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Identity Crises in A Separate Peace

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World War II, the major historical event during the life of John Knowles, the author of A Separate Peace, started in 1939. Germany instigated the war, and shortly afterward was joined by Japan and Italy. America, however, fought on the side of The Allies, England and France. Although the United States was still recovering from the Great Depression, it entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The military drafted men into the war, and women took their places in the work force, people abandoned the old way of life and looked forward to a new one. American literature reflects this transition, as the novels written in the post-war period are far more ambitious, expanding past the bounds of traditional literature. Modernism, a major movement at that time, was stimulated by World War II, severing ties with the past and embracing the changes of the future. *Knowles in A Separate Peace illustrates the identity crisis of teenage boys with Gene Forrester?s hypocrisy, Phineas? duality, and Elwin Lepellier?s insanity.

Knowles reveals Gene?s hypocritical love towards his closest friends, especially Phineas (Finny). Gene attends every meeting of Finny?s ?Super Suicide Society? during the summer session, even though Gene would much rather be studying. Gene wants to do well in school and is resentful of Finny always pulling him away from his books, however, instead being honest with Finny, Gene behaves as though he enjoys the meetings. Gene, an adolescent struggling to be sincere in his relationships, says, ?I went along, I never missed a meeting?acting against every instinct of my nature, I went without thought of protest? (Knowles 34). Gene refuses to let Finny know how he actually feels about the meetings, and despite his outward love toward Finny, Gene allows bitterness to take root inside of him. Knowles also depicts Gene?s hypocrisy through his response to Finny?s fall. After Finny falls, Gene calmly jumps from the tree branch into the Devon River. Later, when Finny is lying in a hospital bed, Gene misleads Finny, telling Finny that he tried to help him and keep him from falling. What Gene says is false, because Gene is, in fact, guilty of causing Finny?s fall. Gene says, ?I tried, you remember? I reached out but you were gone, you went down through those little branches underneath, and when I reached out there was only air?
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