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Telgen states John Knowles was born on 16 September 1926, in Fairmont, West Virginia. At the age of fifteen, Knowles attended New Hampshire's prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. The Devon school, where most of the actions of A Separate Peace take place, is based on Phillips Exeter.
After graduating from Exeter, Knowles entered Yale University for the 1944 fall term before going into the U.S. Army Air Force. After being discharged from service, he returned to Yale and continued his studies. In 1449 Knowles graduated with a B.A. in English. In 1953, Story Magazine published his first story, A Turn in the Sun. During the 1950's Knowles started to work on the novel that would become his most famous, A Separate Peace. However, getting the book published did not come easily at all. Turing the manuscript over to a literary agent, Knowles saw his book rejected by eleven publishers. Finally, in 1959, the London publisher Secker and Warburg agreed to put out the British edition of the novel. Following A Separate Peace, Knowles went out to publish other novels, including Morning in Antibes, The Paragon, and A Vein of Riches. In 1981, Knowles published Peace Breaks Out; the sequel to A Separate Peace.
Although A Separate Peace did not become an instant "best-seller", it has gradually become a commercial success, selling more than nine million copies (Telgen 241).
Gene Forrester returns to visit the campus of Devon School, an all-boys preparatory school in rural New Hampshire. Two locations bear a mysterious significance to him, the first being a marble staircase inside a classroom building. The second is beneath a tree growing near the Devon River. After standing outside, time moves back fifteen years to when Gene had still been a schoolboy standing near that same tree. His friend Finny urges him to climb its branches and jump off to simulate abandoning a torpedoed ship. At the time, World War II is waging on in the outside world. Despite his fear, Gene jumps out of its branches and into the river with Finny.
During a class session in the summer of 1942, Gene becomes increasingly paranoid of Finny who is also his roommate. He is the best at every sort of sport while Gene excels in academics and is not very athletic at all.
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- Analysis of A Separate Peace by John Knowles Telgen states John Knowles was born on 16 September 1926, in Fairmont, West Virginia. At the age of fifteen, Knowles attended New Hampshire's prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. The Devon school, where most of the actions of A Separate Peace take place, is based on Phillips Exeter. After graduating from Exeter, Knowles entered Yale University for the 1944 fall term before going into the U.S. Army Air Force. After being discharged from service, he returned to Yale and continued his studies.... [tags: Knowles Separate Peace Analysis]
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Devon school becomes more disciplined and orderly as the Winter Session begins and, with Finny's absence due to his injury, Gene decides that he will leave Devon early in order to enlist in the military and fight in the war. But he wants to fight not for patriotism, but rather for the sake of committing violence. Finny returns to school unexpectedly on the crutches and discourages him from doing this. Their friendship becomes stronger as the two open up to one another. Gene tutors Finny in academics and Finny teaches him about sports. They both make great progress and forget about the war for a little while.
As the spring begins, Brinker Hadley suspects Gene of causing Finny's fall from the tree during that previous summer and holds a trail for the two. Finny realizes that his best friend really had knocked him off the branch purposely and is so upset that he falls down the same marble staircase that Gene visits fifteen years later. His recovering leg is broken again. Gene speaks to him in the school's infirmary and apologizes for what he has done. Finny forgives him and regrets that he himself can not enlist to fight in the war because of his leg. Gene assures him that he would be a terrible soldier anyway since he is so friendly and innocent. Finny then dies after a marrow leaks from the broken leg, causing his heart to stop.
A Separate Peace is associated with the concept of adolescent's failure to evil. Through Biblical allusion and character development, Knowles is able to demonstrate how easily it is for one to fall into the hands of evil without ever knowing.
Knowles is a master of characterization, which is best seen in his creation of Gene. Gene at fist is portrayed as a young innocent adolescent, but with time is perceived as a cold-hearted adolescent. The first session at school the boys forget about the war that is happening and enjoy the liberty they are given by the professors. They take full advantage and break just about any rule they can. As Halio states, "within this experience, another kind of war subtly emerges, a struggle between Gene, who is a good student and an able competitor in sports, and Finny, who is the school's champion athlete but poor at studying" (Halio 247). The crucial experience, which subdued Gene's innocence and permitted his evil side to take over, came with his failure to accept the fact that it was impossible to emulate Finny in sports. This incident leads to Gene's revenge on Finny and that turned him into the "wicked" antagonist.
Gene also becomes extremely envious, because no matter what trouble Finny would get into, he always found a way out without getting into any trouble. "He had gotten away with everything. I felt a sudden stab of disappointment. That was because I wanted more excitement; that must have been it" (Knowles 21). Through verbal irony and negative diction, Knowles expresses Gene's wicked thoughts and how he really feels inside about Finny. Though Gene may act like none of this really bothers him, it is clear to us the reader that deep down inside he is burning of envy, or as Holborn states; "Irony leaves no doubt as to Gene's true feelings" (Holborn 256). As the days passed on, Gene little by little was falling into the hands of evil; his envy towards Finny grew more each day until he is completely paranoid of Finny.
Knowles utilizes Biblical allusion to demonstrate how the boys so easily fall into the hands of evil without ever knowing. Holborn states that the summertime at Devon is like Eden: "the sun always seems to shine, the days endlessly filled with games on the playing field. This Eden also has its tree and, like the original, this is the tree of the knowledge of the good and the evil" (Holborn 255). The tree in Eden is the tree that Adam was not supposed to take any apples from; it was to be used for anything else but the apples were specifically off limits. Adam just could not resist the temptation and took an apple from the tree. In the novel, the tree was being used to jump off the highest branch into the Devon River, as an obstacle testing each others' courage. With all the war going on around them, the boys decide to name their squad the "Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session" (Knowles ). Gene as well was tempted and "jounced the limb causing Finny to fall off the branch" (Knowles ). Ironically just like Adam, Gene's innocence and temptation was corrupted, and evil prevailed.
Ellis states; "Gene has come to see that this enemy never comes from without, but always from within. He knows, moreover, that there is no defense to be built, only an acceptance and purification of oneself through love" (Ellis 249). Gene comes to learn that his war, the essential war, is fought out on the battlefield within and the only escape, the price of peace, is self-awareness. Knowles was able to develop characters that faced the everyday problems that one might face nowadays, thus making the novel more comprehensible.
Ellis, James. "'A Separate Peace': The Fall from Innocence." English Journal. 1964. 313-18. Ed. Stine. 245-49.
Halio, Jay L. "John Knowles's Short Novels." Studies in Short Fiction. 1964. 107-12. Ed. Stine. 246-48.
Holborn, David G. "A Rational for Reading John Knowles' A Separate Peace'." Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints. 1993. 456-63. Ed. Telgen. 254-58.
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1960.
Telgen, Diane, ed. "A Separate Peace." Novels for Students. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 240-41.