The Shadow In A Separate Peace, By John Knowles

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A persona is a mask shown to the outside world developed in relation to consciousness, to hide the darkest aspects of a psyche, known as a shadow, behind it. Shadows contrast personas by holding undesirable and unwanted memories and behaviors, but the dark side of an individual must be accepted for the individual to fully understand oneself. In the coming of age novel, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, narrator Gene Forrester returns to New Hampshire to visit Devon School, where he studied fifteen years ago just as World War II had begun to unfold. The narrative shifts back fifteen years ago to Gene’s days at Devon School with his best friend, Phineas, also known as Finny, as he recalls memorable events from his past. Gene’s persona and shadow…show more content…
Gene dismisses his shadow during his first few encounters with it, quickly rejecting the darkness inside himself by conjuring up excuses for his undesirable desire. In a scene where Finny attempts to talk his way out of trouble, Gene’s shadow makes an appearance, as he believed, “this time [Finny] wasn't going to get away with it. I could feel myself becoming unexpectedly excited” (Knowles 27). The excitement of Finny getting into trouble is caused by Gene’s shadow, as he describes its presence as unexpected. Gene has become introduced to his shadow, but does not yet know the full extent of the darkness existing within himself. Shadows contain darker emotions, such as envy, anger, or hatred, that we hide from the outside world as these emotions are perceived negatively. In Gene’s shadow, jealousy rises, as he compares himself…show more content…
He becomes aware of Finny’s endurance, as “nothing as he was growing up at home, nothing at Devon, nothing even about the war had broken his harmonious and natural unity. So at last [Gene] had” (203). Following Finny’s death, Gene states how absolutely nothing could break Finny, not even a war. But the evilness of his shadow and unconscious self could, and cause Finny’s death. One’s shadow can be toxic when displayed to the outside world, especially when it is not in check by the individual. Gene has accepted his dark side when he admits he had been the cause of his friend’s death. In the very end of the novel, Gene finally takes responsibility for all of his shadow’s actions against his best friend, as he thinks to himself, “I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there” (204). Gene’s transformation from the beginning of the novel to the end is clearly seen in this quotation, as he no longer denies his shadow’s existence and now claims responsibility of the darkness inside himself. He illustrates himself as being on active duty at all times at school, staying on guard for any of Finny’s tricks that may potentially cause him to fall behind in his studies. His war with Finny, whom he once
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