what comes to destroy him, and Knowles shows the readers that no one can remain youthful and innocent forever.
In the novel, the main plot takes place in one long flashback the main character, Gene, has of his last year at Devon. Gene’s flashback begins in the Summer Session the summer before his and Finny’s senior year, which is characterized by the innocence and youthful mindsets the boys all possess before being so heavily tainted by World War II. Gene characterizes his peers, especially Finny, by saying, “We were careless and wild… Phineas was the essence of this careless peace” (Knowles 17). At the beginning of the Summer Session, all the boys are innocent and carefree, but Finny exemplifies these traits more than anyone. However, these traits have not proved to be any sort of problem f...
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...ne had been jealous of him, and Gene never would have come to the point where he pushed Phineas out of a tree. However, Finny never evolved which meant he could not survive.
Finny was the only character that remained innocent throughout the novel, and in the end he died. His classmates lost their innocence over jealousies, violence, and war. Everyone had to lose their innocence to survive in the adult world, and if they did not, they did not survive. Therefore, the fact that Finny never lost his innocence was his one great flaw, and Knowles’ shows the readers that no one who hopes to survive in the real world can remain innocent and youthful. Everyone must grow up and see the world for what it is or else be lost forever. Accordingly, the search and lust for the Fountain of Youth always has been and always will be in vain because youth is not meant to last a lifetime.
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