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Gene Forrester

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“A Separate Peace” begins with the main character, Gene Forrester, returning to the Devon School for boys in search of two places from his youth that he has an emotional connection to. The first place is the marble steps of the First Academy Building, and the second is the tree by the river which he finds “smaller, shrunken by age” (Knowles, 14). He comes here so that he can resolve what happened there seventeen years ago and move on with his life; to find peace within himself.

Once Gene has visited the tree, we find him standing before the tree once again, but now in his youth. Gene is portrayed as a reserved person, a good student, and a good athlete. We also meet his friend Phineas (also known as Finny), an amazing athlete, not so good of a student, and an out-going, positive, people-person. The two of them stand before this enormous tree that to someone like Phineas is an adventure, and to the other boys present is foreboding, just like the future that awaits them. “The tree was tremendous, an irate, steely black steeple beside the river. I was damned if I’d climb it. The hell with it. No one but Phineas could think of such a crazy idea. He of course saw nothing the slightest bit intimidating about it.” (Knowles, 14) The older, seventeen year old boys jump out of this tree in training for World War II that looms over the characters during this story. Wanting to jump out of the tree shows the eagerness of younger boys wanting to play their part in the war, like a challenge to prove their manhood. Phineas jumps out of the tree and encourages Gene to do so as well; they are the only ones who jump out of the tree that day and it sparks a bond between them.

World War II is an important part of this story because it forces Gene a...

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...ree. So much has changed since his childhood, but only now does he have the strength to face what had happened. Perhaps the tree was no longer so massive and menacing because like all obstacles we face in our youth, when returning to it, it always seems a bit silly to have been so competitive, or to have made such a huge deal, or become so emotional over something so small and insignificant in the scheme of things. The tree itself wasn’t what was truly vital; it was what it symbolized. It was the struggle between Phineas and Gene, the blaze of war, and all the trials from adolescence packed into one moment of his history that actually held the adult Gene’s attention. Returning to this spot and the marble steps, like the headstone of a grave (the headstone for Gene and Phineas it could seem), finally allowed Gene to let go and create finally for himself, peace.
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